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An effete little demi-farce centered on a knot of native and expatriate antiquarians, dealers, students, and rampaging academics in Florence, Italy--the sort of cast that cries out (vainly, alas) for the satiric thrusts of Baird's earlier roasts of art establishments. Handsome Mark Stapleton, absorbing antiquity at the suggestion of his US book-dealer boss, makes the acquaintance of elderly Signora Madeleine Benassi, who presides over gatherings of tenants in her Villa Arberoni (known in the reigning days of her awesomely beautiful mother as ""Villa Aphrodite""). Among the residents and visitors: the impoverished Marchese dei Guidoni (""Ricky""), living in the crumbling family palazzo but too proud to marry well-to-do Madeleine; scholar James Molyneux, gradually winding down an affair with lover Bruno, while developing an overwhelming passion for (straight) Mark; and ""high-academic operator"" Dr. Wesley Knuckles--who, with brass and sheer ""go,"" is guiding elderly heiress Miss Emilene Ladore, a raw-boned Texan, through Italy's treasures. (Emilene hates furrin' places, but Daddy's will directed that she shoot the roll on something cultural--and Dr. Knuckles has in mind an establishment for Renaissance studies.) Soon, of course, a bit of art-history excitement ripples through this pond of odd fish: James, who's been aiding Ricky financially by quietly unloading Guidoni family treasures to be sold abroad, finds nothing less than a lost Raphael drawing! Some sleuthings and double-dealings ensue; so do lovers' misunderstandings. (Mark has fallen for Knuckles' niece Laurie.) The windup features a few ironies. But, despite tours of Florentine artifacts, epigrammatic dialogue, and other amusing bits of cultural flotsam, this is the mildest sort of elegant, decadent comedy--with insufficient movement and vitriol along the Arno.

Pub Date: Oct. 11th, 1984
Publisher: St. Martin's