Avanti! is Italian for “enter” and Billy Wilder’s most neglected masterpiece is a sublime romantic comedy which is as sensitive as it is hilarious.
Jack Lemmon is Wendell Armbruster III, a stuffy young millionaire from Baltimore who goes to Ischia in Italy to claim the body of his tycoon father who died in a car accident while on holiday.
At the same time Pamela Piggott (Juliet Mills), a delightfully prim British miss, is on her way to retrieve her dead mum.
Wendell soon learns that the fateful accident which killed his father also killed his dad’s summertime mistress – Pamela’s mum.
And the two, whom we first meet bickering at the airport, find that almost despite themselves, they’re falling hopelessly and helplessly head-over-heels in love.
The romantic sights of Italy, carefree skinny-dipping in the Mediterranean, dancing till dawn and the beautiful strains of the love theme from The Flight Of The Phoenix (1966) on the accordion make it a completely irresistible time for the young lovers, despite the unbelievable red tape which they encounter in their efforts to ship their respective family corpses back home.
Italian bureaucrats smother Wendell with paperwork and gangsters steal the corpses in order to extort money.
The film is drawn out (it runs to 140 minutes!) yet plenty of wit and style in the script and classy acting by a good cast sustain interest.
Wendell Armbruster III
J. J. Blodgett
Anna, the maid