Although it has what passed for an all-star cast of sorts back in 1962, the Vincente Minnelli production Two Weeks in Another Town never quite rises to the blockbuster level (at least the successful blockbuster level) of some of the director’s other films. Based on an Irwin Shaw novel, the film, set mostly in Rome, is really a Hollywood story. The ostensible excuse for the Roman setting is a plot point about the dubbing of a film within a film, but the only things the Italian setting truly add are a kind of faux dolce vita feeling and some beautiful exotic scenery—beaches, statues, cafes, and a church or two—for background. It is brilliantly shot in CinemaScope and Metrocolor and its beauty is undeniable, but as far as plot goes the movie might just as well have been set in Hollywood. Unfortunately, most if not all of the virtues of the CinemaScope process are lost on the small screen.
Essentially the story of two Hollywood has-beens, an alcoholic suicidal actor played by Kirk Douglas and a director in need of a successful picture played by Edward G. Robinson. The film begins with Douglas in a sanitarium where he had been treated for his alcoholism after a drunk driving accident which may well have been a suicide attempt related to problems with his wife’s (Cyd Charisse) fidelity. He receives a telegram from Robinson inviting him to come to Rome for a small part in a new film he is directing. The two men go way back, having worked together on a film that had won Douglas’s character an Academy Award. Douglas takes him up on his offer, only to arrive in Rome to discover that there are problems. The Italian producer isn’t interested in quality; all he cares about is money. He is unwilling to give Robinson the extra time he needs to do the film properly. He wants the film finished in two weeks, no ifs, ands, or buts. Douglas agrees to help Robinson get the film made, and get it made the right way.
Others in the cast include veteran Claire Trevor who does a lot of screaming and ranting as Robinson’s harpy of a wife. A youthful George Hamilton plays the lead actor in the film they are shooting. He is set up as a younger version of the Douglas character. He had done some good work, but not lately and he too has turned to drink. His romantic interest is played by Daliah Lavi, a beautiful young actress who was later to appear in Casino Royale. There is also an appearance by Lesley Uggams singing “Don’t Blame Me” at a kind of watered down modern version of the Roman orgy. For the most part the characters are stereotypes you’ve seen before and no doubt will see again. The actors with little in terms of character subtlety to work with are relegated to performances that reek with staged emotion.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Two Weeks in Another Town is its nightmarish quality. There are scenes where Douglas gets caught up in drunken carousing, ending in a wild drive paralleling his earlier suicide attempt. There is a futile search through the Roman night life for a despondent Hamilton. There are shouting matches between Robinson and Trevor. All of this is complemented by a slightly off kilter score by David Raskin which accentuates the surreal quality of the Douglas character’s view of the world. He bounces back and forth among crowds of people who more often than not seem to look right through him. These expressionistic echoes, though often played over the top, are some of the film’s best moments.
There are idyllic moments where Douglas’s character seems to have some sort of interaction with other people but these seem unlikely to have any lasting power. His love-hate relationship with Robinson seems unlikely to work any better in the future than it has in the past. His relationship with the younger Lavi is clearly not going to work out. The reappearance of his seductress wife is unlikely to bode well for his future mental health. Odds are the nightmare is no dream; still odds or not you have to play the game. Too bad Two Weeks in Another Town is the only game in play.