Tag Archives: Romance

Avanti! (1972)

avanti1

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

Rated PG

Director: Billy Wilder

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

John and Mary (1969)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Sex and then relationship.

Considered provocative at the time this film detailed the new phenomenon of the one-night-stand, a fad in the late 60’s early 70’s that quickly went out of style upon the release of Looking for Mr Goodbar in 1977.  The story here details a rather nondescript man and woman (played by Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow) who meet at a singles bar and then go back to his place for sex.  The rest of the film involves them considering whether it can grow into a relationship.

The first ten minutes are pretty good. It nicely analyzes all the expected awkwardness one must have of waking up the next morning and not sure who you’ve been sleeping with. I liked how the John character secretly goes through Mary’s purse to find out more about her while Mary does the same with his telephone messages. Unfortunately after this segment Director Peter Yates unwisely decided to put in voice overs of their thoughts. This adds nothing to the proceedings and ends up being heavy-handed. It also takes away one of the fundamental points of good film-making, which is learning about characters through subtle visual observation.

The film is also no where near as sophisticated or daring as I think the film-makers would like us to believe. I expected, and would have like, the male character to have been a life-long swinger who has had many of these flings and now suddenly finds himself attracted to this woman and wants to go in a different direction. Instead we get a Hoffman character portrayed as being someone who has never done this before and only does so at the coaxing of his much more liberated friend.  This leads him to act all shy and unsure and coming off like an extension to the character he played in The Graduate. The end result is getting a very boring, bland person who responds to things in all the predicted ways instead of giving us a fresh new perspective by delving into the mind of someone living a lifestyle many of us have not experienced.  I also got a strong feeling that the film-makers had done very little research into this topic, thus giving the viewer no new insight whatsoever.  It ends up coming off like one of those trendy ‘statement movies’, but with no idea of what statement it actually wants to make.

There is no chemistry between Hoffman and Farrow at all.  Nothing is shown that would indicate why these two would want to pursue this thing any further. I actually found the scenes involving the side-story of Farrow’s affair with an older college professor (Michael Tolan) to be more interesting and filled with stronger more snappy dialogue.

In the end this ‘provocative drama’ deteriorates into being an uninspired love story. It concludes with the tired, cliche ridden scene of having John madly driving around the city of New York looking for this mysterious woman who he is convinced he is in love with despite the fact that he still does not know what her name is.  It is easy to see how, in Hoffman’s very distinguished career, why this film remains one of his lesser known efforts.

On the technical side this film is actually well done.  I liked how it inter-cut between the present day and the past as well as analyzing the previous relationships of the two characters. This film also offers a nice chance to see a young Tyne Daly as Farrow’s roommate.  Cleavon Little from Blazing Saddles fame appears briefly as a would-be film director.  Olympia Dukakis  has an amusing, non-speaking bit as Hoffman’s activist Mother.  This also marks the film debut of character actress Marian Mercer.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: December 14, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Yates

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD

Walk Don’t Run (1966)

walk don't run

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Three is a crowd.

This film marked Cary Grant’s final on-screen appearance and was also a remake of the 1943 screwball comedy The More the Merrier, which was directed by the legendary George Stevens. The story is about a British businessman named Sir William Rutland (Grant) who travels to Tokyo on business during the 1964 summer Olympics and is unable to find a place to stay as everything is booked up. He spots an ad asking for a roommate on a nearby bulletin board. When he goes to the address he finds that the apartment is being rented by an attractive young lady by the name of Christine Easton (Samantha Eggar).  She at first is reluctant to accept the arrangement as she is rather old-fashioned and feels that a man sharing an apartment with a woman would not look appropriate, but William manages to talk his way in. The next day while at a business meeting William meets a young man who is participating in the Olympics, but will not tell anyone what event he is in. His name is Steve Davis and he is played by the late actor Jim Hutton, who is probably best known to today’s audiences as the father of actor Timothy Hutton as the two look almost exactly alike. Steve is looking for a place to stay as well so William invites him to the apartment, which makes Christine even more apprehensive, but after several ‘Three’s a Company’ type scenarios they eventually get along and Steve and Christine end up falling in love.

I found the first hour to be highly enjoyable.  Grant is an old-pro and goes through his role with amazing ease. Every scene he is in is amusing and I would highly recommend the film simply for his appearance alone. I felt the film started to stagnate when they introduced the romance angle. This was another situation were in my opinion the relationship was forced and formulaic and simply put in because the producers felt it would be ‘cute’. It didn’t seem to make a lot of sense why the characters would fall in love anyways since they had only known each other for a couple of days.  It is one thing if a person is desperately looking for someone, but that was not the case with Steve who is very independent and tells everyone he has no interest in marriage. There is nothing shown as to what about Christine’s personality would click with him to begin with.  Yes, she is pretty, but she spends most of the film being rather defensive towards them and more concerned with keeping a ‘proper’ distance. The two stars show no real chemistry either.

This was an unusual foray for actress Eggar as she rarely does comedy. She mainly works in horror films and thrillers and is best known for her performances in The Collector, The Walking Stick, The Brood, and The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun. I felt in those types of roles she did exceptionally well, but here her comic timing seemed off and almost non-existent when compared to the two male leads.

There is also a very silly subplot dealing with Steve being accused as a spy and this culminates with a protracted scene at a Japanese police station where all the characters get interrogated by actor George Takei from ‘Star Trek’, which isn’t good for even a few chuckles. Another scenario involves Christine’s fiancé, Julius Haversack (John Standing), and William’s attempts to keep him away from Christine so that Steve can be with her. This storyline falls flat as well simply because the Julius character is so over-the-top stupid and gullible that William’s shenanigans don’t come off as being all that clever or amusing.

About the only thing that revives the film is the climactic race where the participants are required to walk and not run, hence the film’s title. I found this interesting because I had never seen or heard of this type of race before, but apparently it is a regular event at the Olympics and has been since 1928. The difference in a walking race as opposed to a running one is that the participants must always keep a part of their foot on the ground at all times. The result looks kind of goofy, like an old person trying to run, which explains why Steve was too embarrassed to tell anyone what he did.  I found this segment interesting although the story again gets too exaggerated as the other characters get into a cab and drive alongside Steve during the race, which I didn’t think would happen because there would be enough police officers and Olympic officials there to block them. However, I loved the part where William strips down to his underwear and starts fast-walking alongside Steve and then when he is finished he goes onto a bus and rides home still in his undies with everyone staring at him.

I felt like this was two story’s put into one with the first half being much better than the second. I almost wished they had just kept it focused on the three cohabitating together and not even brought in the romantic angle at all, or maybe just at the very end.  The movie is funniest when Grant is involved and any scene without him seems to fizzle. The music score by legendary Quincy Jones is cool and I wished they had played more of that as well.  It was filmed on-location in Tokyo, but you never really get a good feel of the city, or the Japanese culture. I think more filming in the downtown locations as well as certain landmarks was needed. There were also a few outdoor scenes that despite being nicely detailed where clearly done on an indoor soundstage.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: June 29, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Charles Walters

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video