Wednesday, 20 August 2008

"Avanti!". A Review Of The 1972 Billy Wilder Film Now On DVD.

"Italy Was Full Of Surprises..."

When "Avanti!" was released in 1972, the world and its cinema had changed irrevocably. This gentle, slightly slow moving romantic-comedy about not-so-hip people had no real place in a film world gripped by gritty realism, escalating cursing and the depiction of ultra-violence. Still "Avanti!" (it means "forward") was nominated for 6 Golden Globes and won one - Best Comedy Actor for Jack Lemmon.

Produced and Directed by the incomparable Billy Wilder, it featured a fabulously inventive and witty script from the dynamite duo of Wilder and his long-time writing buddy L.A.L. Diamond. Check this out. Clive Revill (Nominated as Best Comedy Supporting Actor) is in the Hotel bus on route with Lemmon from the airport telling the busy executive of Armbruster Enterprises (his father's company) that all of Italy closes for lunch between one o'clock and four o'clock in the afternoon. The incensed and jittery Wendell is agog.
Jack Lemmon: "Three hours for lunch!"
Clive Revill: "Here we take our time...we cook our pasta...we drink our wine...we make our love..."
Jack Lemmon: "What do you do in the evening?"
Clive Revill: (Frowns) "We go home to our wives!"
"Avanti!" is full of stuff like this!

The story goes as so. Millionaire Wendell Armbrewster from Baltimore USA arrives in a hurry and ill-prepared in Italy to pick up the body of his father, killed in a car accident on the slopes of Naples. What he doesn't bargain for is that his bastion-of-morality father William was not alone in the car as it crashed into a vineyard. He was with his mistress Kate. In fact he'd gone to the beautiful and picturesque resort for 10 years to be with her. Both were in their late Sixties but giddily in love like kids.

On route (on the plane, boat and train) Wendell keeps meeting the prim and proper Penny Pritchett (a delightful and lovely Juliet Mills) from London, England. She seems to be everywhere he goes - and when she turns up at his hotel room too - Wendell works it out - she is the daughter of Kate, his father's mistress and there to pick up her mother's body! Italian shenanigans follow one after another to stave off the funeral in Baltimore the following Tuesday - the crafty Hotel staff trying to keep the scandal at bay, the ludicrous legal paperwork, no one works the weekends, missing bodies, more triplicate paperwork, blackmailing porters and vineyard guys, swimming naked to the rock their parents used to frequent and giving the local randy fishermen an eyeful (Mills has lovely breasts which Lemmon suddenly notices). And, of course, they slowly secumb to the magic of the place and fall in love themselves.

The humour is constant and the dialogue the same. For instance. Two zinc-lined coffins are needed from out of town before the bodies can be released, but the bodies get nicked by the vineyard guys who want compensation for their grapes "poisoned by death"! Lemmon listens to Hotel Owner's crafty and constant updates on their progress with increasing American uptightness. "Great! First we have two bodies and no coffins, now we have two coffins and no bodies!"

The two leads are of course part of the secret. As the years pass, your admiration for Jack Lemmon only grows. His range, his subtlety, the way he made it look easy - you realise how truly great an actor he was. He could do witty like no-one, crazy, charming, sensitive, uptight - but all the time with that everyman humanity that Jimmy Stewart had. Juliet Mills too - lovely, sexy in her way, sweet. She has a running joke about weight all through the film which she milks with subtlety and skill and provides exactly the right kind of gentle counter that Lemmon's character needs. Throw in a cast of brilliantly funny Italian locals, romantic locations and silly set-ups and you have a fantastic Sunday afternoon warmer.

This is the kind of film that makes me want to put a picture of Billy Wilder and his chunky spectacles on my wall. And every time that I look at it, I'll smile.

Do yourself a favour and check it out - or better still - buy it and keep it for that day you need a lift.

Arrivederci! Love birds!

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