The Bad and the Beautiful

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Drama;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame, Walter Pidgeon.

For an actor who immortalized Spartacus not just for the movie masses but Billy Crystal’s joke bank as well, Kirk Douglas took his initial steps toward superstardom playing the lowest kind of heels — and did so as early as his memorable third screen role in Out of the Past. Then, over the subsequent five years, he earned his first two (of career three) Oscar nominations for Champion and The Bad and the Beautiful, which means that, all too typically, Academy voters ignored his all-transcendent sociopathic achievement: Playing ruthless reporter Charles Tatum in Billy Wilder’s commercial disaster turned masterpiece Ace in the Hole. But 1952’s The Bad and the Beautiful, a critical/commercial hit in its day, is nonetheless tops of its kind if you’re into Vincente Minnelli’s specialized approach to sometimes gasket-blowing melodrama.

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A dissection of Hollywood’s underbelly all dressed up in MGM slickness, the relatively calm-side B&B is both savvy and the next thing to over-the-top, without much attention paid to what was really going on in the industry at the time: continuing fears of hugely competitive TV; the flood of new independent productions shot frequently out of the studio and on outdoor California locations; and at very least rumblings about imminent widescreen pictures. The type of movies it portrays as being major hits belong to previous eras, and barely even to the postwar ’40s — productions more like Louis B. Mayer sanctioned concoctions than Dore Schary’s, even if Schary, more seriously minded stiff, was in charge of Metro when B&B got made. Though come to think, you can make a case that Minnelli’s treatment represents a hybrid of the two regimes’ approach to screen entertainment, given that Mayer likely wouldn’t have been that crazy about the boozing and adultery that makes up a lot of Charles Schnee’s Oscar-winning script.

Though Douglas is the story’s motivating force, the movie is effectively broken into thirds, giving each segment’s new central character an absorbing story of his/her own. Their unifying thread is the degree to which the producer and eventual studio head Douglas plays so thoroughly shafted them — personally and professionally — that they’ve vowed never to work with him again. As a producer in the middle (Walter Pidgeon) makes the case that it might be to their advantage to do so despite even Douglas’s de facto current banishment from the biz due to the loss of his box office touch. We see their stories in flashback, with the lineup breaking down into a director who began his career with Douglas (Barry Sullivan) and eventually came to wonder where his half of the so-called partnership went; an alcoholic bit player (on a good day) that Douglas molded into a major star (Lana Turner); and a pipe-smoking Pulitzer winner (Dick Powell) who was unwillingly enticed to out of Virginia and into the Hollywood jungle to adapt his novel. Meanwhile, the Southern piece of work he’s married to is played by Gloria Grahame, who took the supporting Oscar here for one of the shortest awarded screen roles ever.

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That’s quite a cast, and we haven’t even gotten to Gilbert Roland as “Gaucho” — a Latin lover who has as many women in his stable as a ’60s secret agent as the other male characters here are shown to be toiling hard at their craft. (Though in a nice touch, we see Roland turn deadly serious and all business when asked to read a script for consideration.) Despite this treatment’s built-in struggle between a fanciful and realistic portrayal of industry machinations, Minnelli hit the directorial bullseye when it came to mining this contradiction into a lump-less vision, which is one mark of an auteur. He and the great Robert Surtees (another Oscar winner from the movie’s awarded five) also go to town with the latter’s camera, which is almost as peripatetic with boom shots as anything in the director’s career-dominant musicals.

In some ways, this is an insiders’ movie, though one in which paying customers went with the flow the way they don’t always with Hollywood sagas. Turner’s character is the daughter of a deceased acting great with spellbinding vocal deliveries, a set-up that suggests Diana Barrymore (who’d rate her own tawdry screen biopic, based on her best-selling autobiography) only a few years later. Earlier, Douglas and Sullivan get handed a no-budget quickie about cat men complete with tired actors wearing cat suits with zippers — until they come up with the brainstorm never to show the cat (Val Lewton, anyone?). Maybe Tom Hooper should have gone this route with Cats, though I suspect this might have been deemed audience-unfriendly.

