Thursday, December 31, 2015

Vincente Minnelli | Two Weeks in Another Town

roman holiday
by Douglas Messerli 

Charles Schnee (screenplay, based on a novel by Irwin Shaw),  Vincente Minnelli (director) Two
Weeks in Another Town / 1962

A year before 8 ½, Hollywood director Vincente Minnelli filmed a kind populist prequel, Two Weeks in Another Town, to Fellini’s far more complex and visually exciting masterpiece. Based on Irwin Shaw’s potboiler fiction, it’s hard to explain even the title of this work: why Rome is described as a town and how anyone might think the fictional filmmaker Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson)—formerly considered an important director—might shoot a film in two weeks, is inexplicable. But this, after all, is Hollywood—or, better yet, Cinecitta Studios, the home to thousands of badly acted melodramas, as well as great films such as those made by the likes of Fellini and, soon after, Godard.

      Indeed, at moments, Minnelli’s Rome even looks as if it were peopled by Fellini-like grotesques, and as in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, all the beautiful people seem to be dining on streetside terraces, where everyone recognizes those who pass. Here, much as in La Dolce Vita, a jealous wife, Clara Kruger (Clarie Trevor) has been joined by the cosmopolitan beauty, Carlotta (played by Cyd Charisse, attempting a sort of Anita Eckberg imitation), along with a gentle Roman girl, Veronica (Daliah Lavi) and two has-been actors, the elderly Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas), and a younger bad-boy version of him, Davie Drew (George Hamilton). We realize from early on in the film that there will be some wild parties and long nights ahead.
     The film begins with an absolutely pointless series of scenes in a mental clinic where Andrus has gone after having cracked up, quite literally, by driving a car straight into a wall after a disastrous evening with his former wife, Carlotta. By the time we first encounter him, he’s already been “cured” and is ready for release. With perfect timing his arch-enemy, Kruger, cables him to come to Rome for a small part in his new film—once again a convenience of plot which makes little logical sense. No matter, once the cast has been assembled, we’re finally in for some delights as the actors in this work, one by one, each try to prove that everyone in this world is a creative mess. 
      Indeed, if you look at Minnelli’s film from this vantage point, as a kind of study in modes of bad and over-the-top acting or as a study in talent gone sour, it almost becomes interesting, 
      Trevor as Mrs. Kruger hisses and spits out her vindictiveness, mostly to her husband, before, at the end of the film, turning her medusa-stare to Andrus. Hamilton easily proves that like his character Drew, he cannot seriously act (later proving that comedy was his real talent.) And Kruger, whom the movie represents as a man who has lost any talent he once might have possessed, wanders around the set in Robinson’s paunch body like an old man, the script finally getting rid of him through the accident of a heart attack, so that Andrus can take his place; after all Kruger has long ago taken away even Andrus’ small acting role. Lavi as Veronica does her best to be sweet, but the very idea that she has to make a romantic choice between both of the neurotic actors in the film makes her role nearly impossible.

       Despite the preposterous shifts of intention and even genre—is this a love story, a study in psychological healing, a satire of filmmaking, or just a damn silly melodrama?—Minnelli, great filmmaker that he once was, does his best to detract us from what’s going on through his richly colored images and the spot-on framing of his scenes. A few of them might even hint that he is still at the top of his form; maybe he had simply lost his judgment about the projects he undertook.
     At moments, it is apparent, Minnelli even tries to resurrect some of the fluidity and drama of screenwriter’s Charles Schnee’s 1953 similarly-themed script, The Bad and the Beautiful.  But actor Douglas, this time around, is trying to be one of the “beautiful” people, and doesn’t have enough time as a “director” to become the “bad” (but dramatically good) Jonathan Shields of that earlier work.  Almost as if Douglas cannot find a way out of the stale story in which he’s now trapped, his character, after another bender, tries once again to drive into a wall, this time with his ex-wife beside him in the car. 
      The fact that he doesn’t succeed seems to imply—without logic once again—that he has truly been “cured”; for immediately after he high-tails it out of “town” to return back to the good ‘ole healthy USA, where he intends, apparently, to convince someone of his newly acquired directing talents and, “when the time is right,” to star the slightly reformed Davie Drew in a new film. Now that I think about it, I think I prefer the circus he left behind.

Los Angeles, December 31, 2015

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