Two Weeks in Another Town: Minnelli Vs. Studio and Censorship Pressures

Vincente Minnelli’s melodrama, Two Weeks in Another Town, promised to be a return to form, as MGM promised in his internal memos. As a result, Minnelli plunged into the project with greater resolve and energy than on his last two pictures. Not only was he reunited with a familiar team, but he was also given an opportunity to explore a theme he understood well: The New Hollywood, about a decade after The Bad and the Beautiful was made.

The movie offered Minnelli a chance to spend two months in Rome, his second favorite city after Paris. However, the struggle to make the film and its eventual failure made the experience demoralizing and depressing. In the end, Two Weeks was mangled by the studio, universally reviled by the critics, and spurned by moviegoers.

Irwin Shaws 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 storys end, Andrus returns to Paris, to his French wife and diplomatic post.

In December 1959, Sol Siegel announced that Two Weeks would launch the new contract of producer John Houseman, who has proven his skills with Hollywood-driven stories. However, a six-months strike by the Writers’ Guild delayed the production, which finally began shooting in mid 1960.

In the novel, the director is a charismatic Irishman named Delaney, but 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 to make Andrus more desperate and to saturate 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.

The first draft prompted the wrath of the MPAA, still the bastion of old Hollywood morality. In a stern letter of January 25, 1961, Geoffrey Shurlock reminded that, The Code recognizes that men and women engage in premarital and extramarital relationships and agrees that stories dealing with these aspects of human behavior may be told if presented in a way which recognizes that these liaisons are immoral.”

But for Shurlock, the scripts current version presents a panorama of affairs interlocked and overlapping in a way that would seem to indicate that the moral law was suspended, if not actually abolished. Moreover, Its difficult to conceive that fornication could be any more casually portrayed than is done here. The portrayal of free and easy sexual intercourse is so graphically depicted that any pretense of presenting it in a moral light would appear to be almost ludicrous.”

Under pressure, Schnee made some drastic changes in depicting the sex scenes, and Vogel informed Minnelli and Houseman that the PCAs officers were now “highly enthusiastic over the ingenious way in which serious problems have been licked in the new script.”

After changing the directors 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 aint’s Lana,” 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-ingnue 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, Schnees 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 syndrom himself

The passion that had fueled Minnelli in the 1950s had seemingly flagged, and he now failed to exert authority over what became a sprawling project. The four years Minnelli had spent on Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had taken a severe toll on his energy and self-confidence. The combination of Minnelli’s growing passivity (always a problem) and Housemans lethargy resulted in an unsuccessful collaboration on any level.

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 caf society.

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.

This has been a recurrent pattern in Minnellis career. Whenever under strain, or hampered by a bad script, Minnelli would let loose his flair for flamboyant visual surfaces, as a camouflage for the lack of substantial narrative and sharp characterization.

With his own job on the line, Sol Siegel could not afford to indulge Minnelli. Siegel complained that Minnellis footage lacked energy, urging him to speed up the pacing. In one alarming note, Siegel wrote: “It is a fresh story of today and requires that kind of treatment. You caught a wonderful spirit in Some Came Running and Home from the Hills. Two Weeks in Another Town needs the same care and attention. We have been criticized by the board of directors for our expensive productions. I am asking for your utmost cooperation, Vincente, to govern your schedule in Rome in order to cut it down to the number of days originally allotted to you.”

Slower and more insecure than the usual, Minnelli stretched the nineteen-day location schedule to a whole month. Shooting at the Lido’s famous Excelsior Hotel was more complicated than the shoot in Rome, due to the transporation from Venice to the Lido. The company resumed work on the MGM back lot, on November 9.

It took 11 additional weeks to get the picture done. Sets constructed for Lady L., the recently cancelled the George Cukor-Gina Lollobrigida costume picture came handy, as they were recycled for the film-within-film in Two Weeks in Another Town.

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, Charisses speech was meant to humanize her character. Minnelli protested that without this explanation, Charisses 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.

To avoid unnecessary interference, as Siegel put it, the editing was done while producer Houseman was in Europe. As a result, when Houseman found out about the shenanigans, he sent an angry memo to the legal department that stated: In 30 years of my accumulated reputation in the American theater, film, and television, I have taken full artistic responsibility for all the work which bore my name. Two Weeks in Another Town in its present form does not represent my work and I cannot permit my name to appear as its producer.”

Nonetheless, the studio disregarded Minnellis and Housemans 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.

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