All this plays out against David Raksin’s score, which for years has graced many best lists devoted to movie scoring; Rhino gave it a CD release many years ago, and much of it once graced a Raskin-conducted RCA Victor LP that also featured his classics for Laura and Forever Amber. In terms of performances, there are some jewels here: I had forgotten how amusingly prickly Powell’s characterization is here, while Grahame, for all her role’s brevity (though this should have been Jean Hagen’s Oscar year for Singin’ in the Rain), suggests a character who isn’t totally the dizzy mate I had read her as being in long-ago previous viewings.

In some ways, the big surprise is Lana Turner (though I always thought her underrated, anyway) — at a time when her career was in a rough spot following a couple years of inactivity followed by three box office flops in a row, notwithstanding that A Life of Her Own (1950) looks pretty good today. For B&B, Turner ended up getting outstanding reviews for only the second time in her career as a star (The Postman Always Rings Twice was the other instance), and the Minnelli film was the only really decent one she did until being cut loose by MGM in the mid-1950s before going freelance with more success (at least for a while) than a lot of her peers.

A lot of this material is covered in 2001’s Lana Turner … A Daughter’s Memoir, a bonus TCM documentary that centers on the star’s daughter Cheryl. She, as every attentive Boomer will recall, became a center of attention herself when she stabbed her mother’s mobbed-up lover Johnny Stompanato to death — a case of justifiable homicide, it was ultimately ruled, because he was threatening Turner during a knockdown/drag-out in the latter’s home. I’m not kidding about how big this story was; my oldest friend Jim Foreman and I used to reenact our vision of the Stompanato killing during lunch breaks in fifth grade, using a ruler as the weapon.

The doc has some historical re-creations that I mostly could have done without, though it does portray enough of the house’s physical layout to give us a better idea of events that culminated in Stompanato walking right into a kitchen knife. In addition to taking time to deal with Turner big-screen bombs like Mr. Imperium and the color remake of The Merry Widow (way to green-light, Dore), Story also provides welcome annotation of a loving but woefully inattentive seven marriages plus her long relationship with Tyrone Power. One of these marriages was to Lex (RKO Tarzan) Barker, a grown-up conservative rich-kid whose personal taboo on drinking a) failed to sync with the Lana lifestyle; b) added to the shock value when the word came out that he repeatedly sexually abused Cheryl as a teen. As presented on camera here, Cheryl seems unpredictably well-and and certainly well-composed, though (again) the pic is almost 20 years old.

The Blu-ray’s main event is another visual winner from Warner Archive, though it doesn’t hurt to have won the black-and-white cinematography Oscar for starters. A decade later, much of the same creative team would reunite for Two Weeks in Another Town, another movie industry melodrama from Minnelli that’s as delirious as Kirk Douglas’s driving in its most unforgettable scene — a censor-compromised box office flop that really did go over the top. I blow hot and cold on Minnelli melodramas, but the later ones in his career are usually more than I can take, for all of their perverse entertainment value (reassessments may be in order).   

Town, though, has already gotten its own Warner Archive Blu-ray treatment, making it undeniably ideal double-feature material with B&B for anyone so inclined. It even includes a scene where Douglas views a clip from the earlier picture in a projection room and lauding it as great filmmaking, which isn’t that easy to top when it comes to self-referential cinema. This didn’t exactly hurt it in Europe (which was Weeks’s backdrop), where they take this kind of “movie universe” thing very seriously. In America, it’s more like, “Turner really looked hot in those pajamas.”

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ and ‘The Story of Temple Drake’

Man Without a Star

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Kino Lorber;
Western;
$29.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Kirk Douglas, Jeanne Crain, Claire Trevor, William Campbell, Richard Boone.

