If you are going to enjoy April Love, the less you know about the personal beliefs of Pat Boone, the better. Unless you go to the church of WACKO. Then it will not matter.
Unfortunately for me, before beginning this review, I had already known a few things about his religious idiosyncrasies. Or should I just be blunt and say religious bigotry?
Some people say you should separate your personal feelings about an actor or actress from the work they do on the screen. That is not always possible. I refuse to watch a Roman Polanski directed film or a Woody Allen film whether he is starring in it or just the director. They are just too loathsome to be celebrated.
Boone does not fall into the same category as those two perverts, so in that respect I am able to temporarily shove his bullshit to the back of my mind and enjoy the film as I once did. It helps quite a bit that Shirley Jones is the co-star and she lights up the screen like a roman candle in this musical horse opera.
Keep in mind that when watching a film like April Love, the era in which it was filmed, in this case the late fifties. This was at a time when Boone was just a little odd and had not yet blossomed into a full blown intolerant religious nutcase. He was the anti-Elvis. A nice looking well-groomed guy with a good voice, clean cut, but who is so stiff that he couldn’t twitch a hip let alone do a wiggle and a walk and make the world go around.
Films were pretty much a happy medium back then. The cinemas were devoid of tragedy while the theaters were filled with wide screen Technicolor (or as in the case with April Love, Color by Deluxe) in order to pry people away from the gray glare of the evil medium in a box called television. I don’t know how many people were pried away from the boob tube to see this one, but it manages to capture my attention for 97 minutes and according to what I’ve read it did make a profit.
Clean Cut and Anti-Elvis Teen Idol Pat Boone plays Nick Conover, a young teen sent to live with his Aunt Henrietta (Jeanette Nolan) and Uncle Jed (Arthur O’Connell) out in the country after being put on probation for stealing a car. His Aunt and Uncle have lost their own son, Jed Jr. a few years back in the Korean War. Because of this, Uncle Jed seems to have lost his zest for living beyond feeding the chickens and cutting the hay. Aunt Henrietta is hoping that Nick being on the farm will somehow bring Jed out of his doldrums. Nick’s just hoping he can survive Uncle Jed who obviously wishes he’d take the first mail truck back to where ever it was he came from.
Not being a believer in letting wayward nephews spend a while getting acquainted with his surroundings, Jed takes Nick out to get acquainted with his work details as if Nick is a private and Jed is his Commanding Officer.
Jed takes young Nick out to the fenced in pasture to meet Tugfire. A beautiful horse with the disposition of a Bengal Tiger and a little Tasmanian Devil mixed in. When Jed sends Nick over the railing to become acquainted with the horse, Tugfire promptly sends him scurrying back to the other side of the fence. Tugfire takes a bow, and then we don’t see him again for quite a while until the plot calls it.
An angry Nick asks Jed why he didn’t warn him before sending him into the pasture, his Uncle replies: “Showing is better than telling.”
Liz Templeton (Shirley Jones) shows up riding bareback to invite Jed and all his kin over to their farm. Nick goes along but has to hitch a ride on Liz’s horse. It’s not a great start as Nick causes both he and Liz off the horse and onto the ground.
While Liz tries showing off by driving a sulky around the track, Liz’s sister Fran (Dolores Michaels) and her boyfriend Al show up in a spiffy red convertible. And is there any doubt as to whether Nick will prefer girl A riding a sulky attached to a smelly horse or girl B drenched in smelly perfume and driving a revved-up sports car? The way to a girl’s heart is through her Austin-Healy.
Fran takes Nick for a ride. In her car. After all, this is Pat Boone and this is 1957 so get your mind out of the gutter. Nick gets all sweaty and nervous when they are pulled over for speeding by motorcycle cop Joe, who has stopped Fran often enough to be on a first name basis.
And although Fran has her mind set on current boyfriend Al (Brad Jackson), who is as wooden as if he was carved by Gepetto himself, Nick only has eyes for Fran and her hot rod while Liz crushes on Nick who only thinks of Liz as a Good Sport.
Later, Nick shows Jed he’s a good sport as well by going out to the barn in the middle of the night and fixing Jed’s beat up old tractor. It takes some coaxing to get Jed to mount, but once he does, the souped up John Deere takes off like hell on four wheels then comes to an abrupt stop when Jed crashes into a stack of hay.
Jed, now a happy farmer, gives Nick permission to work on an old Jalopy that’s been sitting in the barn since Jed and Henrietta’s son was killed. Once Nick goes to work on the car, Liz comes along to lend him a hand although she doesn’t know a carburetor from a spark plug.
