May 14, 2013


Delmer Daves is having a moment. The Criterion Collection, the closest thing the U.S. has to a cultural gatekeeper, just released 3:10 To Yuma (1957) and Jubal (1956) on DVD and Blu-ray, while the Anthology Film Archives in New York City is holding a mini-retrospective of rarely screened Daves titles, including Pride of the Marines (1945) and The Red House (1947). I had never delved into the director’s work because the ambivalent words of Andrew Sarris and Manny Farber were ringing in my head. Sarris thought his films had “stylistic conviction in an intellectual vacuum”, while Farber positioned Daves against the Spartan “Hawks-Wellman tradition” as  “a Boys Life nature lover who intelligently half-prettifies adolescents and backwoods primitives.” While encapsulating their writing approaches, Sarris’ lucidity versus Farber’s contradictory collisions, they both convey images of shallow postcard beauty. Then I saw Daves’ extraordinary The Hanging Tree (1959, on DVD from the Warner Archive), which uses a cliffside cabin as a visual metaphor for Gary Cooper’s moral atrophy, and realized his use of landscape is far more complex than Boys Life kitsch. Eager for more, I watched five Daves films over the weekend, which revealed a sensitive director of actors drawn to tales of regeneration both spiritual and physical.

On the surface Pride of the Marine appears to be a basic WWII propaganda programmer, telling the true story of working class Philadelphia boy Al Schmid (John Garfield) and his path to winning the Navy Cross for his actions in a battle at Guadalcanal, which blinded him. But Daves and screenwriter Albert Maltz (later blacklisted) are more concerned with Schmid’s fragile psyche than his kill count (200 in one night, reportedly). Much time is spent on location in Philly with Schmid’s combative courtship of Ruth (Eleanor Parker), establishing the cocoon atmosphere of life in the pre-War States. The scene in which news of the Pear Harbor bombing breaks on the radio is one of blithe self-absorption. It’s during a dinner party with Schmid and his friends and they think Pearl Harbor is located in Jersey, their whole world limited to the northeast U.S. After the battle, shot like a horror movie in quiet and shadow, Schmid is forced to discover the world anew as a blind man. He becomes bitter and withdrawn, resentful of the U.S. for sending him into that abattoir, and awakening to the racial inequalities of American life. His best pal Lee is Jewish and informs him that as a blind man Schmid would have an easier time getting a job than himself. It is only Ruth’s compassion that can re-integrate him into society, and prevent him from succumbing to nihilism. Schmid is one of many emotionally enclosed Daves protagonists forced to open up due to physical debility.

the_red_house_edward g robinson

The same is true of Edward G. Robinson in The Red House (’47), a delirious farmhouse thriller in which Robinson ritualistically intones, “don’t go into the woods”. An aging patriarch with a wooden leg, he lives with his spinster sister (Judith Anderson) and his adopted daughter Meg (Allene Roberts). Living in an isolated cabin (as alone as Cooper’s cabin in The Hanging Tree), they rarely venture into town, causing rumors to swirl. Robinson is repressing a terrible secret, and he moves with such coiled deliberation it seems he’ll break into a sweat with each utterance. The film locks into such a hypnotic rhythm it could be mistaken for tedium – it’s a series of seized-up Robinson warnings followed by Meg and her young boyfriend Nath (Lon McCallister) searching the woods for a mythical “Red House”. The landscape takes on a menacing character, as filled with traps as the world outside Philly is for Schmid. Once the circular plot breaks open and Robinson’s secret is revealed, a preternatural calm sweeps across his face as death rises to greet him.


Broken Arrow (1950) returns the social concerns of Pride of the Marines, with a script from the now blacklisted Albert Maltz fronted by Michael Blankfort, who received the credit. It is generally regarded as the first Hollywood film to give a sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans, although numerous Bs as well as John Ford’s Fort Apache (1948) could also make that claim. It displays Daves’ obsession for historical detail (he consulted his grandfather’s diaries, who crossed the country in a covered wagon), shooting the story of Cochise close to where he actually lived, on the Apache White River Reservation and the Coconino National Forest in Arizona. The setting is overwhelmingly beautiful in Technicolor, shot by Ernest Palmer, that does have a picture postcard prettiness, a fantasy land for this alternate history in which Apaches and Americans live in peaceful assimilationist harmony.


