Sunday, June 1, 2014

Movie Review: Two Weeks in Another Town starring Kirk Douglas (1962)

Movie poster for Two Weeks in Another Town, 1962. If only the movie was as cool as this poster.

Kirk Douglas and Cyd Charisse in Two Weeks in Another Town, 1962.

Irwin Shaw, author of the novel Two Weeks in Another Town.
Two Weeks in Another Town was the third movie to pair actor Kirk Douglas with director Vincente Minnelli and producer John Houseman. Unfortunately, it is also the worst of the three movies. Admittedly, the completion is steep, since the first two were The Bad and the Beautiful, and Lust for Life, both of which feature Oscar-nominated performances from Douglas. Two Weeks in Another Town, released in 1962, was based on Irwin Shaw’s 1960 novel of the same name. The novel is about a former actor who rejoins the movie world at the behest of a director for whom he did his best acting work. Shaw, a successful playwright, short-story writer, novelist, and screenwriter, knew a lot about Hollywood and those who inhabited it, so he was well-qualified to write such a book. I’m a big fan of Shaw’s writing, but Two Weeks in Another Town pales in comparison to his great works, like the novel The Young Lions, or his short stories. Too many years have passed since I read Two Weeks in Another Town for me to give it a full review, but some of the shortcomings of the novel also become shortcomings of the film. It’s a flawed book and also a flawed movie. 

Kirk Douglas plays the lead role of former actor Jack Andrus. In the book, Andrus has moved to France and stopped acting because of an accident that damaged his face. In the movie, Douglas has an inconsistent scar on the side of his face, but the reason he hasn’t acted in years is because of a nervous breakdown. He’s been playing shuffleboard at a mental hospital. Andrus gets a telegram from Maurice Kruger, played by Edward G. Robinson, asking him to come to Rome and take a small part in a film. Kruger is an alcoholic, skirt-chasing director for whom Andrus made several of his most famous movies. In a clever in-joke, when Kruger shows an old movie that he and Andrus made together, we see clips from The Bad and the Beautiful. So Andrus, against his better judgment, goes to Rome. When he gets to Rome, everyone is an asshole to him. And overacts terribly. From Kruger and his harpy of a wife to the moody leading man, played by a young George Hamilton, (before he got his tan) to Andrus’s ex-wife, crazily played by Cyd Charisse, everyone is out to get Jack Andrus. Andrus might not be the most likable guy, but you end up rooting for him just because everyone else is so nasty to him. Kirk Douglas does the best he can with the part, and he looks super handsome in his early 1960’s suits and tuxedo, but he can’t carry the picture all by himself. And while Douglas was no stranger to chewing the scenery, everyone else’s acting is so histrionic and over the top that they seem to be making a totally different movie than the one Douglas is acting in. 

Part of the problem with both the novel and the movie is that there’s no dramatic tension. Will Andrus be able to successfully oversee the dubbing of the dialogue to Kruger’s movie? We don’t really care, because the stakes feel so low. Andrus doesn’t care about getting back into the movie business, so we’re not really invested in whether Kruger’s movie comes in under budget or not. 

Thankfully, Irwin Shaw didn’t have anything to do with the writing of the screenplay, because there are some super klunky lines. My favorite might have been Edward G. Robinson saying to Kirk Douglas, “You and I made some good ones, yes, and a couple of great ones. Looked like there was a federal law prohibiting us from doing anything wrong.” Oof. Another winner is Robinson saying “All women are just pure monster.” Lots of subtlety there.

In his autobiography The Ragman’s Son, Kirk Douglas tells us part of the reason why Two Weeks didn’t work. As Two Weeks entered post-production, a new studio head took over MGM, Joseph Vogel. Vogel decided that MGM would only make family pictures. “He decided that the film would be edited differently-he was determined to make a family picture out of what we had shot….When I saw them emasculate the film, I wrote to Vogel, even though I was just an actor in it. I implored him, argued with him, told him that if he had wanted to make a family picture, he never should have made Two Weeks in Another Town.” (The Ragman’s Son, by Kirk Douglas, p.315) I don’t know if keeping the more explicit footage would have helped the movie, but it sure couldn’t have hurt. 

For me the best part of the movie was when it finally spilled over into full-blown camp at the climax of the movie, as Douglas and Cyd Charisse wail at the top of their lungs as Douglas drunkenly drives his convertible at high speeds.  Of course, it’s all done with rear projection shots, which just makes the whole scene even more ridiculous. 

If you’re a fan of ridiculous old movies about the making of old movies, then Two Weeks in Another Town might be just the movie for you. I’d advise everyone else to stay away.

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