A young man visiting his relatives' farm in Kentucky falls in love with their neighbor.
Ahh, the 50s. A magical time thirty years before I was born where television was wholesome, music was chaste, and cinema screens were loaded with competing colorful widescreen formats. Everything changed in 1956 with that loose-hipped ruffian Elvis Presley seducing the youth of America with his twangy vocals and salacious dance moves. The good-natured God-fearing people of America needed a champion to combat this rising scourge of Rock 'N' Roll. They needed a hero - they got Pat Boone. "Our Pat" offered Americans a crisp clean alternative to that Elvis character. In 1957 Pat Boone would not only be invited to sing at President Eisenhower's inaugural ball, but he would star in 'Bernardine' and 'April Love,' and go on to star in 1959's 'Journey to the Center of the Earth,' cementing his place in American cinema.
Troubled youth Nick Conover (Pat Boone) got busted in Chicago for joyriding in a stolen or "borrowed" car. With his driver's license now suspended, he's been shipped off to work for his Uncle Jed (Arthur O'Connell) and Aunt Henrietta (Jeanette Nolan) on their scenic rural farm. Aunt Henrietta is more than ready and willing to open her home to the J.D. - that's "Juvenile Delinquent" in 1950s talk. Uncle Jed on the other hand treats the well-meaning boy cooly. It turns out Jed and Henrietta's son was killed in Korea, so the thought of seeing a young man who throws away his life by breaking the law really irks Jed when it was his kind, law-abiding son that died in the war.
It doesn't take Nick very long to start turning heads. Right away he meets local blonde beauties Fran Templeton (Dolores Michaels) and her younger single sister Liz (Shirley Jones). Liz and Nick become fast friends and share a mutual attraction. At the same time, Nick begins to prove his worth to his uncle Jed by fixing the long dead tractor and helping tame a wild stallion. Jed sees that Nick is a natural with the horse and takes him under his wing, working to train the youth to be a jockey in the town's annual sulky horse racing championship. As Nick stays on the right side of the law and respects authority, he's given plenty of opportunity to prove his worth to society while showing off his incredible vocal talents.
I don't mean that summation to come off sounding trite, but 'April Love' is so dramatically flat that it's difficult to talk about what happens earnestly. This isn't to suggest that it is a bad movie, its actually rather charming, but it's also so Wonder Bread white and wholesome that there just isn't anything to this movie. The Cinemascope process makes this movie appear far more epic and beautiful than what it really is - a puff piece. It's so soft and cuddly that it feels like Snuggles The Bear gave it a hug. The songs are catchy and are designed to make young hearts swoon, but they don't have that lasting punch most musicals of this era managed to hold onto.
Performances are fine all around. Pat Boone plays a nice version of himself and Shirley Jones is able to show what she can do ahead of her turn in in 1962's 'The Music Man.' The two attractive stars do well enough together, but there just isn't much in the way of genuine chemistry or at the very least anything resembling sexual tension. Part of the problem is there isn't any real story conflict to draw their characters together or pull them apart. There's little if any doubt of their outcome - even when there is a late third act setup that threatens to put Nick on the wrong side of the law again.
Director Henry Levin does a fine enough job managing the production keeping things light and fun. The film really comes to life during the sulky training and the climactic horserace sequences. Levin gets to use the full range of the Cinemascope frame and keeps the action thrilling. If only this had been the focus of the picture sooner rather than later, 'April Love' may have been a much more complete feeling movie. Seeing as how Levin and Boone would work together again in 1959's 'Journey to the Center of the Earth,' it's easy to see they got along and enjoyed each other's company.
This movie is more amusing to me for its place in American history within the context of the cultural fence war between Elvis Presley and Pat Boone. 'April Love' is not a great movie but it isn't a terrible film either. There just isn't anything special about it other than its beautiful Cinemascope photography. When I was in school I took a class called "Second Draft" where students were to take a script for a movie they thought could use another go and rewrite it to make the film better in their eyes. If I were to take the class again today, I wouldn't have gone after easy low hanging fruit like 'Alien 3' and instead would have given 'April Love' a once over - if only to punch up the drama and make Nick's character resonate and the relationships feel more genuine. As it stands, 'April Love' is a nice movie, but the story just isn't very compelling.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'April Love' arrives on Blu-ray through Twilight Time and limited to a run of 3000 copies. Pressed on a BD50 disc and housed in a clear standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens directly to the main menu.
While 'April Love' may not be the most amazing film dramatically, this fully restored 2.35:1 1080p Cinemascope presentation is absolutely beautiful. From frame one it's clear to see that this film underwent an exhaustive restoration. Colors leap off the screen letting primaries have a wonderful pop to them - greens, yellows, and blues especially look incredible. Flesh tones appear spot on, Pat Boone has always been very tan in the films he stared in and everyone else looks healthy and appropriately pink. Black levels and shadows offer a striking sense of depth to the image with little if any instances of crush. Fine film grain has been retained and offers truly gorgeous detail levels. Where the film's image is slightly diminished comes from the optical transitions. Things become noticeably softer ahead of these transitions, but that's part of the image itself - there's really no way to get around that. Everything else in this image is absolutely striking - every catalogue title should have the opportunity to look this amazing.
With a DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio track, 'April Love' simply sounds glorious. The extra channels offer some nice spacial spread lending to a great sense of atmosphere and presence to the film. The real highlight moments for this track are during the drag race and sulky horserace scenes. The roaring engines, the lively score, the trotting hooves and the voices all have nice and equal spacing to occupy. During the quieter moments, audio keeps to the midranges letting the dialogue do the work while sound effects and thematic music keeps to the sides. When the musical numbers kick in, the sound shifts to hold the center channels and rarely moves away from center stereo. This effect can feel a bit jarring as all of a sudden voices have a lot more power and range than they did before - but that's more in line with the structure of the sound design and the recording process during the making of the film than any problem with this audio track. All around this is a great audio track that lends itself perfectly to the film and should more than please fans.
Audio Commentary: Actress Shirley Jones and Film Historian Nick Redman share the track together. Apparently Pat Boone was supposed to be a part of this but had to drop out at the last minute. Shirley is very lively and offers a lot of fun information about the production and her career during this era of movie-making.
Original Trailer: (SD 2:32) This standard definition, letterboxed 4x3 framed trailer really helps you appreciate the amazing restoration work that went into the main feature.
I've long had a bumpy road with musicals. I either love them or am completely disinterested in them - especially if the songs feel unmotivated. 'April Love' is just one of those movies that is too clean for its own good and is dramatically flat. It's a perfectly harmless way to spend your time, but for me it just wasn't very fulfilling. While the story may be a bit lacking, the movie itself is strikingly beautiful and this new HD restoration is glorious. Coupled with the outstanding audio track and the informative commentary track, Twilight Time did an impressive job pulling this disc together. I may not have loved it through and through, but this Blu-ray release is definitely recommended. Fans of the film should be extremely happy with this disc.