Here is a fifty year old film staring Jack Lemmon and Catherine Deneuve that very few people remember.
Is this a classic film? No. It was one of Lemmon’s very stylish 1960s films that were a bit edgy and an effort at satirizing pop culture and morality. Hits and misses.
Lemmon’s box office success and popularity enabled him to form his own production company, Jalem Productions, obviously named after himself. As a producer, Lemmon also had some hits and misses, and got to pick some of his own films to star in. He made a few other non-Lemmon staring films like Cool Hand Luke, a huge box office hit for Paul Newman.
The April Fools must have used some of that Cool Hand Luke profit and panache, it has rich production values and an A-List cast and crew.
Catherine Deneuve co-stars along with Peter Lawford, Myrna Loy, Charles Boyer, Jack Weston, Harvey Korman, Sally Kellerman, Melinda Dillon, David Doyle and Kenneth Mars. That’s quite a cast.
Stuart Rosenberg, who helmed Cool Hand Luke, was hired by Lemmon to direct. Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote the theme song, sung by Dionne Warwick. This trio were turning out Gold Records like Mustang cars coming off the assembly line. The film’s score was written by a young Marvin Hamlisch.
The film was written by Hal Dresner, a television and film writer who had helped with the Cool Hand Luke script.
Critics were not kind to the film and might explain the mediocre box office given the high expectations for the film.
The April Fools has two big things going for it: a very successful Jack Lemmon and satirizing the late 1960s pop culture.
Lemmon plays a schmuck more than a fool. He must be very good at investments because he’s been given a big promotion with a huge view of Manhattan. His job performance would seem to compensate for being a disaster everywhere else in life. The film writes Lemmon as a lovable loser, who is lost as a husband, father, pet owner and pick-up artist.
Howard Brubaker is the American Dream of the 1960s, big house in the suburbs, beautiful wife who takes care of everything else in Brubaker’s life, child, dog, and now, head of investments for a big corporation. He has the self-doubt, emptiness and unhappiness to prove it.
The April Fools has a lot in common with The Graduate. The April Fools feel about two or three years too late to be a biting satire like The Graduate. By 1969, the idea was not so original, the American Dream apple pie had a worm in the middle. Each decade has a secret facade, in the 1960s, it was playing by the rules and getting a big office didn’t always deliver happiness. Success, as in The Graduate, was made out of plastic.
Lemmon was age 44 when the film was released, the right age for playing Brubaker. The mid-life crisis was a real thing then, although Brubaker said that what he was feeling was not a little crisis.
Brubaker suddenly found himself trapped inside a life that for his efforts and frustration, did not produce happiness or allow him to be accepted for who he was. Like a suit or a job title, they were only wrapping paper, covering up the real person.
With the exception of Catherine Gunther (Deneuve), no one hears a word he is saying. Lemmon is king of the frustrate, misunderstood character. Nearly every conversation or action on Brubaker’s part only illustrates how out of step he is in life. The meeting with his boss Gunther at the beginning of the film, and the party scene, showcase Brubaker is out of his element.
The party scene is arguably, the key scene in the film, not only setting up the story and the arc of the characters, but establishing the various cultural and morality themes that the film skewers. Brubaker is encouraged to play the field like Gunther, with women as the sport, even though Gunther is doing it on the same turf as his wife. Brubaker is a bit of a clown as he does not understand the modern art that litters Gunther’s swanky apartment. Neither is he hip to the conversation of these upscale New Yorkers, and is a bit taken back by the women’s revealing chic attire. Some of the women wear makeup that is more adventurous than the hippest fashion magazine, and the behavior of some party-goers seems pulled from an avant-garde off-Broadway show. These parties were for the beautiful people and those who could bring something unique to the show.
The party also introduces Catherine, classically beautiful, someone who would fit into this world, only she does not. It is quite obvious that she has been to these parties one too many times and finds them boring. She spots Brubaker across the crowded room and is intrigued by how he does not fit, he sticks out like an old Master oil painting in this room of modernistic art. Brubaker pops up several times in Catherine’s view and each time she finds him funny, but in an innocent way. Finally, they are in the same place and Brubaker tries out the line that Gunther always uses, but with Brubaker’s twist, “Brubaker’s the name, buy you a drink?” She says yes, and gets her things to leave with him. Brubaker is surprised, he was not expecting that. While she is getting her purse, Gunther asks where Brubaker is going to take her, and suggests he take her to Gunther’s club.