The Criterion release Jubal (1956) returns to Dave’s theme of renewal, the first of three such Westerns he would make with Glenn Ford. Daves co-wrote the screenplay about vagabond cowboy Jubal (Ford) found starving in the woods by  thriving farm owner Shep (Ernest Borgnine). Jubal builds up his strength and self-respect until he becomes foreman, and begins to woo the daughter of a Mormon minister. Shep’s bored housewife Mae (Valerie French) wants a renewal of her own, leading to a destructive jealousy. This is another of Daves’ isolated locales, a tight grouping of Shep’s home, work bunks and stables nestled in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming. These buildings are together but separate, the crossing their boundaries causing dissension among the farmhands. The main dissenter is Pinky, played with perverse artifice by Rod Steiger.As Kent Jones notes in his DVD booklet essay, “It’s odd to watch the actor stretch every syllable as far as it can go (“nothing” becomes “nuh-thiiiiiihn”)”. This method madness is a poor fit for the naturalistic presences of Ford (deliberate and reticent) and Borgnine (who is spectacular as a garrulous innocent), but is still fascinating to watch to see how he chews off each particular scene.


Jack Lemmon also seems like a poor fit for the Daves universe, but in Cowboy (1958) he gives a nuanced performance as another damaged Daves loner sliding into self-pity. He stars alongside Ford in a cattle drive odd couple. Lemmon is a Chicago hotel clerk ready to light out for Mexico to chase a girl. Ford is an arrogant, usually rich cattle trader who agrees to take on tenderfoot Lemmon after a generous cash investment. Ford suffers the physical ailment, getting punctured by an arrow, while Lemmon suffers a spiritual malaise, his clumsy urban neurotic becoming a self-destructive wretch after completing his first drive, his romantic dreams of cowboy life dissolved in cow shit and snake bites.  Again concerned with the textures and rhythms of that historical period, Daves adapted Frank Harris’ semi-autobiographical 1930 novel On the Trail: My Reminiscences as a Cowboy. The film is littered with process, from how to put on chaps to how to make a steer stand up in a moving train car. Showing a light touch he would use in his 1960s romances, the film turns into a love story between Ford and Lemmon, as they recognize each other’s frailties in themselves. It ends with a shot of them in matching bathtubs, equality achieved at last.


December 11, 2012

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 5.41.03 PM

In an early Christmas present, the Museum of the Moving Image screened a 35mm print of John Ford’s unaccountably hard-to-see The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) this past Saturday. Unavailable on home video, aside from out-of-print VHS tapes going for $60 on Amazon, it deserves to be as well known as his Oscar winning drama from the same year, The Informer (his third film in ’35, Steamboat ‘Round the Bend, is no slouch either). A box office hit which revived the career of Edward G. Robinson, its descent into relative obscurity is puzzling, aside from the larger trend of studios choosing to ignore their own history. It has not even been released on Sony/Columbia’s DVD burn-on-demand service, which was made for titles like this.  In any case, it is an elegantly constructed farce that showcases the astounding range of Robinson, who can play delicate meekness and gruff murderousness for equal laughs.

John Ford made The Informer at RKO, Steamboat ‘Round the Bend for Fox, and The Whole Town’s Talking for Columbia, a free agent playing the field for quality projects and paychecks. While Ford had to fight for The Informer to get made at RKO, The Whole Town’s Talking was pitched to Harry Cohn at Columbia by independent producer Lester Cowan. He was selling Robert Riskin and Jo Swerling’s script, which was adapted from a short story by moneymaker W.R. Burnett (Little Caesar). Riskin was a frequent collaborator of Frank Capra, and The Whole Town’s Talking is sandwiched in between his work in It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Deeds (1936). His script for Ford exhibits a Capra feel, in that it concerns a mild-mannered worker or vagabond thrust into extraordinary circumstances, as in Deeds or Meet John Doe.

Arthur Jones (Edward G. Robinson) has never once been late to work at the J.G. Carpenter accounting firm, but his regimented life becomes upended when escaped mobster “Killer” Mannion (also Robinson), turns out to look exactly like Jones. The cops immediately arrest Jones, and he becomes a minor celebrity for being a murderer’s look-a-like. Then Mannion decides that Jones could be of use to him, and the two engage in a roundelay of identity swaps that confuses the cops, their friends and in the end, themselves.

wholtownFord sets up the city as fidgeting mass of humanity, so large and indistinguishable that two people could swap identities with ease. He opens the film with a tracking shot that surveys the faceless workers at J.G. Carpenter, all hunched over their desks and pecking away at their number machines. Later, when Jones is apprehended, the police and the press are depicted as yammering mobs, filling the frame with shouts and bravado as Robinson cowers in a corner. Robinson plays Jones as a man who desperately wants to fit in and disappear like the rest of his colleagues, quiet and recessive.

