Avanti! (1972): Billly Wilder’s Romantic Dramedy, Starring Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills

One of Billy Wilder’s last films, Avanti! was a commercial failure, signaling the end of the glorious career of the six-time Oscar-winning director.

I am not a champion of this picture, though some critics consider it an underrated work.  Indeed, the film’s stature has risen in recent years. The new evaluation is due to the 1999 book, Conversations with Wilder, by writer-director Cameron Crowe, who defined the picture as a “melancholy classic.”

Wilder re-teamed with his favorite actor, Jack Lemmon (the star of Some Like It Hot and The Apartment), resulting in a collaboration that has divided critics in terms of artistic merits.

Lemmon plays a crass businessman who travels to Italy to claim the body of his father, who was killed in an automobile accident while on vacation. There he learns that his father was carrying on a long extramarital affair with an Englishwoman, who died with him in the accident.

While in Italy, he meets the woman’s daughter, played by Juliet Mills, and it seems that history is repeating itself, when Lemmon and Mills fall in love.

For some, Avanti! represents a sly reworking of one of Wilder’s favorite themes, the encounter of an innocent American and more worldly Europeans.

It was a subject that Wilder had first explored in his Oscar-nominated screenplay for Hold Back the Dawn, in 1941. And he revisited it in other films, such as A Foreign Affair, Sabrina, Love in the Afternoon, and One Two Three 

Avanti! was filmed on picaresque Italian locations, adding rich texture the director’s exploration of the innocent abroad.

Clive Revill and Edward Andrews co-star in the film, which was written by Wilder and his longtime collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond.

Luigi Kuveiller is the cinematographer, and the production designer is Ferdinando Scarfiotti, the Oscar-winning designer of The Last Emperor, The Conformist, and Death in Venice.

Juliet Mills is member of a distinguished British acting families: Her father, John Mills, is famous actor, and her younger sister, Hayley Mills, the star of Disney classics Pollyanna and The Parent Trap.  Juliet was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in Avanti! and for her role on the hit TV series, Nanny and the Professor. She won an Emmy for her performance in the miniseries, QB VII, and she was nominated for Tony for her performance in Peter Shaffer’s first Broadway play, Five Finger Exercise.