Despite a fun supporting cast (look: there’s Jay C. Flippen again) and a keen balance of humor aside from some ugly barbed-wire injuries you’d only wish on a few, 1955’s Man Without a Star is a Kirk Douglas vehicle through and through. And there’s nothing wrong with that, unless perhaps you were another performer or crew member having to put up with his famous ego.

Released without too much fanfare in March of 1955 but given some pacing oomph by a legendary director who’d found himself needing work (King Vidor), this cattle-heavy Western with sex is one of the more entertaining outdoor dustups from Red River’s Borden Chase, who shared writing honors here with D.D. Beauchamp. The latter’s credits included not just Audie Murphy pictures but also Abbott and Costello Got to Mars and Vera Ralston’s Belle Le Grand, a duo that might well spark a sense of humor on the part of anyone who had to write them for a living, assuming the chore didn’t kill him.

Back to Kirk. People don’t get to be sustained superstars by accident, so it’s instructional to see what workhorse Douglas was doing in the mid-’50s to build his base, through either luck or design, via one of the shrewder career blueprints I’ve ever seen. Star’s March release, right after nonentity The Racers came and went in February, meant that Disney’s giant squid extravaganza 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would have been barely out of first-run theaters from its Christmas-of-’54 release and, in fact, possibly still playing neighborhood second-run houses. The Jules Verne adaptation cemented Douglas as a boomer-kid action favorite, you have to remember that in this period (Disney aside) there was far less distinction between adult and kids’ fare because of a) cleansing censorship, however waning the Production Code still was; and b) parents, and especially fathers, who’d survived both the Depression and World War II and didn’t tolerate wussie-dom in their sons.

Thus, as the ’55 bounty continued, kids saw Douglas with a wooden horse instead of a real one in October’s Ulysses (which had come out in Italy a year before) and then The Indian Fighter at the very end of ’55. Meanwhile, his portfolio was about to diversify for a more intellectual fan base by his playing Van Gogh in Lust for Life, which got him an Oscar nomination and a best actor citation from the New York Film Critics Circle — which was always the more impressive feat to me because Douglas’s acing style wouldn’t have been any shoo-in fit with the New York film establishment. This was then compounded by the super-commercial Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in ’57 (gorgeous visually, though the most soulless movie of the bunch) and Paths of Glory, which brought decades of critical street cred and is still going. Later, Paramount (which still had U.S. control of Ulysses in those days), re-issued the Homer saga in a national double bill with Cecil B. DeMille’s Samson and Delilah to reach the younger boomers it had missed the first time. Oh, and let’s not forget The Vikings, which absolutely ruled the roost in grand-school playground discussion (I speak from experience).

Douglas did all these plus forgettable Top Secret Affair in a highly compressed four-year period, so you get the idea. Star, which played first-run downtown in my city with George Montgomery in Seminole Uprising (dust off the Oscars) would have pleased both adults and kids at the time, though kids would more likely have gravitated toward Richard Boone threatening Douglas with a pick axe from a scene that got big play in the print ads. Older viewers likely gravitated more toward Douglas’s scenes with brothel babes (er, pardon me, saloon workers) and their employer madam (er, hostess) Claire Trevor. Plus all the jokes about the town’s mercenary new ranch owner Jeanne Crain (refreshingly novel casting) installing an indoor bathroom just off a bedroom with her large outlay of colognes, which cheeky Douglas sprinkles in his hair like Vitalis.

What anyone can see is that the actor’s role as a savvy ranch-hand drifter who’s not exactly awash in funds is an ideal one for him. First, Douglas gets to sing (again) on screen after his then recent performance of “Whale of a Tale” in Disney’s Leagues had spurred a Decca single. Second, he gets to show what great physical shape he’s in — though not for a while because there’s a secret under his shirt that’s not revealed for a while. Third, perhaps there’s a secret under his pants as well, though all we know for sure is that he seemingly agrees to do a favor for conniving Crain in return for sexual favors, only to renege after it’s heavily implied the deal was consummated. The censors obscure this, but, hey, it was early ’55, and Spin and Marty’s cleaned-up portrayal of ranch life (I spent parts of several Colorado summers absorbing that milieu) hadn’t even hit the airwaves yet.

