SOONER OR LATER, someone will term The April Fools the adult analog of The Graduate. Someone probably already has. It is a grossly unfair comparison. Perhaps not as fine a film, dramatically,The April Fools tells a much better tale.
Consider Benjamin Braddock. Raised in the comfort of an upper-middle class California suburb, sent off to a good school, given all the appurtenances necessary for existence at such a place. (A picture of his college room leaps into mind so readily: KLH, chianti bottle with candle drippings, and all.) He comes home, realizes just what sort of a disgusting life his parents and their friends lead, and is in a quasi-cynical sort or existential agony about it all for several reels of film.
Meanwhile, of course, he continues to live in a manner that would be impossible if it weren't for his parents' sellout, hypocritical, establishment, plastic lives. At the risk of sounding like the Midwestern Methodist I am, every single action of Benjamin Braddock's is that of a spoiled rotten (albeit sensitive, self-deprecating, gentle, all the things you learn to value in a place like Harvard) brat. Not a brat in the old sense of the word, of course, not the overtly selfish sort who demands things and his own way, but the breed that seems to flourish particularly in the intellectual North-east and coastal West, the sort who quietly takes what his old man gives, has no intention of forsaking all the conveniences and comforts, and whose ultimate selfishness is his pitiful (and futile) attempt to preserve his own moral integrity by despising the old man.
Howard Brubaker, on the other hand, is pushing middle age. His wife is a bitch, his son is well on the way toward becoming one of those uppermiddle class brats, and his dog really does growl at him -- on the phone, yet. Twelve years he's been married; twelve years of his live shot to hell. That's why Jack Lemmon is able to make Brubaker so much worthier an object of sympathy (or empathy, depending on your age group) than Benjamin. Braddock stumbles through situations picking up the emotional cost with a sort or moral charge plate.
But Brubaker has already paid for everything--with huge chunks of his soul and his precious time. So when Catherine (her name is Gunther instead of Deneuve, she is Brubaker's boss's wife--a fact which eludes him through most of the film, and her life is similarly desolate and sterile) comes to his attention at Gunther's party (yes, this film begins with one too) and he says, "Name's Brubaker. Buy you a drink?" It's a masterstroke of justice that she replies, "I'll get my things."
Jack Weston as Potter, Brubaker's lawyer, and Peter Lawford, as Gunther, are amusing sidelight. Potter is a lovable, drunken slob, and the scene on the bar car of the New Haven is classic. Lawford is sophisticated, intelligent, ambitious--and totally superficial. He's almost enough to make me give up working on my first million.
But the action really does center on Lemmon and Deneuve. Perhaps it is some unknown clairvoyant power that lets you be drawn into them, to let you feel for them so much; whatever it is, it works. As Potter is drunkenly speeding down the Thruway to get Brubaker to kennedy for the flight with Catherine to Paris, you find yourself whispering, "Make it, man! Oh please let him make it!" I hadn't rooted so hard for the good guys since the Yale game.