From the beginning, though, fate is against him. His alarm clock breaks, and he arrives at work late for the first time in almost a decade. Standing out alongside him is Miss Clark (Jean Arthur), who sashays into work even later, in a nimbus of cigarette smoke. Jean Arthur’s entrance here is a marvel of physical control, sucking in one last draw before the door, flicking away the butt an instant before entering, and then exhaling the smoke in the instant after crossing the threshold – a perfect puff of insouciance. It unravels as one continuous gesture, a perfect performance that takes only a few seconds of screen time.

How does such a magical scene happen? Arthur described John Ford’s directing style on the film to Joseph McBride in in his essential Searching for John Ford bio:

Ford always had a handkerchief or a pipe hangin’ out of his mouth. He chewed on it and you never knew what he said. And Robinson had a pipe that he’d chew. They’d stand there, these two guys, and never give you any directions at all or anything much. I’d say, ‘How do I know what I’m gonna do if you don’t talk?’ And they said, ‘Well, we talk with our brains. We don’t need to verbalize things.’…You know what he’s thinking anyway. He’s just – it’s all over him. A darling, darling man. I don’t think he gave much direction, but everybody seemed to understand what they were supposed to do.

Ford trusted his collaborators, which comes across in the moments of offhand beauty like Arthur’s entrance. As Miss Clark she is the willing outsider, Jones an accidental one, although he fervently desires to win her hand, leaving facile anonymous love poems on her desk.

It is only when he encounters Mannion, and discovers a similar animalistic quality in himself, that she shows any interest. He awakens this flicker of attraction in her after boozing it up with the boss, who is looking to curry Jones’ minor celebrity into publicity for the firm. He plies Jones with cigars and whiskey, and Robinson gives a master class in queasy reaction shots. He holds the cigar as if it were radioactive, his hand underneath, pinching it with thumb and forefinger. Ford holds the reaction even longer after he knocks back a shot of liquor, his face full of micro-narratives of disgust, fear and a flickering of acceptance. It is an uproarious sequence that ends with a woozy Jones  smooching Miss Clark and kissing off the rest of the office with a slurred, “so long, slaves!”. Jean Arthur’s smile at this subversive action reveals that she has ID’d one of her own kind.

When she encounters Mannion, she senses the sociopath instead of the subversive. Robinson plays Mannion with a five ‘o clock shadow and an inferiority complex. He speaks in staccato bursts and narrows his eyes into slivers, but at the merest hint of criticism he blows up. Mannion’s darkness cloaks the farce – there are real mortal consequences to all the ridiculous circling of the sub-Keystone cops and press corps. In order for Jones to survive and win the girl, he is forced to kill, or at least abet a killing, and it is that ferocity which attracts her. It is this violent undertone which gives The Whole Town’s Talking its curious power, and is what connects it to the wider current of Ford’s work.  Jones/Mannion are the comic versions of what will later emerge as the dueling impulses of The Searchers’ sadistic hero Ethan Edwards.


October 11, 2011

big leaguer

Major League Baseball is in the midst of a preposterously entertaining postseason, with major upsets and wild finishes happening almost every night. As I typed that, Nelson Cruz hit a walk-off grand slam, the first in playoff history, to give the Rangers a victory over the Tigers in the ALCS. Even better for MLB’s image (if not the ratings) is the success of small market teams like the Tampa Bay Rays and the Milwaukee Brewers, the latter of which has surged into the National League Championship Series, quieting the yearly calls for an NFL-style salary cap. With that and the cheap-team strategizing of Moneyball still in theaters, I thought I’d highlight two scrappy low-budget baseball movies which deserve more attention (read: a home video release): It Happened in Flatbush (1942) and Big Leaguer (1953).

The recent history of baseball on film is not a particularly inspiring one, with screenwriters as prone to mawkish inspirational cliché as their sports-writing brethren. The established “classics” of the genre,  like the The Natural or Field of Dreams, are unendurable parades of New Age philosophical claptrap, which make Moneyball seem as austere as Bresson in comparison. Michael Lewis’ book about the 2002 Oakland A’s described how the team utilized advanced statistical analysis to massage their low-cost club into the playoffs. It’s the first baseball-themed movie to become a substantial hit since The Rookie in 2002. Which is not to say it’s terribly good. Director Bennett Miller and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin take this absorbing, but essentially undramatic, tale of market inefficiencies and pump it up into an inspirational tear-jerker. Brad Pitt gives a finely detailed performance – see the multifarious ways in which he spits out sunflower seeds – but he’s stuck in the iron maiden of the dispiritingly conventional plot, complete with invented family drama and wise cracking sidekick (Jonah Hill). To see how it also gets the history wrong, see Kevin Goldstein’s review at Baseball Prospectus.

