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April Fools, The (DVD Review)

24 Feb, 2014 By: Mike Clark

$19.99 DVD
Rated ‘PG.’
Stars Jack Lemmon, Catherine Deneuve, Peter Lawford, Myrna Loy, Charles Boyer.

Excessively full of itself both in terms of whimsical overkill and employment of peripatetic zoom-lensing, this sweet-natured farce has nonetheless always grabbed me up to a point, though never when it’s televised and never when it was on VHS. This is because pan-and-scan tinkering destroys its framing and star power even more than most movies made after the widescreen era launched, and that covers a lot of history. There’s one Panavision shot that caps what is perhaps the best scene here — one in which the four actors spread across the frame are merely Jack Lemmon, Catherine Deneuve, Myrna Loy and Charles Boyer. How’d you like to miss one of them in a cropped shot?

Plus: someone really gave ace production designer Richard Sylbert his head here, and he goes all out in an early nightclub scene in which an all but unwilling Lemmon and Deneuve journey out into the kind of faux trendy joint that suggests what Hugh Hefner might have come up with had he eschewed the Bunny motif and gone in more for something out of Ramar of the Jungle instead. The nightspot comes complete with toy shooting devices supplied to customers so that they can beckon the attention of their waitress by gently shooting her in the behind. Meanwhile, the décor is about as tasteful as that lamp with a woman’s leg that Darren McGavin prizes so much in A Christmas Story, and Sylbert fills every inch of the 2.35 Panavision rectangle here with kitsch. Because this was a movie that never got re-issued much, this is possibly one of the few times Fools has been seen the correct way since it opened on the Memorial Day weekend of what would prove to be a memorable summer (moon shot, Manson murders, Woodstock).

Nothing in Hal Dresner’s script has anything to do with those heavier subjects, and it is, in fact, such a confection that Lemmon is characterized and even referred to several times as a “frog prince.” Trading on the junior corporate cog the actor played so definitively in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment, Fools poses Lemmon as a just-promoted exec who is so ignored by his wife (a barely pre-MASH Sally Kellerman) that he’s vulnerable to meeting the most beautiful woman in the room at a bash thrown by his new boss (Peter Lawford). She is, turns out, the latter’s wife — and if you have any doubts as to whether she is the room’s most beautiful, Deneuve is the one playing her. That she would also go for a typical Lemmon schnook is a key component of the movie’s fantasy apparatus, but then male fantasies aren’t always bad. Take it from a male.

At the welcome running time of 94 minutes, there really isn’t a whole lot to the movie, and Deneuve (though she compensates by conveying her own vulnerability) has some trouble projecting in English. But Lawford is so good as her heel of a husband — indeed, probably the best I ever saw him – that the sad story of his late career (when he found it tough to get work) doesn’t make sense purely on its face. Then there’s the long single scene with Loy and Boyer as a blissfully-in-love couple after 35 years of marriage, though by appearances (and notwithstanding that both players look fantastic), one might guess 45 or 55. The scene offers the singular sight of Boyer and Lemmon fencing — and aside from an unmindful scene (very much of its time) that finds fun in drunk driving, the alcohol-induced comic relief from Jack Weston and Harvey Korman in the story’s final quarter is more ticklish than such scenes usually are.

Unless you dig The Pope of Greenwich Village (which some do, though it really put me off at the time), Stuart Rosenberg was one of the era’s most famed one-shot-wonders: Cool Hand Luke, and then the elevator drops about 102 floors. Fools isn’t a total success (and some would say it’s not one of any kind), but there are enough redeeming factors to make it something of a cult movie (see the voluminous comments section on idb.com) and to make the case that Rosenberg might have been at least a 1.5-hit-wonder instead.

About the Author: Mike Clark

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