Avanti! (1972) starring Jack Lemmon, Juliet Mills, directed by Billy Wilder
In short, Avanti! is Hollywood excusing adultery. Seriously. The synopsis is as follows:
Successful businessman Wendell Armbruster, Jr. (Jack Lemmon) has to go to Italy to recover the body of his father, who has been killed in an automobile accident there. Once there, he meets with his Italian right-hand man, Carlo Carlucci (played delightfully by Clive Revill), and London shop keeper Pamela Piggot (Juliet Mills), both of whom know what he does not. His father, and Pamela’s mother, have been having an on-going affair for ten years. They met for a month every year at an Italian hotel. Pamela is there to recover her mother’s body, since her mother was killed in the same auto accident as her fellow adulterer. While bemoaning his father’s infidelity to his still-living mother, Wendell begins falling in love with the Pamela. Despite being happily married himself.
There’s a lot of comic snafus, trying to get permits to send the bodies back, the slow pace of Italian life contrasted with the American rat race, an Italian porter who wants to be an American and is willing to blackmail Wendell to accomplish it, etc. But I was unable to enjoy the movie, since it’s a glorification of adultery.
Editorial review of Avanti! courtesy of Amazon.com
The complete obscurity of Avanti! is a cinematic injustice that needs to be rectified. Jack Lemmon and director Billy Wilder made their share of hits together (Some Like It Hot and The Apartment, for starters), but this wry, melancholy comedy was completely out of touch with its time (which recalls a Wilder one-liner from the ’70s: “Who the hell would want to be in touch with these times?”). It may have flopped badly in 1972, but it wears well in retrospect.
Lemmon plays a jerk American businessman called to Italy to pick up the body of his father, who died while enjoying a secret (and, it turns out, annual) liaison with a mistress. With the help of a delightful Englishwoman (Juliet Mills) who happens to be the daughter of the “other woman,” Lemmon finds himself stepping in a few of Dad’s footsteps, and falling under the sway of the beguiling Italian atmosphere. A very leisurely movie, but that’s part of its effect.
Clive Revill delivers a gem of a performance as a heroic hotel manager, and Juliet Mills (sister of Hayley, daughter of Oscar-winner John) had her finest screen hour here. As a director, Wilder spent much of his early career camouflaging his romantic streak under a cynical front; here, despite many acerbic touches and the presence of death as the central plot device, the romance is in full flower under the rich Italian sun. — Robert Horton
Movie quotes from Avanti!
Carlo Carlucci: While you are here, maybe you should take some mud baths.
Wendell Armbruster: No thanks, I had one on the train.
Carlo Carlucci: On the train?
Wendell Armbruster: I drank it. They call it espresso.
Carlo Carlucci: In Italy, the lunch hour is from one to four.
Wendell Armbruster: *hree hours for lunch?
Carlo Carlucci: Mr. Armbruster. Here we do not rush to drugstore for chicken sandwich & Coca-Cola. Here, we take our time. We cook our pasta, we sprinkle our Parmigiano, we drink our wine, we make our love …
Wendell Armbruster: What do you do in the evening?
Carlo Carlucci: In the evening, we go home to our wives.
Pamela Piggott: For instance, you need a coffin lined with some sort of metal.
Wendell Armbruster: Zinc.
Wendell Armbruster: Better get a couple of those.
Carlo Carlucci: I had trouble finding one!
Wendell Armbruster: Come on. You can dig up a couple of coffins.
Carlo Carlucci: [hesitating] You want second-hand coffins?
Carlo Carlucci: The coroner, he eats very well. He knows all the widows.
Pamela Piggott: I guess there is something to what it says in the tourist guide.
Wendell Armbruster: What does it say?
Pamela Piggott: It says Italy is not a country — it’s an emotion.
Wendell Armbruster: Well, it’s certainly been an experience!
Pamela Piggott: Oh, they’re a terrific group! They call themselves, — The Four Apostles — — Matthew, Mark, Luke and Bertram.
Pamela Piggott: [Talking about her ex-boyfriend] … walked out on me. Stole my telly, two Picasso posters, and my hair dryer. Moved in with some skinny girl in Kennsington … When I found out, would you believe I tried to kill myself?
Wendell Armbruster: No!
Pamela Piggott: Yes. I took my week’s salary, bought myself a suitcase full of fish and chips and a dozen bottles of Guinness stout, and tried to eat myself to death. Took them hours to pump my stomach out.
Wendell Armbruster: Was it worth it, for a guy like that?
Pamela Piggott: It was stupid. But I’ve learned my lesson: No more fish and chips!
Wendell Armbruster: [moving his face close to hers] Permesso?
Pamela Piggott: Why don’t you just make a contribution to your favorite charity?
Wendell Armbruster: [firmly] Permesso.
Pamela Piggott: Avanti.
J.J. Blodgett: Maybe it’s one of those Greek islands?
Helicopter pilot: No sir, Greece is way to the left.
J.J. Blodgett: Not as long as I am with the State Department!
J.J. Blodgett: [as the helicopter is approaching the Ischia heliport] Are you guys sure this is Ischia?
Helicopter pilot: Reasonably sure, sir.
J.J. Blodgett: Because I don’t wanna land in Africa!
Helicopter pilot: That would be bigger, sir.
J.J. Blodgett: What the hell is going on in this country? This wouldn’t have in the old days!
Man at the heliport: You remember Mussolini?
Carlo Carlucci: Mr. Blodgett, I am Carlo Carlucci, Director of the hotel. Such a pleasure to have you here.
J.J. Blodgett: [Paying scant attention to Carlucci] Thank you — ¦
Carlo Carlucci: It may interest you to know, we had another famous American diplomat staying here once: Mr. Benjamin Franklin.
J.J. Blodgett: Franklin? Oh, oh yes, Ben Franklin — ¦ Well, good man for his time. Of course, today, I’m not sure he could pass the security check.
Carlo Carlucci: Would you like to see his room? It is in the old part of the building.
J.J. Blodgett: [Impatiently] Not now — ¦
Carlo Carlucci: Excuse me, I would like your advice about something, straight from the horse’s mouth. Do you think there will be a war in the Middle East?
J.J. Blodgett: [Somewhat taken aback] We don’t give out that kind of information.
Carlo Carlucci: You see, I have been offered a job with an American chain of hotels — ¦ the Sheraton. And there are a couple of openings and one of them is in Damascus.
J.J. Blodgett: Damascus, hmm — ¦ Now don’t quote me on this, but with the Russian presence escalating in the Mediterranean, and the military posture of the Arabs stiffening and the first strike capabilities of the Israelis at its peak, the whole place is a powder keg that could blow up in your face any second. My advice is, forget Damascus.
Carlo Carlucci: Thank you. In that case I’d better take the other job.
J.J. Blodgett: What’s that?
Carlo Carlucci: The Sheraton in New York.
J.J. Blodgett: [Slight pause] Hmm … Take the one in Damascus!
J.J. Blodgett: I don’t object to foreigners speaking a foreign language. I just wish they’d all speak the same foreign language.