Fourth, Douglas gets to deliver worldly wisdom to a green youngster (William Campbell) after they meet stealing rides on a boxcar — kind of the way Lee Marvin mentors Keith Carradine in Robert Aldrich’s Depression-set gem Emperor of the North, other than the fact that (though mixed up and prone at times to flirt with the Dark Side), Campbell’s character isn’t the crud Carradine is. Fifth, Douglas gets to wear some cool-looking Western shirts, though these so-called functional cowpoke duds look like the apparel I currently see on sale for $70 a pop. (Leaving aside one “dude” monstrosity that Campbell’s character shows up in for comedy relief, I’ve always liked the Western costuming at Universal-International during this period just on general principles — as with Donna Reed’s distinctively eye-catching garb in the Borden Chase-John Sturges Backlash.) Sixth, Douglas gets to hang out a lot with prostitutes (er, saloon girls). As for this last, James Arness may have been six months away from establishing “Gunsmoke” as the preferred pick of TV’s burgeoning “adult Westerns,” but Douglas already had the market cornered when it came to frontier frolic.

As suggested by Toby Roan’s Blu-ray commentary, Vidor was neither the first nor last director with whom Douglas didn’t always see eye to eye (I remember being at a Sydney, Australia party in the early ’80s when crew members walked in from a shoot on The Man From Snowy River grousing about him). But the narrative moves smoothly with all kinds of small but pleasing touches until things kind of fall apart in the last 10 or 15 minutes; a rushed conclusion turns an 89-minute running time into less of a virtue than it initially seems to be. Though not a deal-breaker, it also starts to get a little tiresome watching Douglas switch allegiances back-and-forth between the desperate small ranchers (who use barbed wire) and Crain (who’s for open usage) — a decision-making process made easier when Crain hires a sadistic creep played in prototypically sociopathic Richard Boone fashion and a character with whom Douglas has some history. Tenderfoot Campbell also has trouble making up his mind, though his ultimate decision is made easier by one of the small rancher’s smitten daughters, played by onetime Miss USA Myrna Hansen. She could probably keep even Maurice Chevalier down on the farm after he’d seen Paree — especially when indoor plumbing is looking like the new thing.

U-I was still utilizing the three-strip Technicolor process, and Star was one of the last movies do so before August’s Foxfire brought its glories to a close, though Roan notes that the crew couldn’t have been too thrilled about hauling those 600-pound cameras across what look like hot locations that hopefully, like Crain, eschewed outhouses. Once again compensating for the fact that Tex Ritter was the one who got to sing the title tune on screen to High Noon, Frankie Laine (who had the “High Noon” hit recording) once again made up for it via opening-credits vocal honors in a movie that followed. The historical chronology goes Blowing Wild, Man Without a Star, Strange Lady in Town, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, 3:10 to Yuma, Bullwhip and the unforgettable opening to TV’s “Rawhide” — all setting the table for, many years later, Blazing Saddles.

The 1955 movie year also gave us Frankie starring with “Mr. Show Business” Keefe Brasselle (the only performer I can envision still yearning to do blackface even after Chuck Berry was charting) in Blake Edwards’ directorial debut, Bring Your Smile Along — a movie I believe got the Harvard Lampoon Award for the year’s most misleading advertising or something like that. In it, Laine donned railroad garb to sing his great rendition of “The Gandy Dancer’s Ball” in, I’d say, even a slightly more heartfelt version than his 1952 recording. Though in the process, he did prove again that there are some body types that shouldn’t wear overalls.