The best baseball films seem to be loose and episodic, as unconcerned with structure as an extra inning game. That’s part of the reason I have a fondness for It Happened in Flatbush (1942), a modest, jokey trifle about an unpopular managerial change by the Brooklyn team (the Dodgers were not cooperative with the shoot, even forbidding use of their name). It was directed by Ray McCarey, who like his brilliant brother Leo, started his career as a gag man for Hal Roach, and later worked his way over to Three Stooges shorts. Some of the slap-happiness from the Roach shorts is retained in this squirrely film, in which battle-ax owner Ms. “Mac” Mcavoy (Sara Allgood) hires disgraced former shortstop Frank “Butterfingers” Maguire (Lloyd Nolan), who cost the team the pennant years before, to take over as head coach. The script was loosely based on the 1940 season of the Cleveland Indians, during which the players agitated for manager Oscar Vitt to get canned because of his constant criticisms. It opens with an on-screen title joke that could have come from a Fatty Arbuckle short. Over a shot of crashing breakers, the text reads:

“This story is fictional but anything might happen, and usually does, on a strange island just off the eastern coast of the United States. It’s people are friendly…could even be taken for Americans, but they have a language, customs, and a tradition all their own… the name of this island is–BROOKLYN!”

The movie hums with clashing working class accents and a relatably insane obsessiveness about the game. Maguire was coaching a semi-pro league in a rural nowhere called Clovertown when McAvoy came calling. Maguire rattled off the Dodgers’s schedule with ease, saying, “I haven’t missed a box score in 7 years.” Then there is the depiction of the fan-base, animalistic and near-rabid. After a disputed call at home plate, a particularly aggressive Irish fan tumbles onto the field and decks the ump just because he can (real game footage from Ebbets Field is intercut with studio inserts). When the team has a successful road trip, they are greeted by mobs at the train station eager for a winner. The movie sparks with unbridled passion perhaps because of technical advisor Johnny Butler, who, according to the AFI catalog,  “was a veteran of twenty-three seasons of major league baseball, including two season as shortstop for the Dodgers. According to studio publicity, at the time of the film’s production, he was working as a studio policeman.”

Another laid back baseball movie is Big Leaguer (1953) the directorial debut of Robert Aldrich (Kiss Me Deadly). This amiable drama concerns a summer training camp for amateur talent in Florida, put on by the New York Giants. Edward G. Robinson stars as Hans Lobert, the director of the camp and former third-baseman for the team (Lobert was a real player, who hit .274/.337/.366 over 14 seasons for five teams). Unlike It Happened in FlatbushBig Leaguer was granted full access to the Giants franchise, and was filmed on their actual training camp in Melbourne, FL, and offers cameos by legendary pitcher Carl Hubbell and head scout (and former 2B) Al Campanis. It is airier than Flatbush’s succession of busy interiors, but is granted a hackneyed script, with constant clichéd voice-over by invented sportswriter Brian McLennan (Paul Langton). Not a lot of Aldrich’s acidic personality comes through in his first venture, although the presence of combative male friendship is present, to be fuller fleshed out in his more despairing war films (Attack, The Dirty Dozen).

Aldrich gets a joyous performance out of Edward G. Robinson, who huffs and puffs his way through like an over-agitated uncle, repressing his love of his boys through hoarse-voiced criticisms. There is one shockingly funny sequence in which Richard Jaeckel, who would appear in Aldrich films until the last one in 1981 (…All The Marbles), brushes Robinson back off the plate with a high fastball. Robinson tumbles backwards with the grace of a frozen turkey. He then rages towards the camera, and in extreme close-up his hair is standing on-end, his eyes flared, ready to brawl like a hot-headed 18 year-old. Robinson brings this childishness to bear throughout, even doing a twirling jig to one of the big band tunes the kids play relentlessly.

I prefer both of these raggedly entertaining items to Moneyball’s slick insularity, and wish Pitt had as much space to play (and dance) around as Robinson does in Big Leaguer. Now if only MGM would release the 1953 film in their on-demand “Limited Edition Collection”, or if the Twilight Time label would poach  It Happened in Flatbush from the Fox library for a future DVD, this MLB postseason would truly be one for the ages.


