Movie Reviews 458 – Avanti! (1972)

Director Billy Wilder knew a good thing when he saw one and after having a huge hit with Some Like it Hot he made six more movies with star Jack Lemmon. Being a fan of both I really thought I knew all their collaborative films, but it seems one fell through the cracks. Aside from the aforementioned, their films include The Apartment, Irma La Douce, and The Front Page, which are all great films. So how come I’ve never even heard about Avanti!? I did not pay much attention to the cover of my DVD when I sat down for a recent viewing so was tickled to see Wilder in the opening credits and hoped that their synergies would be as successful here as in those others.

The story is about jet setting industrialist Wendell Armbruster, Jr. (Lemmon) having to make a dash to Italy after receiving the news that his father had passed away in a car accident. Once there he is shocked to learn that he died while having a lifelong illicit affair with a woman and that they met there once every year like clockwork . As he makes his way by plane, boat and train Wendell repeatedly crosses paths with Pamela (Juliet Mills of Nanny and the Professor fame) who happens to be the daughter of his father’s mistress and whose mother also perished in the same accident as Wendell’s dad.

The polar opposites clash at every turn as Wendell tries to have his father’s body transported back home to have a proper burial while keeping the affair hushed. The pair have to deal with clergy, attorney’s, a family of mobster’s whose property was damaged during the accident, a representative of the State Department and various hotel staff with a few secrets of their own.

The title is in reference to a recurring gag in the film in that in Italian one asks “Permesso?” to enter an occupied room and “Avanti!” being the affirmative response. This is one of those wily films in which nefarious deeds and people are caught in compromising positions and constantly being interrupted by door knocks. This film has a lot of surprises to be sure but at the top of that list has to be the number of nudity scenes with both stars. In line with the more liberal Italian setting you not only see Jack’s jiggly butt, but Juliet’s jubblies aplenty.

I’m sure I don’t have to paint a picture as to how the relationship ends up.I did find that one of the standout dated misogynist concepts was that it was fine for a man to have an affair while married while the unwed mistress is expected to stick around and be second fiddle for years on end. That aside, the film is funny and the chemistry works. The Italian setting, while making use of some clichés, is delightful.

A bit of a square peg in a round hole, I suspect the nudity may have hampered it’s distribution and television broadcasts and hence the reason for me not knowing about this film earlier. This may also explain why the film was lauded by plenty of Golden Globe nods, but totally ignored by the Academy Awards. While not in the same league as their other classics I would say that you will not be disappointed by this one, and the disparity to those other films does have a charm of its own.

Should you watch this one? I say “Avanti!”

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