Mike’s Picks: ‘Man Without a Star’ and ’10 North Frederick’

The Heroes of Telemark

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Sony Pictures;
Drama;
$24.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Kirk Douglas, Richard Harris, Ulla Jacobsson, Michael Redgrave.

There’s no accounting for what memory can preserve from a movie not seen in decades, and with 1966’s The Heroes Telemark (aside from its convincing portrayal of incessantly frigid temperatures), it’s always been the nifty sweaters Kirk Douglas and Ella Jacobson wear inside a cozy Norwegian home just made for lovin’. Or it would be, were the place not transformed by circumstances into a kind of mission central for fighting Nazis in early 1942.

In this case, memory has not played tricks. The sweaters really are nifty, though with perhaps just enough white in them that I’d be a lock to spill a glass of red wine in the wrong place were somebody to gift me with one. Still, you have to think that this isn’t the likely takeaway that director Anthony Mann had in mind for what turned out to be his final credit for a movie he lived to complete — though this fairly handsome production for its day did pretty fair business in Europe. Yet, in my Midwestern city, it failed to rate a downtown booking, and I caught its local opening engagement at a normally second-run campus movie house in a year when studio execs and marketers had less than a firm idea of what people wanted to see. Probably not Resistance fighting, or at least not in college towns when Blow-Up wasn’t that far away on the horizon.

Still, I’m guessing the picture worked well enough in drive-ins because it had a reliable veteran superstar (Douglas) teamed with an on-the-rise arthouse hunk (Richard Harris) — and this would be way before years of Demon Sauce gave Harris that Keith Richards look he sported in Randa Haines’s underrated Wrestling Ernest Hemingway. Before long, Harris would eschew the likes of Antonioni and Red Desert to find himself playing Cain in John Huston’s The Bible and King Arthur in Joshua Logan’s stillborn stab at Camelot — an entire career right there for a lot of actors. Here, though, he’s playing a character based on Knut Haukelid, who wrote a 1954 remembrance that served as one of two sources for the film — a book called Skiis Against the Atom, which pretty well sums up the 134 minutes we spend here.

Harris (name modified to called Knut Strand) is a resistance fighter in Telemark, Norway, where the Nazis are trying to produce the heavy water that’s needed to construct an atomic bomb amid Germany’s race against the Allies to do just that. Douglas, too, is Norwegian and a physics professor to boot, though from appearances, he also seems to have had time to work in some weight training. Then again, this is a country where all the men and probably lots of women automatically exercise by half-living on skis; even Michael Redgrave (as “Uncle” — who shares the house with Jacobsson) doesn’t look out of sorts, looking more spry than he did in The Browning Version a decade-plus earlier.

Nothing risible is meant by all this because Heroes’ skiing sequences are as memorable as the sweaters. Thus, I’m once again reminded of the remark someone once made to the effect that of you could find someone who shot exteriors like Mann and interiors like Nicholas Ray, you would have the perfect filmmaker. Or at least you would if the exteriors, as here, were shot by Robert Krasker, who was also behind the camera for Olivier’s Henry V, Carol Reed’s The Third Man, Visconti’s Senso, and (for Mann) El Cid.

Jacobbson is not only a honey here but Douglas’s ex-wife — a plot point I’ll just bet you wasn’t in Haulkelid’s book. For most of the going, “Selfless” isn’t exactly the middle name of Kirk’s character here (Rolf’s the name), which makes her less than willing to welcome him back into the sack when he and Harris end up using her place as headquarters in which to plot blowing up the nearby factory where the heavy water is being manufactured. This was during the Swedish actress’s lamentably short run as a Hollywood hopeful, well after she’d appeared partially nude in the internationally popular One Summer of Happiness (1951, though not till ’55 in the States). Even with its delayed release, its ‘PG’-level sexuality agitated a lot of wheezing political hacks into their daily round of agitation over life as it’s lived. Here, however, she mostly keeps the sweater on.

