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
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