Two Weeks in Another Town: Minnelli’s Melodrama, Starring Kirk Douglas

Irwin Shaw’s best-selling novel was about the neuroses that afflict the new movie industry. Its hero, Jack Andrus, is a middle-age actor whose career was cut short by a wartime injury. Now a military adviser to NATO, he’s summoned to Rome by his former mentor, a great director on the skids, to supervise the dubbing of his new epic film. In the process, Andrus is thrown again into Hollywood moviemaking, with all its allure, decadence, and corruption. At story’s end, Andrus returns to Paris, to his French wife and diplomatic post.

In the novel, the director is a charismatic Irishman named Delaney, but MGM’s honcho Siegel thought that it was a perfect vehicle to reunite Clark Gable with Spencer Tracy, who have not acted together since Boom Town, in 1940. The vet stellar cast was meant to give the picture a more nostalgic and glamorous aura. Unfortunately, Gable died of sudden heart attack in 1960, and, without him, Tracy was uninterested in the film, even with Minnelli at the helm.

Charles Schnee, who wrote “The Bad and the Beautiful,” took a whole year to concoct several drafts before Minnelli was satisfied. Part of the problem was Shaw’s inert protagonist, a man suffering from a midlife crisis, or male menopause. In the book, Andrus had little to lose, since he could always go back to his secure job and wife. Minnelli suggested making Andrus more desperate and saturating the whole film with angst–Hollywood-style.

To propel Andrus into both physical and mental breakdown, Schnee added a hellish marriage for him and soaked the story in Hollywood corruption. In the picture, instead of spending years at NATO, Andrus spent years in a private institution; the new job is his last chance to regain self-esteem.

Minnelli was glad to offer the lead role of Andrus to Kirk Douglas after their great collaboration on The Bad and the Beautiful and Lust for Life. Times have changed, however, and whereas Dougals fee was now $500,000, plus 10 percent of the grosses, Minnelli got paid only $200,000. MGM approved an 81-day-shooting schedule and a budget of $4 million. However, due to Minnelli’s slowness and other problems, the production was stretched to four and a half months, which made the picture more expensive.

After changing the director’s name from the Irish Delaney to the more Jewish Kruger, the role went to Edward G. Robinson. The female lead, the predatory Carlotta, Andrus’ former wife, was handed to Cyd Charisse. Houseman and Douglas objected to Charisse, who had no dramatic experience or box-office clout, but Minnelli prevailed. “Cyd ain’t Lana Turner,” Douglas told Minnelli bluntly. Dissatisfied with his leading lady, Douglas insisted that Charisse should be listed below the title.

For Robinson’s wife, Minnelli settled on Claire Trevor, and MGM’s boy-ingenue George Hamilton was cast as the decadent Davie Drew. An Italian starlet, Rosanna Schiaffino, played the star in the film-within-film, and the role of Douglas’s wistful playmate went to Daliah Lavi, a young and rising Israeli actress.

As rewritten, the brutal relationship between the philandering has-been director and his paranoid wife reflected Schnees own domestic crisis. In the script, Clara Kruger attempts suicide to induce remorse from her contemptuous hubby. Shockingly, Mary, Schnee’s real wife, killed herself when the movie went into production, in October 1961. Minnelli was stunned by the real-life tragedy, which just validated the film’s scathing view of a typical Hollywood marriage. After all, was not Minnelli a victim of this syndrome himself

In late August 1961, Minnelli flew to Rome for six weeks of pre-production and location scouting. In early October, he began shooting around the Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, Trastevere, and Via Veneto. Somewhat naively, Minnelli wished his version of Rome-by-night to be on par with Fellini’s scandalous hit, La Dolce Vita. Released in 1961 to great acclaim, winning the Foreign Language Film Oscar, La Dolce Vita made a big splash on the international scene with its portrait of the new, decadent international cafĂ© society.

Indeed, one of the last scenes to be shot was truly Felliniesque, a wild party with Andrus as a depressed hero, surrounded by the jet-set crowd, set against an erotic tableau that unfolded outside the camera range. Minnelli was proud of this sequence, which combined his penchant for elegant surfaces with a more contemporary edgy feel.

Poor audience response to a spring 1962 sneak preview reaffirmed Siegel’s decision to cut the film. Siegel assigned Two Weeks in Another Town to the studio’s supervising editor, Margaret Booth, permitting her to do drastic cuts, without consulting Minnelli.

Minnelli’s orgy-party scene was deleted, as well as Charisse’s melancholy monologue. Like Nina Foch’s excised final scene in American in Paris, Charisse’s speech was meant to humanize her character. Minnelli protested that without this explanation, Charisse’s character would be perceived as just a thrill and predatory. Alas, to no avail. Cahrisse’s part was cut substantially, satisfying Kirk Douglas and reaffirming his verdict that she could not act much.

Booth’s merciless brutal cuts made the film’s already neurotic characters even more sordid and unsympathetic than they had been in the script. Stripped of a more nuanced psychological motivation, the characters now seemed just nasty, insecure, and paranoid. Held responsible for all the excesses, Minnelli was never consulted about any of the cuts, a severe blow to his already shattered ego. No director could handle such a treatment. Nonetheless, the studio disregarded Minnelli’s and Houseman’s protests and released its own brutalized cut. In the process, Two Weeks in Another Town lost about 15 minutes of crucial screen time and was released with a running time of 107 minutes. The movie was then dumped without much publicity or fanfare.

 

Cast:

Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas)

Carlotta (Cyd Charisse)

Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson)

David Drew (George Hamilton)

Veronica (Daliah Lavi)

Clara (Claire Trevor)

Brad Byrd (James Gregory)

Barzelli (Rosanna Schiaffino)

Tucino (Nino Doro)

Zeno (Stefan Schnabel)

Assistant director (Vito Scotti)

Dr. Cold Eyes (Tom Palmer)

Ravinski (Erich von Stroheim Jr.)

Chanteuse (Leslie Uggams)

 

Credits

Produced by John Houseman

Associate producer: Ethel Winant

Assistant Directors: Erich von Stroheim, Jr.

Screenplay: Charles Schnee, based on the novel by Irwin Shaw

Cinematography: Milton Krasner

Art Direction: George W. Davis, Urie McCleary

Set Decoration: Henry Grace, Keogh Gleason

Music: David Raksin

Editing: Adrienne Fazan, Robert J. Kern

Special Effects: Robert R. Hoag

Costumes: Pierre Balmain

Color consultant: Charles K. Hagedon

Print process: Metrocolor

Recording Direction: Franklin Milton

Hair Stylist: Sydney Guilaroff

Makeup: William Tuttle

 

Running Time: 107 Minutes

 

 

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