March 8, 2011

Screen Shot 2020-01-28 at 5.40.59 PM

Despondent cineaste Jack Andrus should buck up. First, he’s seated in an eye-blazingly Technicolor red chair, which one assumes is also of sensuously high-grain leather. Second, he’s being played by Kirk Douglas at his most flamboyantly masculine, a dream come true for characters of dissolutely manic personalities like Jack. Third, the Warner Archive has released a fine remastered DVD of the film that houses him, Vincente Minnelli’s convulsively beautiful Two Weeks in Another Town. For the rest of us, they also recently put out a remastered version of Minnelli’s The Cobweb (1955) and an un-restored but handsome-looking edition of Blake Edwards’ Wild Rovers (1971). We’ll start with the last first just to get Jack’s goat, but also because the Minnelli greats have already been covered by more seasoned minds, although I’ll still get my thoughts in.

In 1969, MGM hired James Aubrey as president to cut costs and bring the studio back to profitability (John Houseman nicknamed him “The Smiling Cobra”). Blake Edwards had the unfortunate task of directing Wild Rovers under his reign, and this after the box office failure of his Paramount musical Darling Lili (1970), which was hounded by reports of spiraling costs and studio meddling (Edwards would use this experience as the basis for S.O.B. (1981)).  For Wild Rovers, Edwards envisioned a three hour Western epic, in which it would be important to “show the vastness, the loneliness, the boredom and natural beauty of the West of that period.” (quoted in Sam Wasson’s book-length study of Edwards, A Splurch in the Kisser).

It tells the story of two down-at-heel cattle ranch hands, Ross Bodine (William Holden) and Frank Post (Ryan O’Neal), who decide to rob a bank and end up on the run from the ranch owner’s sons, John and Paul Buckman (Tom Skerritt and Joe Don Baker). The tone is detached, almost bemused tragedy, as Ross and Frank ride toward their annihilation in landscape shots where they are advancing dots, or in widely spaced medium shots within the Panavision frame, in which intimacy is impossible.

Edwards did not have a chance of getting his vision on the screen. While available production histories don’t state how much he was allowed to shoot, the film was taken away from him by Aubrey in post-production, and released in 1971 at around 106 minutes (this according Vincent Canby’s NY Times review. The Variety review lists it at 110, and Wasson at 113). In American Cinematographer, Herb Lightman bemoaned and identified the cuts (quoted in Wasson):

Gone is the opening montage…Gone is the gutsy man-to-man breakfast sequence. The dramatic confrontation between Karl Malden and his sheepherder arch enemy…has been telescoped into a quick montage with voice-over narration. One complete sequence which… provided motivation for the entire last half of the picture, has been deleted. The downbeat…ending has been trimmed and tied off with a reprise of the horse-breaking montage that numbs the tragedy….”

A so-called “director’s cut” was put out on VHS in 1993, which extended the run time to 137 minutes, although I don’t know how much input Edwards actually had into this re-release. Wasson reports that Aubrey cut  “twenty minutes from the finished film”, so it could be close to complete. The Warner Archive has released the 137 minute version in a decent anamorphic transfer, and it seems to contain all the footage Lightman mentions, although there is audio from the horse-breaking montage still in the final scene, which may be a remnant of Aubrey’s scissorhands.

Opening with an Overture, and broken up with an intermission, Edwards clearly had an epic in mind. He told the NY Times that, “it was my best film, and he [Aubrey] butchered it.” Perhaps the film in his head was, but the reconstructed version still seems an ambitious misfire, a fascinating relic that exposes the seams between classical and New Hollywood. The visual style seems firmly implanted in the widescreen aesthetic of the classical era, with limited camera movement but intricate blocking inside the frame. Cinematographer Philip Lathrop told American Cinematographer that “One thing I want to do is avoid the slick mechanical gadgetry that we use so much in making pictures today-things like helicopters and obvious dolly shots and zoom lenses. I think that these would be very false in relation to a period Western.” For the most part this holds true, but in the horse-breaking sequence, and in the sheepherder shootout, there are overlapping montages of extreme slow-motion, seemingly lifted from The Wild Bunch of a few years before. It’s impossible to know whether these were Aubrey-implemented to modernize the film

Then there is the discordant lead pairing of William Holden and Ryan O’ Neal, a clash in acting styles and eras. Holden plays his mischievous ne’er do well as gruff and straightforward where O’Neal is arch and playful, and they seemingly talk past each other, killing any Butch Cassidy-type camaraderie. Edwards was clearly aiming for something more operatic than a straight buddy-comedy,  but the emotional colorations he reaches for, “how uncertain life really is”, as Holden says, feels forced and sterile coming out of this duo. In a final adieu to a classical past, he films the alienated finale in the moon-scape of John Ford’s Monument Valley.


