The arrival of The April Fools on DVD has this particular critic jazzed, since the 1969 film is yet another fabulous example of fuddy-duddy Hollywood gamely attempting to adjust itself to the whirlwind of the '60s. Successful? Not quite. Fascinating? Hell, yes. In the case of this comedy-of-errors starring Jack Lemmon and a gorgeous Catherine Deneuve, the grab-bag of attempted hipness translates to an African safari-themed nightclub, stunt-cast Myrna Loy as an astrology expert, a bewildered man getting lost on a discotheque dance floor, a lovely Bacharach-David melody, and the pulse-pounding opening credit of "Miss Deneuve's Jewelry by Cartier." Intrigued yet?
In The April Fools, Lemmon displays his usual high-strung bewilderment as a straight-laced businessman who winds up spending a memorable 24 hours with a French beauty (Deneuve) exploring New York City. The two commiserate on their shared loneliness. In a way, one gets the notion that the producers were influenced by The Graduate and decided to do a similar thing, only with the perplexed male lead aged an extra 20 years - since they hired production designer Richard Sylbert to craft similar, antiseptic Mod-'60s spaces for Lemmon and Deneuve to tramp through, it certainly looks a lot like The Graduate. Does it have the same emotional resonance, though? Here we have Lemmon's Howard Brubaker, a go-getting businessman with a flighty, amateur psychologist wife (Sally Kellerman) and a TV-addicted young son, attempting to curry favor with Ted Gunther (Peter Lawford), a wealthy, swinging tycoon. Gunther invites Brubaker to his stylish apartment where an eccentric group of wild, colorfully dressed hipsters are partying. The groovy hubbub has Brubaker utterly flummoxed, until he sets his eyes on an icy, alluring blonde named Catherine (Deneuve) who has similar misgivings about being there. When Brubaker informs Gunther that he'd like to duck out of the party with the chick he just met, Gunther hands him a key. The need to escape and find some meaningful connection eventually leads Howard and Catherine on a trek into two nightclubs, a cavernous old mansion, Central Park, the bird-shaped TWA terminal at JFK airport - and l-u-v love, baby!
When it comes down to it, The April Fools winds up getting smothered in dated humor and '60s gloss (the photography and art direction is superb), but a few tender moments come about when allowing the Lemmon and Deneuve characters some space to be alone. Finding that nightclubs and discotheques aren't the best spots for getting to know each other, Howard and Catherine leap into another adventure when the opportunity arises to help a woman in need. Finding her chauffeur in a drunken stupor, wealthy New Yorker Grace Greenlaw (Myrna Loy) has the couple take her home. In the mansion she shares with her her sprightly husband, Andre (Charles Boyer), George and Catherine eventually find that married bliss and longevity aren't mutually exclusive things ("When Andre and I were married, they had just invented bread," Grace observes). Despite being married to other people, George and Catherine decide to run off to Paris together. Before they can bid their spouses adieu, however, the film goes to indulgent, interminable, boring-ass lengths to keep the two apart. This includes Catherine getting counseled by her pals Kenneth Mars and Melinda Dillon, plus Howard's mishap-filled attempt to tell the wife he's leaving her, his stewed middle-class compatriots Jack Weston and Harvey Korman along for the ride.
Lemmon and Deneuve (charming, despite her discomfort with speaking English) go a long way toward making The April Fools an enjoyable movie. Director Stuart Rosenberg seems to prefer unsubtle zoom shots and an overabundance of movement, while Hal Dresner's script exchanges a few poignant tidbits ("That's the first time I kissed a woman without saying goodbye, goodnight or happy birthday") with broad innuendo straight out of an X-rated mag. It's a weird, straining-to-be-hip enterprise, all right. Buried beneath the swinging facade, it does have something substantial to say about the impulsiveness of love and pondering the wisdom of the choices one makes in life.
The April Fools is one of a handful of catalog films being released by Paramount, on DVD, early this year - a development that prompts an "is it 2014 or 2004?" response more than anything else, but a welcome sight all the same.
CBS/Paramount's DVD edition of The April Fools sports a spiffy looking transfer for the disc's 2.35:1 letterboxed image. The film stock shows some age with the occasional white flecks dancing across the screen, but by and large the movie's bright, appealing cinematography comes through well. Dark levels are deep without being murky, while the color is surprisingly vivid for a 45 year-old film.
The disc's English-language mono soundtrack is a pretty standard-issue affair, although there is some cleanliness and depth to the mix. English SDH subtitles are also provided.
None, although there are separate menus for scene and subtitle selection.
Fun stuff - 1969's glossy romantic comedy The April Fools is an overlong, coarse yet enjoyable variant on themes done infinitely better in The Graduate. Although the script overdoes it on the dated, Playboy-style humor, Jack Lemmon and Catherine Deneuve are just fine as the would-be lovers caught up in a daffy, '60s-Mod cream puff of a situation. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.