Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

by Nandia Foteini Vlachou

 

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As films go, there probably isn’t one more meta than Vincente Minnelli’s Two Weeks in Another Town (1962). It is the only known (to me, at least) film where the director dedicates an extensive, central sequence to a previous film that he has directed, the Hollywood classic The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). To complicate things even further, both films are about Hollywood and film making, and they both star Kirk Douglas. Not just that: these are not simply two films directed by Minnelli and starring Douglas. These are two films where the character portrayed in the second film (Douglas’s actor) is supposed to have portrayed the character in the previous one (Douglas’s producer), with Maurice Kruger, an excellent Edward G. Robinson portraying the director in Two Weeks in Another Town, serving as Minnelli’s alter ego. It is even difficult to avoid reading Kruger’s whole trajectory (he frequently reminisces past glories) as a deeply personal reflection on Minnelli’s own position within the Hollywood system and fading fame of later years. Kruger’s jealous, shrieking wife (in a series of wives and affairs with leading ladies), who even feebly attempts to commit suicide by taking sleeping pills, can also be read as a disturbing portrait of Judy Garland, although by that time Minnelli and the actress had been divorced for a decade.

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The plot revolves around Jack Andrus, a washed out Hollywood film star (with a fetish oscar to prove it) who had a nervous breakdown and possibly tried to commit suicide by drunkenly driving his car into a wall, as a reaction to his wife’s many affairs and infidelities. A ruthless nymphomaniac with a painted smile and fixed gaze, she is played by a bedazzling Cyd Charisse, in what is her most bizarre role. The film was not well received by critics of the period (although Peter Bogdanovich passionately defended it, even panning Fellini’s La Dolce Vita in comparison). Some of its elements (such as the grotesquely artificial car scene or the frenzied, drunken orgy of Roman upper-bourgeois nightlife) are simply too weird and unusual for a Minnelli film.

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The director does lavish the same attention to his sets, and there is an almost obsessive, even Freudian flavor, to his repeated use of reds, in settings as well as outfits. This recalls previous films, such as An American in Paris, but the atmosphere here is unique. A multilayered commentary on the decline of the film industry, the rise of international peddlers interested in monetary gain instead of artistic integrity, the power of studios like the Cinecittà, young rebel actors who act out but cannot act, and female protagonists who are gorgeous but talentless primadonnas (the film is, at moments, surprisingly sexist), Two Weeks in Another Town is a melancholy testament whose rushed happy ending feels incongruous.

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Minnelli seems to have come a long way from his previous film on Hollywood. While in The Bad and the Beautiful, Kirk Douglas’s producer believed he could easily become a director, only to fail miserably, in Two Weeks in Another Town it is necessity that propels the actor to turn into a director, and he is unexpectedly better at the job than the man himself. Frail with old age and illness, bitter and broke, the up to then cantankerous Kruger initially greets Andrus’s proposal to complete his movie with gratitude, even confessing to an affair with his wife Carlotta. When his health improves however, he immediately reclaims his work, ousting Andrus who goes frantic as a result, only to regain his composure and self-confidence in time for the film’s finale.

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Perhaps it is Minnelli’s pessimistic view on the future of his profession, as expendable and easy to be replaced (an unexpected assumption for an era of rising auteur-ism), or the back-stabbing, cynical reality of the industry as a whole (the disgust with which the character of the agent is portrayed is typical). Pessimistic though it is, and even the Roman setting does little to alleviate the mood. Rome is no longer the romanticized setting of previous films, with recognizable shots of beautiful monuments; it is a decadent, dark place, abounding with smoke-filled bars, prostitutes, traffic and paparazzi. When it comes to the film making industry, it simply is ‘another town’, where vice, ruthlessness and indifference rule, much as they do in Hollywood.

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At the center of it all is Kirk Douglas. Is it the hard-set lines of his masculine face that make watching him unravel so compelling? Although his performance could hardly be dubbed realistic by modern-day standards, his borderline hysteria, troubled relations with women (an enchanting Daliah Lavi provides the only respite) and general malaise with himself when lacking creative outlet, place Jack Andrus in a line of characters that goes from Jonathan Shields (The Bad and the Beautiful, 1952) to Larry Coe (in Richard Quine’s overlooked masterpiece, and Mad Men prototype, Strangers when we meet, 1960), culminating with Eddie Anderson in Elia Kazan’s The Arrangement in 1969. Perhaps no other actor has so consistently portrayed male frustration, creative discontent and mental instability on screen.

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