By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Juliet shows her boobies.
Jack Lemmon plays Wendell Armbruster Jr. a conservative, set-in-his-ways businessman who travels to Italy to arrange the return of his father who died in a car accident. To his shock he finds that his father did not die alone, but instead was with his secret lady lover of twenty years. Apparently they would meet every summer and the two had been carrying on the secret affair without any of their family members knowing. Juliet Mills plays Pamela Piggott the daughter of the other woman. She comes to claim the body of her mother and after the two meet a certain romantic spark slowly begins to ignite.
This film is similar to The April Fools, which was another romantic Lemmon vehicle that was done just a few years earlier. This film though works much better. For one thing there is a nice bit of mystery as to whether this thing will continue on or not and the ending leaves you guessing. Sometimes the best romances in life are the brief flings one has with someone that they know for only a short period of time and then move on and this film nicely captures that. The relationship grows at a realistic pace without ever being forced, clichéd, or sappy. In fact the two at first don’t even like each other.
Lemmon’s character here is much improved from the one in The April Fools. Instead of just being a bland schmuck he is more crusty, argumentative, and confrontational almost like talk show host Bill O’Reilly. His snappy comebacks and one-liners are fun and help hold the movie together. Mills (sister of Hayley, daughter of Sir John and wife of Maxwell Caulfield) is a delight as always playing a serene good-natured character similar to the one she did in her famous TV-show ‘Nanny and the Professor’. The fact that the two leads have such diametrically different dispositions helps give it a spark and make it intriguing.
Director Billy Wilder nicely captures the ambience and scenic beauty of the region and screenwriter I.A.L Diamond’s script is paced with amusing side-stories and characters. However, a 145 minute runtime is too long for such slight material and it spends a little too much time on side-stories that go nowhere. The scenes themselves are stretched out longer than they should with hardly any action and there is too much emphasis on the Neil Simon-like comical banter that ultimately makes this production seem more like a filmed stage play than a movie.
The film though does have some nice moments of humor. The part where the two go the morgue to identify the bodies and the very particular way the administrator sets out the legal documents to be signed and the way he packs them back up is amusing. There is also a scene where the two go skinny dipping and swim out to a small island. Yes, you do get to see both stars in the buff and although Mills isn’t bad, Lemon with his pale, out-of-shape, middle-aged-body, might be a bit too much for some. However, it is funny seeing him swim in the nude, but still leaving on his brown socks, which is a perfect testament to his uptight character. The best part and by far and away the funniest moment in the film comes when a boat load of sailors come by and start whooping and hollering at the nude Pamela. Wendell then tries to ‘protect Pamela’s modesty’ by taking off his wet, dripping socks and holding them over her ample bosoms while she merrily waves to the passing men. It’s a visual thing, but it had me laughing-out-loud.
I did have two issues with the film that I feel should be discussed. The first is the opening bit where Wendell gets on the plane without any luggage and wearing casual attire because he was given too short a notice to change clothes before he had to board the plane. He sees a man with a nice suit on and asks him if they could change clothes. Yes, it is a bit amusing when everyone on the plane, including the stewardesses and the pilots, crowd around the bathroom door in confusion after seeing two grown men go in, but the joke falls flat because it is not in any way believable. Who in their right mind would go into a small bathroom of a plane with a perfect stranger to change clothes with him, especially when there was no money exchanged? Most would probably think he was a kook and tell him to get lost. The first rule they teach you in comic screenwriting 101 is that for the joke to work there needs to be some grain of truth to it, or otherwise it will come off as stupid, which it does here.
The other problem has to do with Pamela and her apparent ‘weight problem’ that gets mentioned not only by her, but by the other characters as well. The truth of the matter is that she looks great and has a figure most women would die for. I noticed this same thing with the Anne Hathaway character in The Devil Wears Pavda where she was labeled as ‘fat’ when compared to the other models even though she looked terrific. Apparently Hollywood, in their never ending quest for ideal beauty, cannot bring themselves to actually cast a plain, over-weight woman in the pivotal role of a love interest even if the script calls for it so instead they get someone who is just slightly under the gorgeous level, but still way above the average woman, and then hope to pass her off as a ‘plain Jane’. The result becomes not only ridiculous, but highly annoying and even insulting especially when it continues to be brought up and discussed.
Overall romance fans should find it appealing as the story has all the necessary ingredients and fits the formula well.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: December 17, 1972
Runtime: 2Hours 20Minutes
Director: Billy Wilder
Studio: United Artists
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video