The major heavy here is bad old Anton Diffring (a kind of meaner-looking Peter Van Eyck), an actor immediately recognizable to any movie lover with a memory and a pulse; he probably played more Nazis on screen than Roy Rogers played characters in billion-decibel shirts who were named “Roy.” Diffring and the rest of the film play out in ways that one pretty well expects, and the result is a respectable (but that’s all) finale to Mann’s career that’s ultimately less distinguished than its great skiing scenes. Mann would begin one more picture — 1968’s A Dandy in Aspic — before succumbing to a heart attack in the middle of filming. Lead Laurence Harvey took over, though Columbia Pictures gave Mann full on-screen credit; I’ve never seen it, but Britain’s classy Indicator series has a release coming March ’18 that’ll probably be all-region.

      

Heroes on Blu-ray appears to be the product of a master with some mold on it, one that really gets (going from 1966 memory) all there is to be gotten out of Krasker’s visuals — a rap that has nothing to do with this Blu-ray’s status as an on-demand selection. Though the word “Choice” doesn’t appear (per usual) on the disc jacket, this release appears to be another of Sony’s manufactured-to-order high-def releases of predominantly Columbia Pictures product. The problem for on-demand naysayers (and Sony issues BD-Rs) is the large number (out of relatively few issued titles) of movies that I, at least, like, love or treasure as oddball curios: The Bitter Tea of General Yen, The Triplets of Belleville, Gideon of Scotland Yard, Real Genius, Spanglish, the Sofia Coppola Marie Antoinette and the Gillian Anderson Little Women.

The last, at least, is one you’d think might be worth a full-scale marketing job, what with a brand new sibling go-around scheduled for Christmas under the eye of director Greta Gerwig. But this is just an observational aside and nothing more because I’m adverse to plopping Anton Diffring and Louisa May Alcott into the same piece of writing.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Heroes of Telemark’ and ‘Reap the Wild Wind’

2 Weeks in Another Town

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Available via Warner Archive;
Warner;
Drama;
$21.99 Blu-ray;
Not rated.
Stars Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Cyd Charisse, George Hamilton.

Adapted from a novel by Irwin Shaw, whose before-and-after work fared better on screens both big and small, 1962’s 2 Weeks in Another Town is somewhat more fascinating than it seemed at the time, though only in a few instances for the right reasons. An inside-the-movie-biz yarn full of big-ticket talent and overhead-eating locations, it’s a structural mess with compensations for stripes-earned movie junkies — not the smoke-blowers who claim to be (while on the way to catch the latest Dwayne Johnson). You can see why Town is a cult movie, why some French critics loved it and why I’m always tickled to take a fresh look. Though Peter Bogdanovich allegedly preferring it to La Dolce Vita is a loaf of cheese bread too far.

This is, after all, Vincente Minnelli and cinematographer Milton Krasner feasting on a few CinemaScope/Metrocolor morsels left over from the black-and-white Fellini masterpiece — a hybrid of old-school MGM and the already emerged European cinema of jet-set orgies, the kind of potboiler best appreciated by those who feel tears welling up at the word “Cinecitta.” It opens with lead Kirk Douglas studying the nuances of his sanitarium’s shuffleboard court after experiencing a crack-up somewhat similar to the one he’d have in seven years later in Elia Kazan’s The Arrangement — another over-the-top melodrama but a pretty true one if you’ve read Kazan’s autobiography (which you should, anyway).

Douglas plays a long washed-up actor between assignments, shall we say, but he gets emergency beckoning from Rome to aid a director and longtime associate (Edward G. Robinson) he simultaneously loves and hates. Formerly industry royalty who’s now hanging on in Italy and reduced to working for a no-talent who could be a Roman cousin of the crude producer Warren Stevens plays in The Barefoot Contessa, Robinson is laboring futilely on a love story (bring on the gondola) that actually would be more profitable were it not released and written off as a tax loss. He says he needs Douglas for a small acting role, but the real reason soon involves more of an artistic (if that’s the word) assist than that. So the sanitarium springs him.

