Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Cyd Charisse, George Hamilton, Daliah Lavi, Claire Trevor, James Gregory, Rosanna Schiaffino, Joanna Roos, George Macready, Mino Doro, Stefan Schnabel, Vito Scotti, Tom Palmer, Erich von Stroheim Jr.
Written by: Charles Schnee, based on a novel by Irwin Shaw
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 107
Date: 17/08/1962

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Director Deposit

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The great American director Vincente Minnelli (1903-1986) was not a man who hid his emotions. His movies have their hearts on their sleeves. In the 1940s, he fell in love with his three-time leading lady Judy Garland and guided her through three luminous performances. When their relationship ended, he embarked on a series of technically and emotionally complex musicals, as well as some equally layered melodramas. One of these was The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), the story of some enterprising filmmakers, with an insider's view of Hollywood. Kirk Douglas starred in that one, and he stars here again, ten years later.

This movie is sort of a sequel, sort of a spinoff, sort of a tribute. Douglas plays an actor, Jack Andrus, who -- in the world of this movie -- was the star of The Bad and the Beautiful. Jack has had a nervous breakdown and has checked himself into a hospital. He receives a telegram from his old colleague, movie director Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), who may or may not be a stand-in for Minnelli. They have made several successful films together, and were once the best of friends, but they had a falling out. The telegram summons Jack to Rome, where a small part in Kruger's latest movie awaits him.

Jack arrives and discovers that there is no part, and worse, Jack's crazy ex-wife Carlotta (Cyd Charisse) is also there. Kruger's movie looks awful; he's directing a spoiled young pretty boy of an American actor, Davie Drew (George Hamilton), and a fiery Italian starlet Barzelli (Rosanna Schiaffino), both of whom will be dubbed later. Jack also meets the lovely Veronica (Daliah Lavi), who is more or less Davie's girlfriend, and begins a romance with her. Then, Kruger suffers a heart attack, and Jack decides to finish the film.

All kinds of jealousy, obsession, passion, regret and doubt are woven throughout all these plot threads, and Minnelli looks at them through the eyes of a veteran 60 year-old. This is no exciting expose of showbiz; this is a look at a dried-up old whore of an industry, where the young people are simply doomed to repeat the mistakes of their forefathers. Any moment in this movie can bring a new kind of response: elation, terror, chills, shakes, joy, or dozens of others. Unlike any other director of his time except Nicholas Ray, Minnelli wraps all this up in an astonishingly detailed use of the widescreen frame.

I've already seen a couple of new reviews that are calling this movie hysterical, overacted, and even inept (regarding the poor process shots at the film's conclusion). This merely illustrates that we're an audience of cynical viewers today, unable to comprehend or respond to a slew of uneven emotions as Minnelli could sling them; today we only respond to things that are molded precisely according to the template. As for the process shot, that was simply the kind of visual effects that were available at the time. Many movies from this same period also use them.

Critics that complain about Claire Trevor's performance as Kruger's nasty wife do have a good point, though it should be mentioned that her character is a little deeper and more complex than she appears; she's not just a shrill harpy. She's unhappy, but she and her husband are still clearly in love, as illustrated by a couple of small moments in the film's second half.

Two Weeks in Another Town has been unavailable for too long, and new movie fans are coming to it for the first time. It's featured in Martin Scorsese's great documentary on American movies, and Andrew Sarris mentions it favorably in his "The American Cinema" entry on Minnelli, with things like "Pirandellian pyrotechnics" and "summed up his career and the American cinema as a whole" and "Last Year at Marienbad and La Dolce Vita will never look the same again." But other than that, it has no real reputation to speak of.

Let's hope that this new Warner Archive DVD, with a gorgeous new widescreen transfer, helps to bring more people back to this classic. Let's also hope that these first few knee-jerk reviews won't stick, and that people will re-assess what is the culmination of a great career filled with glorious images and deeply-felt emotions.

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