BR: April Love (1957)

June 25, 2015 | By

 

AprilLove_BRFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label: Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  April 14, 2015

Genre:  Musical / Romance / Drama

Synopsis: A youth caught joyriding in a stolen car does his probation under the watchful eye of a strict uncle in Lexington, Kentucky.

Special Features:  Audio Commentary with actress Shirley Jones and film historian and producer Nick Redman / Isolated Stereo Music Track / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment.

 

 


 

Review:

If a supporting role in Bernadine proved to Fox brass that singer Pat Boone could in fact act (and make money for the studio), then it seemed natural to quickly slide the crooner into a starring project that tied all the demographics together into a light, almost classically written puffball musical that could easily have been made today (albeit with perhaps edgier conflicts).

Boone plays Chicago-based Nick Conover, a convicted drag racer (!) whose mother’s pleading enabled the boy to spend probation time at her brother’s Kentucky horse racing farm to do penance, and learn a few things about good clean living, discipline, and doin’ right. Uncle Jed Bruce (Arthur O’Connell) finds the idea of babysitting his nephew distasteful and wasteful, and plays hardball at every turn, but he’s soon won over when Nick’s acumen for fixing engines restores a long beat-up John Deere tractor, but his gratitude turns into a slight obsession when Nick takes the place of his late son, killed in the Korean War, just as the boy was poised to become a trained rider and harness racer.

Whether he likes it  or not (and it’s initially a decisive not), Jed trains Nick to dive a horse-drawn sulk carriage that’s native to Kentucky, and although the boy does good, a lack of judgment may well doom his probation and actually send him to the slammer.

Nick also trains alongside his neighbour’s tomboy daughter Liz Templeton (Shirley Jones), unaware she’s fast falling in love with him, while Nick keeps his attention on Liz’ older sister Fran (Dolores Michaels) who drives the kind of fast red car Nick would love to handle on the highway. It’s that lapse of judgment – doing a quick back road drag race – that endangers his newfound life, but as with all musicals, things always end swell.

It’s very easy to poke fun at Boone and Jones’ squeaky clean images as perfect teens with ordinary yearnings and failings, but April Love remains a really, really well produced romance-drama-musical that’s light, fluffy, amiable, and quaint without being cloying.

The idea of Boone being a rabble-rouser is amusing – even when he fixes the tractor and restores an old jalopy, the actor wears snazzy tan slacks that get only strategic and easily removable grease – but Winston Miller’s script (based on the novel by George Agnew Chamberlain, and previously filmed as Home in Indiana) has the right balance of wit, drama, and a solid (and predictable) structure that follows Nick’s growth from an embarrassed kid to someone imbued with pride and purpose.

The title song is still a stunner, with Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster’s lyrics and music allowing Boone to showcase his smooth resonating range of medium highs and deep lows, and it’s no surprise it became a best-selling single. Alfred Newman and Cyril Mockridge’s theme adaptation into their score (isolated in bouncy stereo) is neat and tidy, and nowhere as brutally repetitive as Newman’s own The Best of Everything (1959) or Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), where every cue almost restates the main theme with blunt force trauma

Jones, herself delighted to have been given a role that offers a bit more dramatic material than singing, is excellent as the younger, less glamorous sister whose hopes are repeatedly quashed when Nick ogles and compliments more mature Fran; and Bradford Jackson is okay as Fran’s apparent boyfriend Al who’s either clueless to Nick’s ogling, or figures a poor Chicago boy has no chance of taking his place in their clearly privileged lives. (Either way, Jackson is often hanging around rather than involved in any major dialogue scenes, but he gets a few bits of libretto during a picnic-set song.)

Liz eventually gets to lock lips with Nick in a peculiar scene where Jed’s ailing horse manages to recover from an especially bad case of poor judgment; strangely, rather than punished Nick, Jed writes off his blunder as an honest mistake, which is perhaps the elder character’s most obvious sign of accepting Nick as a maturing young man.

Shot on location in gorgeous Kentucky by Wilfred Cline, April Love is a beautiful CinemaScope production with rich, silky colours and fine background details that stand out in Fox’ nice HD transfer. The surround sound mix is more stereo – there’s less panned dialogue than within a standard ‘Scope mix – but quite punchy.

Twilight Time’s Nick Redman moderates a steady commentary with co-star Jones, and says Boone was unable to attend the recording due to family illness – a shame, given there may not be an extant commentary with Boone that allows the singer / actor to reflect on his years at Fox. Jones, however, fills in the void, providing nice character sketches of the singer who was simultaneously starring in his own TV series, The Pat Boone-Chevy Showroom (1957-1960).

Boone also comes off as a savvy businessman, in terms of being aware of his skills and exploiting them in various media streams. (In addition to co-producing the TV series through his Cooga Mooga shingle, Boone also enjoyed profits from Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Yellow Canary.)

Naturally, the main talent that’s showcased in the commentary is Jones, and it’s an informative recollection of April Love and some later career steps, especially live TV, film, and stage shows. Jones discusses shifting from teen singer in Oklahoma! (1955) and light fodder to dramatic roles after Elmer Gantry (1960), which earned her an Oscar Award, and Redman also brings up Two Rode Together (1960), whose director, John Ford, she describes as “weird” in giving virtually zero direction when not busy munching on a handkerchief.

Also discussed is Henry Levin, a director who rose through the ranks and whose career was solidified in the A-realm by a trio of Boone productions. Levin certainly wasn’t a hack, and although there may not have been a distinct style to his work, he showed an interest in filling the screen with beautiful images and local colour – conveying as much of a locale as possible.

A stellar sequence has city boy Nick expecting a hick square dance at a local club, but finding a sophisticated dance hall where jazz is performed by a big band, and a raffle game where he delivers the film’s main theme with great elegance.

The horse racing scenes are superb, but equal attention was given to Nick’s drag-racing, especially a stirring sequence where Jed’s corralled horse races alongside Nick as he tears around the grassy track in his jalopy before the horse bolts to freedom, and danger. A lot of stunts were practical, and both Jones and Boone rode their sulks in the training and race sequences, adding great authenticity to the film and their characters.

Cline’s knack for widescreen was part of a C.V. that also included numerous TV credits, but the success of the film had a neutral effect on his career. Perhaps preferring the stability of TV, Cline would work almost exclusively in various small-screen genre productions, especially westerns (Stagecoast West, The Big Valley). His final film credits include Boone’s Mardi Gras (1958), B-classics The Giant Gila Monster, The Killer Shrews, and The Tingler (all 1959), and Della (1964) before retiring in 1974.

George Agnew Chamberlain’s filmed works include Home in Indiana (1944), which became April Love, The Red House (1947), and Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! (1948).

Pat Boone’s Fox films include the 1957 double-header Bernadine and April Love, Mardi Gras (1958), All Hands on Deck (1961), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), State Fair (1962), The Yellow Canary (1963), The Horror of It All (1964), and Goodbye Charlie (1964). His final feature film, The Cross and the Switchblade (1970), cast Boone as a minister tempering the actions of violent street gangs in 1950s New York City.

 

 

© 2015 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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