Naturally, there are women, including a temperamental actress played by Rossana Schiaffino, another of those Italian starlets movie guys of my generation grew up with (see also Giovanna Ralli, Luciana Paluzzi and so on). Robinson’s spouse is even more trouble with whiplashing mood swings his own behavior has engendered, but al least that’s his (not Douglas’) problem. The casting in this role of Claire Trevor, an actress I always liked, rekindles some of the tension from John Huston’s Key Largo, when hood Eddie G.’s badgering of Trevor’s boozy chanteuse to sing Moanin’ Low to a captive half-dozen and her abject humiliation got the actress a supporting Oscar. Douglas’s angst-buster from most of this is a too-good-to-believe male fantasy played by Jewish Daliah Lavi (say, how’d she get here?), but he has serious competition from a hotheaded young actor with self-destructive tendencies (George Hamilton, and let’s not even go there — though the actor had shown definite promise in what was already seeing like a long two years ago in Minnelli’s Home from the Hill).

So, why, exactly, does Douglas need to be saved from shuffleboard and a whole lot more? Well, there’s an ex-wife played by Cyd Charisse — as always, a stunner of a chill pill here — but she doesn’t get to do much but scream during one of Minnelli’s oft-described “bizarre sequences” (this one in a car) or languish on a bed like one of the models from the opening credits of the director’s underrated Bells Are Ringing in the kind of pricey nightwear that Scott Pruitt would have probably expensed. Then again, what did Charisse have to work with? I’m as put off as much as any one by the kind of Neo-feminist film criticism that, say, criticizes The Great Escape or Two Years Before the Mast for not having enough women characters, but the ones here are underwritten enough to put off even the Rat Pack.

It’s tough to figure out if these problems were already in the screenplay by then personally troubled Charles Schnee or by mandated butchering of Leo the Lion dolce vita by the still existent and anti-sex Production Code at a time when its death rattle was still less thunderous than it deserved to be (and would soon become). What the Code didn’t do, Margaret Booth’s overly revered editing department likely did by imposing MGM’s patented “directorial vision flattener” (it’s been said that Peckinpah had a lot of problems with Booth around the same time when he was cutting Ride the High Country).

All this said, I do have a kind of soft spot (or maybe soft head) for these goings-on: the highly stylized decor and widescreen blocking (much less so, the performances) do offer a look-back at a time when movie co-productions and overseas dollars first became significant industry factors. If Douglas is only routinely commanding, Robinson is flawless (when was he not?), and there’s one remarkable scene between him and Trevor where a brutal argument of Edward Albee Virginia Woolf intensity later dissolves into a teary about-face (for a while) that does offers insight into a really twisted marriage. There should have been more of this.

Town has picked up a lot of eye rolls for bravely but perhaps foolishly including a clip from 1952’s much more successful The Bad and the Beautiful during a Rome screening-room scene — one presented here as a past Douglas-Robinson success when they’re hungry to “recall” their salad days. This has to be one of the cheekier examples of self-referential cinema on record — though the two movies do kind of bookend each other in ways that make it fun to see them in tandem. One is about old-style Hollywood, the other about the emerging new, and both share Minnelli, Douglas, Schnee, producer John Houseman and composer David Raksin.

But whereas B&B is a trash classic, it’s a trash classic that won five Oscars out of six nominations. Town isn’t a classic of any kind, other than maybe one of red ink — and this was at a time when this was the last thing waning Minnelli and MGM needed after the truly coffers-busting needless revamp of The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (nothing like being in touch with your era’s zeitgeist). This said, Town is a beautiful-looking movie to watch on a big-screen TV, re-establishing that Warner Archive will always go the extra mile to show off the standout virtue that a mass of gloss like this does have.

Mike’s Picks: ‘The Curse of the Cat People’ and ‘2 Weeks in Another Town’