In the foyer, waiting for the elevator, Brubaker makes a comment about the monolithic piece of modern art that looks like a stand. Her reaction is the same as the one Brubaker had when he first arrived, that it should have something on it. Already, the film has set up that these two people from different worlds have a common way of looking at things. And hence, their adventure begins.
The film takes place over slightly more than 24 hours. This couple starts out at Gunther’s club, The Safari Club, a version of the Playboy Club, where the men wear helmets and shoot their waitress with a popgun to get their attention. Women are obviously the hunted in this male fantasy. The club is not to their liking, so they leave and end up at a trendy discotheque, where neither the music or the dancing helps them get to know each other. The one good thing is they meet Grace Greenlaw (Myrna Loy), who encourages Catherine’s adventure with Brubaker. The three of them end up at the Greenlaw estate where they encounter Andre Greenlaw (Boyer), a Frenchman, who takes a liking to Brubaker and provides an opportunity for some physical comedy. The Greenlaws also provide a chance for Brubaker and Catherine to see the kind of love that neither have.
During the course of the film, Brubaker attempts several conversations with his wife, who is too busy redecorating their house or getting ready for a dinner party to actually have a conversation with her husband. Brubaker and Catherine end up in Central Park at an outdoor theater at the night is ending. She tells him that she is leaving for Paris later that day, she is leaving Gunther and New York.
Brubaker finally arrives at his office and immediately finds the disconnection that he experienced at the party. In fact, his new secretary is a vivacious woman from the party. His call to his wife is equally disastrous, she is more concerned with needing to redecorate his new office and now selling their house since it is now below their status. When he mentions there is no feeling of love between them, she says he is too hung up on feelings.
Brubaker is teetering on what to do, but it is fairly clear to see his interest is in Catherine and going to Paris. Gunther arrives and admonishes his for his appearance. Brubaker gives notice.
Brubaker later meets up with Catherine, back at the outdoor theater, this time in the light of day. She is wearing rather plain clothes and has her beautiful blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail. Brubaker is crumpled, and in need of a shave. This is not the romantic glow of a nighttime kiss. This is reality. He tells her that he wants to join her on the flight that night.
Catherine confronts Gunther at his hockey rink watching his hockey team practice. From a distance, he thinks she is another attractive woman to put the moves on. He does not like her news and takes it badly.
Brubaker meets with his friend and attorney Potter Shrader (Weston) and gives him the news of leaving his wife. This starts Potter thinking of an affair he had and he always regretted ending.
Brubaker drops off a frog at Catherine’s apartment, it is a metaphor for Brubaker’s own metamorphosis.
Gunther continues to try and talk Catherine into staying, with various emotional traps, and accompanies her to the airport, still trying to change her mind. Losing her is losing, a game he detests.
Brubaker takes the train to Connecticut where he lives, to inform his wife of his decision. Potter, and a friend (Korman) are both drunk, tag along to support Brubaker. In the 1960s, drunk scenes were funny, characters said loopy things and it gave the main character something to play against for reveling his thoughts and a bit of physical comedy. Korman and Weston are quite effective in a scene that carries over to Brubaker’s house, where he struggles to get his wife to accept the reality that he is leaving, while Korman tries to pick up on Potter’s wife.
What is not funny, is the scene continues as the three men drive to the airport, a drunk Potter behind the wheel. Back then, drunk driving was still viewed as a gag. Not to be tried at home, but funny for the movies. Much has changed since then. Brubaker is sober, and he ends up driving the car when the reach the airport.
Catherine has reached the plane and is seated. She put the frog on the seat next to her for Brubaker. Meanwhile, Brubaker reaches the ticket counter as the plane prepares to leave. In the tunnel, he meets up with Gunther, who is not happy. Potter and friend driving a courtesy cart arrive and clear a way for Brubaker to get past Gunther. As the plane taxis away, Brubaker takes his seat next to a Catherine who is clearly afraid Brubaker had changed his mind, but is now relieved.
Like The Graduate, two people run away with each other, to find their own reality. Only in the movies.