Later we get a time out as Liz, Fran, Al and Nick get together at a dance for the local yokels. But it is mostly an elaborate set-up so that Pat Boone can sing the multi-million selling hit title song, April Love.
And later, when Liz drives Nick home, Shirley Jones and Boone reprise the song as a duet. I actually preferred the duet but it ends with Nick gushing about Fran while calling Liz a good sport causing her to drive off in a huff.
It soon becomes obvious that Fran is only using Nick to make Al jealous but despite that, the four comrades get together for a barbecue and to sing up a storm so they can slow down the fast moving plot. Yes, that’s sarcasm.
When Nick boasts that his jalopy could beat the Austin Healy in a drag race, an insulted Fran challenges a very reluctant Nick to a race. During the race, Fran has a spin-out through a pasture and damages her car. When Nick drives Liz back home, he finally tells her he’s on probation for stealing a car and isn’t supposed to be driving on public roads.
The next morning, while Nick is out hot rodding around the horse pasture in his souped up car, Tugfire makes his second appearance, gets spooked, jumps the fence and heads for the woods leaving Nick to chase after him. Somehow (I have never figured out how exactly), Tugboat, correction I mean Tugfire, gets tangled up in some weeds and is unable to escape. Nick manages to cut the horse loose and they become BFF’s. At least Tugfire thinks so as Nick calmly leads him back to the Green Green Grass of Home.
When Jed sees Nick and Tugfire hanging out together, he instantly falls in love with his nephew because nobody since Young Jed Jr. was around had been able to handle Tugfire.
A very reluctant Nick agrees to let Jed, with a helping hand from Liz, train him on how to sulk. Correction, I mean learn how to drive a Sulky.
It is not all smooth sailing and there is drama aplenty before we get to the big race. Well, maybe a little bit of drama along with some more singing.
None of the drama in the movie is half as intriguing as to what the answer to the big question at the time was. That being whether squeaky clean Pat Boone’s real-life wife would let him kiss Shirley Jones in a scene for the movie.
If you can get over the image of squeaky-clean Pat Boone, as a big-time car thief and a present-day jackass, you will have no trouble accepting everything else.
Considering that, Boone does turn in a surprisingly good performance as Nick. The role does not require much, but still it is a nicely done job although he comes off more as naïve and shy than criminal.
As Jed, Arthur O’Connell is the perfect choice for the role. In the early going, he is kind of a prick as he is still in mourning for his son, but he slowly warms up to Nick, we see that he’s really a pretty good guy if somewhat self-centered.
Jeannette Nolan has her moments when she is constantly playing the part of mediator between Jed and Nick. Most of the time she takes Nick’s side until she has to chastise him and goad him into racing for Jed.
Shirley Jones takes a break from Rodgers And Hammerstein and gets a few opportunities to grace us with her singing talents which as you know are considerable. As Liz, she is gorgeous to look at, great to listen to, and quite funny at times. Later on when she would hang up her movie spurs to play Shirley Partridge, she was far and away better than that other mother of the year bringing up her Brady brats.
Dolores Michaels as Fran, is kind of fickle to say the least. She’s known Al all her life but uses Nick’s infatuation with her car and with her for whatever reason I don’t know. I think the real reason is that the writer needed a plot contrivance to make Liz jealous of Nick’s infatuation. Except there is the fact that when they are all together, none of them show any animosity towards each other. But get Liz alone and then call her a “good sport” and she is going to be very unhappy. The best thing about April Love, is that there is not a true mean conniving character of any sort on the screen. Everybody is so darn likable you cannot help but enjoy the film. I truthfully find it quite refreshing, sort of like putting your troubles behind you and enjoying a summer picnic with friends.
Think of it as the old Andy Griffith show with musical numbers, a little more plot, and wide screen color. The film is beautifully photographed by Wilfrid M. Cline. Just do not get the impression that all of Kentucky looks like this. It does not.
The songs are pleasant enough, with the title song April Love being the best of the lot which is why it probably sold a gazillion copies and helped sell the movie to young teenage girls pining over Mr. Boone. There is another song where Liz does a strip tease of sorts to liven up proceedings. Do not worry, it leaves much to the imagination.
Another thing I really liked is that they did not fall back on using blue screen backdrops during the horse racing sequences. Neither Boone nor Jones used stunt doubles and because of their willingness to go out on a limb, it adds a nice touch of realism to the racing sequences. and they are quite a bit more entertaining and exciting because of it.
Sometimes instead of going to Disneyland, one just needs a nice outing in the park, and that is what April Love is. It’s a good film from the decade of the 50’s and you really can’t do much worse. So, for now, we’ll give it a B and leave it at that.
As for owning this film, that is a horse of a different color which I’ll write about in a follow up post.