I knew the moment April Love ended, I would not remember anything about it, which is why I started to outline this review on paper. But my notes were much like the film; scattered, slapdash, without much focus, and colorful (I have colored pens!). Henry Levin’s little musical isn’t atrocious, by any means, but as Julie Kirgo asserts in her essay, it’s a “confection”. I’d go further to assert that it’s a light pastry that’s pleasant enough, inasmuch that “confection” sounds a lot tastier than this film is.
It’s like the day old cupcake that the baker offers you because they’re going to throw it out if you don’t take it.
I know that sounds harsh. But then again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with being a day old pastry. April Love is a musical about a guy (Pat Boone) who, on orders from a judge in Chicago for a driving infraction of sorts, is sent on probation to a little farm his aunt and uncle own in the middle of nowhere Kentucky. And it’s also about horses. And racing. And cars. And Pat Boone hitting on a one sister, Fran Templeton (Dolores Michaels), who likes to drive cars, while friend-zoning the other sister, Liz (Shirley Jones), who likes to ride horses.
The contrast between the two sisters is kind of an amusing juxtaposition of particular male gaze ideals of women: Fran is a sophisticate, social; Liz is more tomboyish, earthier. Yet both are mixes of the traditionally masculine and feminine, both assertive in their own ways. And although they’re both pretty thinly drawn beyond those points, both representative of an idealistic love that ‘50s musicals were bound to peddle. At least worthy of interest in some regards, in comparison to Boone’s bland romantic cipher.
Despite being on probation, there’s an irksome pomposity in Pat Boone’s every step. He’s attractive, he has a nice voice, and most of his actions don’t read as very remorseful for whatever he did in Chicago. Yet neither do they read as particularly angsty or rebellious, so there’s no fire or fury. Instead he just kind of walks around, singing love songs with too little motivation and too hazy a background for us to care.
Theirs is, then, the issue of chemistry. With little to inform his performance, Boone, though physically beautiful, is kind of a handsome piece of cardboard, pretty much devoid of feeling. Allegedly, the very religious actor (who was known to me only as a punchline regarding his conservative attitudes and gospel fame), refused to kiss Shirley Jones during filming. Let me not be mistaken for thinking that one needs physical touch in order to make a romance real on the screen: on the contrary, one of the great joys of Bryan Fuller’s short lived series Pushing Daisies is its very conceit that its two romantic leads couldn’t touch, which made the efforts to make the chemistry palpable all the more pleasurable. So, yes, you can do a romance well and not touch, but something else has to be there. A spark in the form of a gaze, or a sigh, or a line reading. And while Jones does her best to deliver, Boone just kind of looks aimlessly, “play acting” being in love without making us believe he’s “in love.” The film ends up being a love triangle with one of the sides missing.
The film is, at the very least, very colorful, shot in CinemaScope. Twentieth Century Fox had, at that time, become “The House of the ‘Scope”, and its lush photography is probably the single most memorable thing about the film. That and Boone’s jawline. The film’s songs, including the title track, are trifles: pleasant to listen to, but the melody will fall from your head when it’s over.
The film came to a close and I wasn’t sure entirely want the point was of anything. The personal growth of Boone’s character and his relationship with his volatile uncle? Winning the heart of one of the sisters? Getting used to the fact that small town Kentucky is lovely and quaint only if you get past how boring small towns are? That having your license revoked is really great dramatic impetus? That Pat Boone is an attractive homophobe I would probably boink?
I suppose to cap my feelings about this film and leave the baking metaphors aside, the film reminded me of one of those hotel paintings of horses grazing in a field: pretty, sort of kitschy, and essentially ornamental.
April Love is now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The blu-ray features include an audio commentary with Shirley Jones and an isolated track score.