Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) is one of my favorite Vincent Minnelli films of the 1960s, a movie melodrama (as in a melodrama about the movies) set in the Italy, where has-beens and struggling talents come to cash in on cut-rate productions and one washed-up actor (Kirk Douglas) tries to find his confidence after bottoming out in alcohol and self-pity. At one time it was famous for its ingenious use of The Bad and the Beautiful, a clip played in a screening room as an example of the past glories of director Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), the once acclaimed Hollywood veteran reduced to playing petty tyrant on an Italian picture, and Douglas’ Jack Andrus. In fact, the scene celebrates an earlier brand of Hollywood melodrama from the creative team reunited on Two Weeks: director Minnelli, actor Douglas and producer John Houseman.
This bright, colorful production, set within the tawdry glamour of a film production beset by budget limitations and the real beauty of Italy, goes for a coarser, more flamboyant brand of melodrama (Cyd Charisse as a spider woman of a socialite vampire, Claire Trevor as a spiteful harpy of a neglected wife) and a more conventional lesson of triumph, thanks to source material from Irwin Shaw. But the filmmakers understand that and go with it, turning the film into an entertaining freak show of gargoyles created by the dream machine, led by the bullying misanthrope Kruger himself, once an artist and now simply an ego looking for a place to reign. “You know, I’ve been faking so long, I don’t know what feels real anymore,” he remarks to Andrus after a heart attack, a rare candid admission of the emptiness of his life but perhaps also a realization of his decline from screen artist to ringmaster of the film set.
The bitterness behind marriages and affairs, held together by mutual dysfunction, have a Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf cruelty mixed with showbiz phoniness and social gamesmanship. In this cutthroat world of booze and betrayal the once mighty Andus, now a recovering alcoholic trying to rebuild his self-esteem in decidedly human dimensions, is the fragile victim, which perhaps is why he relates to the young American star, a James Dean-by-way-of-Warren Beatty actor played by George Hamilton as an arrogant jerk busy sabotaging his career in tantrums and sneering attitude as a way to cover his own fragility and fear of failure. Both intimate and outsized, it’s a strange product of the era, a Hollywood white elephant of a movie straddling self-awareness and self-parody, where the fifties collide with the sixties, and it revels in the fake textures of its conventions and embraces the actorly tear that Douglas goes on in the third act. He gives the spectacle all he’s got like a Hollywood pro before winding back to reclaim his dignity.