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Your January 2010 Unrandom Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: Italy Was Full of Surprises!

Preshow Entertainment: None

Pizza: Papa John's


A little over three months ago, Billy Wilder's A FOREIGN AFFAIR came up randomly. It was such a treat to see a previously unwatched Wilder movie that I figured, why not do it again, this time for UMC? I suppose another reason for this selection was that AVANTI! (1972) was playing on one of the HD channels. Anyway, all the pieces seemed to fall into place. Except for the part where we'd see Jack Lemmon's ass. Twice. No one warned me about that.

The team of Billy/Jack unite for a sixth time, and although AVANTI! is fun and well worth watching, it's not exactly the sharp Wilder movie we're accustomed to (Wilder himself was disappointed with the final product). If only it wasn't waaaaay too long (a common criticism of AVANTI!), this movie would have rocked. Except for the parts where, and I may have mentioned this earlier, you get to see Jack Lemmon's ass. That's like seeing your father's friend's ass. It's creepy, not to mention flabby and pasty.

The private Armbruster Industries plane screeches to a halt like the Blues Brothers parking their Bluesmobile. Out jumps overwhelmed businessman Wendell Armbruster (Lemmon), who barely makes it up the stairs before the plane takes off. Dressed in a loud golfing outfit (is that really a pink terrycloth shirt under that red cardigan?), he approaches a hawkish passenger. We don't hear what they're saying, but we do know a proposal is underway. Soon, Armbruster and the man jump into the bathroom... together, much to the consternation of not only the passengers, but also the pilot. But even though this is a gay joke done silent movie style, it's just a tone-setting cold open. Armbruster and the man simply swapped clothes, for he is on his way to Italy to claim the body of his deceased father. Wait, didn't LOST have this same scene?

It's clear from the moment Armbruster deplanes that retrieving the body and heading back to Baltimore will not be easy. Nope, before he gets to go home his stay will include small details like the red tape of getting a mandatory silk coffin, health certificates and export licenses...not to mention the entire country closing down for three hour lunches and the entire day of Sunday. On a grander scale, Armbruster will have to contend with missing corpses, the local mafia, a blackmailing valet and the fact that his dad was not alone when he died in that car crash.

How does he know his dad was with another woman? He learns it from loverly Brit Pamela Piggott (Juliet Mills), also in town to retrieve a body. Figure it out yet?

Armbruster is perpetually stressed out and impatient, the opposite of Pamela's simple, carefree shopgirl. And though he may be the businessman, she is the one who understands, and more importantly, enjoys life. Is it possible these two can be happy together?

AVANTI! is populated with characters you might find down the rabbit hole, played with a 10% Cartoon Factor, like the Trotta family, whose vineyard was bruised by the elder Armbruster/Piggott car crash. Or the genteel, lisping bartender. Or Bruno, the hotel's valet who was in the mafia "...only part-time." But the stand-out is Clive Revill as the Grand Excelsior Hotel's congenial manager Carlo Carlucci, who despite being the constant bringer of bad news, is always there for Armbruster.

Edward Andrews
And just when you thought you'd seen all the players and things are wrapping up, enter character actor Edward Andrews as J.J. Blodgett. You know Andrews from a googol of roles, dating back to the Golden Age of Television, through Doris Day movies, TWILIGHT ZONES and Samantha Baker's grandfather in 16 CANDLES.

Stealing the show is Italian actor Pippo Franco (the name alone makes me laugh) as the meticulous coroner. It's almost impossible not to lose it at this scene. In fact, I defy you not to laugh. But the real magic trick here is that Wilder makes Franco's comedy play concurrently with Pamela identifying her mother's body...and it's pretty much all done silently. It's a thing of beauty, a balancing act rarely achieved. The last shot of the scene, after everyone exits, shows Pamela holding flowers as she stands beside her deceased mom in the cavernous room. It's a medium shot, lit beautifully. It says so much.

There are a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in AVANTI! My favorite was when the valet wheels Armbruster's luggage into his room. It's just a small attache case on a huge cart (Armbruster had to dash off to the airport, remember? So he didn't really have any luggage). Valet: "Shall I unpack for you?"

Jack Lemmon is so right for the role because he's done it so many times before. He's so good at the exasperated everyman. Has there ever been anyone better? Plus with Lemmon, you know they'll be a scene where he's wearing pajamas. It may have been a contractual thing.

One of the movie's peculiar elements is the constant referral to Pamela Piggott as fat. At one time, Armbruster actually refers to her as "fat-ass." What's odd is that, though Mills gained weight for the role, she is in no way fat. Perhaps this was the Age of Twiggy (who is mentioned at one point), or maybe it's just the case that in drama, sometimes saying makes it so. I mean, even she says she has a weight problem. And I suppose her last name is almost "pig out." No matter, for Juliet Mills (Hayley's her kid sister) is so perfect here, strutting about with confidence on the outside and insecurity on the inside.

And I bet her nude sunbathing (with Lemmon's ass next to her) in AVANTI! must have raised a few eyebrows, as this movie was made seconds after her turn as the prim nanny in NANNY AND THE PROFESSOR. She considers AVANTI! the highlight of her career. Hell, if I worked for Wilder, so would I. Still Mills followed AVANTI! with the super low budgie EXORCIST rip-off BEYOND THE DOOR. Go figger. (AUTHOR'S NOTE: Yes, I saw BEYOND THE DOOR.)

AVANTI! was co-written by Wilder and longtime writing partner I. A. L. Diamond. It's the second (SABRINA was first) Wilder film from a Samuel Taylor play. Taylor wrote Wilder and Hitchcock films, almost concurrently, making him one of the coolest cats ever. I'm not sure what combination of these three writers wrote the speech Pamela gives about America being greedy, but it's so smart. Watch out for that part.

Despite its length, AVANTI! (Italian for "forward," though in this case, it means "come in!" when someone asks to enter your room) wraps all of its farcical elements up in a bow as tight as anyone's ass but Jack Lemmon's. Sure, it's a play-by-numbers movie (contentious relationship turns to love), but the journey is sweet and wonderful. Billy Wilder made a movie that's like tiramisu.

Oh, yes, there's one more thing. This movie made me really want to do something - visit Italy. Avanti!

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