Judge Jim Thomas is a swinger now, thanks to his new porch swing.
He has a wife. She has a husband. With so much in common they just have to fall in love.
Ah, the sixties. Land of swingers, mod parties, nouveau art—basically, people breaking free from convention just in time to become too old to enjoy their new freedom. The decade, not surprisingly, gave us the term "midlife crisis" (coined in 1965 by Canadian psychoanalyst Elliot Jacques), that period of abject terror when someone who thinks he has it all suddenly realizes that mortality isn't just an abstract concept. The 1969 film The April Fool's, brought to us by Paramount, is basically a midlife crisis on steroids. It had a number of firsts going for it: it was director Stuart Rosenberg's first movie since the hit Cool Hand Luke; it was Jack Lemmon's first movie since The Odd Couple; and it was European star Catherine Deneuve's first American film. It was also writer Hal Dresner's first solo credit, and it appears that he missed a couple of lessons on characterization and development. The materials are there for a good movie, but they are never developed with an ounce of originality—when they're developed at all.
Facts of the Case
Howard Brubaker (Jack Lemmon, The Odd Couple) arrives at a party at the penthouse apartment of his boss, Ted Gunther (Peter Lawford, Advise & Consent) completely out of sorts. At home he has a wife (Sally Kellerman, M*A*S*H) who is completely indifferent towards him. While he's just gotten a major promotion, he doesn't quite fit in, a fact quickly hammered home as he wanders about Gunther's lavishly decorated home, intimidated by guests and modern art alike. Gunther, trying to help, encourages him to hook up with one of the many, many lovely women at the party. After all, Gunther can't sleep with them all.
Literally across a crowded room, Howard catches the eye of Catherine (Catherine Deneuve, The Last Metro), who is just as out of sorts. They leave the party, less out of passion as a desire to be anywhere else. They stumble across Grace and Andre Greenlaw (Myrna Loy, The Thin Man, and Charles Boyer, Is Paris Burning?), who take the couple to their own penthouse for a night of pleasant company. Howard and Catherine grow closer, but above all, they realize that they simply cannot continue with their respective lives. Catherine resolves to leave her husband and return to France. Howard wants to accompany her, but both agree that they have to inform their respective spouses.
Howard heads home for a confrontation of sorts, but he's in for a bigger surprise when he returns to meet Catherine; that's when he'll learn that she's Ted Gunther's wife.
There's certainly a lot to like about this movie: attractive, capable leads, and a great visual style—the opening sequence in Gunther's apartment is an over-the-top gloss on late 1960s materialism. The movie also benefits from some strong supporting performances. Charles Boyer and Myrna Loy are in fine form, and there are some fun smaller turns, including Harvey Korman (Blazing Saddles) as a drunk, and Kenneth Mars (The Producers) and Melinda Dillon (A Christmas Story) as a couple who are friends with Gunther and Catherine.
The leads are something of a vacuum. Both Lemmon and Deneuve could play this sort of part in their sleep, and to a certain extent, that's what they do. Their characters are too broadly drawn, making it easy to see them as variations on earlier roles. The characters are likable enough, but instead of spending time showing the two grow closer together, the emphasis is on each of them separately realizing how empty their respective lives are. As a result, what seems to bloom between Howard and Catherine is not so much passion as desperation.
For a forty-five-year-old catalog title, the disc isn't too bad. The video is for the most part free from damage—with the exception of the last shot. Unfortunately, the last shot is of a jet taking off at night, so the scratches are impossible to miss. The audio track is crisp and clear; while it's just mono, the dialogue is clear even in some of the more sonically challenged environments. There are no extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The movie may be a somewhat shallow exercise, but it's a lovely shallow exercise—Gunther's apartment alone is like a time capsule back into the late sixties. The first 30 minutes, between the apartment and the Safari Club, are sensory overload, so much so that we can completely appreciate how utterly overwhelmed Howard feels—which does do a nice job of setting up the frog-prince metaphor that more or less anchors the back half of the movie.
The supporting roles are, for the most part, stronger that the leads; they're still stock characters, but the actors bring a little more to the parts. Charles Boyer is utterly charming, even if he is essentially playing the same part that he played in Barefoot in the Park.
At times The April Fools feels like it's trying hard to be a traditional romantic comedy but not quite succeeding; at others, like a midlife crisis version of The Graduate. Regardless, when the dust settles, it's hard to shake the feeling that instead of a movie about two people coming together, it's about two people who just happen to be running away at the same time.
It's like every other midlife crisis movie you've seen, but this one has Catherine Deneuve. Granted, that generally covers up a lot of faults, but in this case, it just calls attention to how utterly generic the movie is.
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