Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. Italy/USA, 1972. Jalem Productions, The Mirisch Corporation, Phalanx Productions, Produzioni Europee Associate. Screenplay by Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, based on the play by Samuel A. Taylor. Cinematography by Luigi Kuveiller. Produced by Billy Wilder. Production Design by Ferdinando Scarfiotti. Costume Design by Annalisa Nasalli-Rocca. Film Editing by Ralph E. Winters. Golden Globe Awards 1972.
Jack Lemmon shows up in Ischia, Italy feeling exasperated and upset, having arrived to collect the remains of his father who died in an automobile accident. In trying to arrange for the body to be shipped home in time for the funeral, he encounters a country with three hour lunches and endless swirls of bureaucracy that make his task very difficult to accomplish, but even more upsetting is the presence of a delightful Juliet Mills, who informs him that her mother died in the same car accident because she was his father’s mistress. Stuck in paradise and forced to listen to this woman endlessly prattle on, Lemmon’s constant shouting eventually settles in and learns to soak up the surroundings, realizing that what he thought was an ambitious can-do American attitude is actually workaholic misery that is missing the most that life has to offer. Mills’ character has a ridiculous ongoing obsession with her weight that is meant to be her lesson to not sweat the small stuff, but even when factoring in Mills gaining twenty pounds to play the character and the fact that these things are usually a personal hangup not based on any objective weight assessment, it’s absolutely impossible to believe that she would feel in the least bit self-conscious about being so luscious. Billy Wilder previously adapted a Samuel Taylor play when he made the still beloved Sabrina in 1954, the changes to which incensed Taylor so much that he quit collaborating on the screenplay before cameras began rolling; all seems to be forgiven enough to give the director a chance at adapting him again, but Taylor’s focus on American corporate mentality confusing or (in this case) poisoning the enjoyment of life, while completely ignored in Wilder’s version of Sabrina, is not exactly given centre stage here either. Wilder is far more interested in comedy antics and romantic indulgence, mixing in some touches of Italian sex comedy (including gratuitous breasts and truly unnecessary glimpses of Lemmon naked) that fall flat thanks to a ridiculously generous running time (it’s a ninety minute movie spread out over one hundred and forty minutes) and the complete lack of chemistry between the stars. It looks lovely, but sitting through it is a genuine challenge.