Chris Hicks: ‘The April Fools,’ ‘Raise the Titanic,’ lead vintage movies new to DVD
A couple of 1970s Jack Lemmon comedies and the widescreen version of “Raise the Titanic” lead vintage movies making their debuts on DVD.
“The April Fools” (CBS/Paramount, 1969, PG, $19.99). Jack Lemmon receives a promotion and is told to meet the boss (charmingly egotistical Peter Lawford) at his trendy Manhattan loft. But to his surprise, he finds a party in progress with New York’s snooty artistic elite, and he’s never felt more out of place — leading to many of the film’s funniest gags.
Looking for commiseration, Lemmon calls home, but his bratty son hangs up on him, and his social-climbing wife (Sally Kellerman) is distracted and disinterested. Eventually, he sneaks away from the party and bumps into a French woman (Catherine Deneuve) who is also escaping. During an enjoyable (but platonic) night together, both reveal they are in loveless marriages and she reveals she’s flying back to Paris. So Lemmon decides to chuck it all and go with her.
The stars are very good, with Lemmon appealing as yet another put-upon everyman, although the casting of Deneuve is a bit of a stretch. She is so gorgeous and sophisticated, it’s hard to believe she can be so taken with this ordinary guy. Still, it’s fun, especially when Myrna Loy and Charles Boyer come on the scene. Jack Weston and Harvey Korman, on the other hand, play drunks so broadly that they seem to have stepped in from some other movie.
“The War Between Men and Women” (CBS/Paramount, 1972, PG, $19.99). Though his character is called Peter Wilson, Lemmon is essentially playing James Thurber in this adaptation of the humorist’s short stories and minimalist cartoons, the latter occasionally coming to life. Wilson is a middle-aged bachelor and misogynist whose sardonic wit has made him a best-selling artist and cartoonist, but now he’s going blind. So when he lets down his guard and falls for a single mother (Barbara Harris) with three children, it leads to a mix of comic and sentimental complications.
On the whole, this is a wildly uneven effort, some very funny moments mixed with others that don’t work at all. Lemmon and Harris deliver earnest performances, and in the final act there is a lengthy animated version of Thurber’s famous 1930s anti-war parable “The Last Flower.”
“Raise the Titanic” (Shout!/Blu-ray, 1980, PG, two discs, $19.97, Blu-ray and DVD versions, new featurette, trailer). Adaptation of the Clive Cussler novel about a race to find the famed ship, which has onboard a secret mineral desired by the government for military purposes. Good cast includes Jason Robards, Alec Guinness and young Anne Archer, and the solid action and cinematography are aided by the vivid widescreen presentation (previous releases were inexplicably in full-frame pan-and-scan). But that can’t help the flat dialogue and too many dull sequences.
“The Portrait” (Warner Archive, 1991, $18.95). This TNT cable movie could be a companion piece to “On Golden Pond.” Gregory Peck is reunited with Lauren Bacall (after 1957’s “Designing Woman”) as a devoted aging couple visited by their estranged daughter (Cecilia Peck, Gregory’s daughter), an artist who is looking for validation and instead finds her parents more concerned about each other. Good comedy, compelling drama and rich performances from a pair of old pros who couldn’t be better. Directed by Arthur Penn (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Miracle Worker”). (Available at warnerarchive.com)
“Foreign Affairs” (Warner Archive, 1993, $18.95). Another TNT cable movie, with Joanne Woodward as a middle-aged, uptight college professor on a flight to London who impatiently puts up with the non-stop chatter of earthy Brian Dennehy, who is escaping an unhappy marriage. When they land, Woodward thinks she’s rid of him, but Dennehy shows up wherever she goes. Funny and warm romance with first-rate stars at their peak, though a parallel younger love story with Eric Stoltz and Stephanie Beacham is less engaging. (Available at warnerarchive.com)
“Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?” (CBS/Paramount, 1971, R for nudity, $19.99). Much maligned Dustin Hoffman comedy-drama proves to be just as bizarre and unfathomable as critics found it in 1971. Distraught that fame and money have led to a meaningless life, rock star Hoffman contemplates suicide, which leads to a string of stream-of-consciousness episodes that may or may not be real. Directed by Ulu Grosbard (“The Subject Was Roses”) and written by Herb Gardner (“A Thousand Clowns”), with songs by Shel Silverstein.
“The Postman Always Rings Twice” (Warner/Blu-ray, 1981; R for violence, sex, language; $19.98, audio commentary, trailer). Drifter Jack Nicholson meets Jessica Lange at the roadside diner owned by her older husband and they plot to kill him in Bob Rafelson and David Mamet’s adaptation of James M. Cain’s famous story. Purposely gritty and rough, but it can’t hold a candle to the 1946 version with Lana Turner and John Garfield.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." Website: hicksflicks.com
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