The Cobweb and Two Weeks in Another Town are delirious Freudian melodramas with wildly expressive mise-en-scene. You could watch these Technicolor marvels on mute and perfectly understand the emotions billowing through them. The Cobweb (1955) is set in a stately mental hospital, where the line between patient and doctor is distressingly blurry. It’s all a matter of curtains. Office and personal relationships break down when the HR director/dictator Miss Inch (Lillian Gish), the bored, breathy housewife Karen (Gloria Grahame) (married to hospital head Stewart McIver (Richard Widmark)), and the sensitive counselor Meg Rinehart (Lauren Bacall) propose different curtain designs for the library.

The breakdown in their society was heralded by the opening scene, of a neurotic patient (John Kerr, in a role originally offered to James Dean), hitching a ride back to the grounds by Karen. Their conversation breaks down the professional walls between the sane and insane, while also explicating the cathartic virtues of art. Kerr asks Grahame if the burstingly red flowers in her backseat are for a funeral, and she replies, in what could be a statement of purpose for all of Minnelli’s cinema (except, maybe, for the last phrase): “Why do flowers have to be for anything? Isn’t it enough that they have color and form and that they make you feel good?”

James Naremore, in his Films of Vincente Minnelli, asserts that all four of the “art melodramas” that Minnelli made with producer John Houseman (The Bad and the Beautiful, The Cobweb, Lust for Life and Two Weeks in Another Town), “employ a simplified version of an argument Edmund Wilson helped to popularize in his infulential 1941 volume of literary criticism, The Wound and the Bow. In each film, a character who suffers from a repressed psychic ‘wound’ uses art as a release for thwarted libidinal energy.” In this case Miss Inch and Karen plow their sexual and psychological insecurities into the curtains, while Kerr’s paintings seem to release the tensions and inhibitions of the entire patient population.

Karen and Kerr split from their car ride, only to have their relationships relentlessly paralleled. Minnelli crosscuts between Karen and her husband Stewart, and Kerr and his budding flirtation with the agoraphobic Sue (Susan Strasberg). Ruptures in one affair ripple into the other, everything sewn together into one cinematic cloth, or I should say, curtain. Stocked with stunning widescreen compositions and offhand grace notes (I was particularly moved by Gish’s trembling upper lip when her boss and nemesis gracefully retires), it’s what my former academic self would call a “rich text.” French critic Serge Daney wrote a  short, packed essay on The Cobweb, “Minnelli Caught in his Web” (translated by Bill Krohn in Joe McElhaney’s Vincente Minnelli: The Art of Entertainment, and viewable in Google Books), and two statements reverberate. One: “Today no one would know how to democratically house so many characters in one film”. Two, to bring it back to Wild Rovers, “Just from the way Minnelli confines his actors in extremis to a common space, one can tell that the crisis in the studio system will not be long in coming.”

And then there’s Two Weeks in Another Town (1963), in which that crisis is giving everyone in the movie business a nervous breakdown. Edward G. Robinson’s aging Kruger is a director on his last legs, churning out an international co-production to keep his wife in furs. His former star Jack Andrus has already had his psychotic break, living out his days in a mental hospital not unlike the one in The Cobweb. Kruger invites Andrus to Cinecitta studios in Rome to play a bit part in his bloated spectacle. The events that led to Andrus’ original violent freak out are coming back to haunt him, and they’re all wearing red (and a green scarf). His ex-wife Carlotta (Cyd Charisse) is also in Rome, a gold-digging enchantress who walks with a belly-dancer’s circular sway. Andrus’ fears and paranoia grow more monstrous as the film progresses,  with Minnelli matching his character’s madness with incredible feats of set and costume design, as the color red slowly tightens a vise around Andrus’ granite head. Even monks walking past him in the street wear blood-red robes. He ends up in Carlotta’s grasp at a narcotized party, surrounded by blase models, as if he was, like Odysseus, made sluggish by these slinky sirens’ song (note their red hair, and Carlotta’s stroking of an Ancient sculpture). It ends in a gorgeous bit of back-projected madness as Andrus purges the harpies of his unconscious, emerging Phoenix-like from his debauch with a perfectly-pressed white trenchcoat slung over his arm.