Avanti! Review

Image for Avanti!

A grieving Wendell Ambruster Jr. (Jack Lemmon) arrives on the Italian island of Ischia to learn that his venerable father died in a car crash alongside his English mistress, whose daughter, Pamela Piggott (Juliet Mills), has also come to do her filial duty.


Billy Wilder was never particularly fond of this comedy of continental manners. Yet it echoed themes he had already explored with much hilarity in A Foreign Affair and One, Two, Three, in which he demonstrated that much more than the Atlantic Ocean divided Europe from America. Perhaps his disillusion was born of the fact that he was prevented by Paramount from making the picture he wanted, in which Jack Lemmon discovered not only that his father had been having annual assignations with a lover, but that his sleeping companion had been the hotel's bellboy.

Nevertheless, such is Lemmon's practised sense of wounded propriety that he's just as comically indignant about the fact that his father had been canoodling with Juliet Mills's mother. Wilder and co-scenarist I.A.L. Diamond laced Wendell's character with facets of The Apartment's C.C. Baxter, although it's also easy to recognise The Odd Couple's Felix Ungar in Brewster's slavish devotion to detail and his discomfort around women.  

Lemmon is expertly supported by Mills, who piled on the pounds to play the pert Miss Piggott, who comes more quickly to realise that the resort is exerting the same romantic pull on them that it did on their parents. But their mid-life liaison would not seem so charming without the complicity of the locals, whose fondness for the deceased prompts them to matchmake their offspring. Clive Revill does particularly well as the hotel manager, who manages to make reams of expository information seem quaintly conversational.  

 But while the human comedy is thoroughly engaging, Wilder never lets it blunt his satirical purpose, as he contrasts the mildly corrupt customs of the laconic Italian bureaucrat and the ardent American diplomat. However, the humour is gently in keeping with the leisurely pace that makes this guilty pleasure all the more delicious.

Gentle and touching satirical drama with Lemmon on form but without much bite.