by Pete Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor/Movie Critic
... in the middle of the night, "April Love" (1957), a film starring Pat Boone, Shirley Jones, Arthur O'Connell and others.
Oh, and a standardbred named Tugfire and the Bentonville Fair.
Reminiscent of a related earlier (1944) movie, the harness racing classic "Home in Indiana" - another film I discovered on TV in the middle if the night, about 20 years ago - "April Love" also had lots of good racing action and stable scenes.
One review I found online referred to "April Love" as a "Home in Indiana" remake, and the storyline was similar ... city juvenile delinquent boy sent out of town to reform - respectively to Kentucky and Indiana - the boy with no horse background took to the sport, the lifestyle and to the cute neighbor tomboy girl (respectively, Shirley Jones and Jeanne Crain), and, ultimately, won a big fair race in his harness driving debut.
Each movie also had a grizzled veteran driver losing a preliminary heat to the rookie driver, in each case declaring, "But it won't happen again, Squirt," or something a lot like that, as they pulled up after the race.
Both movies also featured a gruff but soft-hearted rural relative (both were uncles, I think), respectively, Arthur O'Connell and Walter Brennan, along with loving, understanding aunts.
"April Love" was supposedly based on a 1941 novel called "Phantom Filly," but I see no mention of that source for "Home in Indiana," which seems odd.
By the way, "April Love" was a light musical, while "Home in Indiana" was a drama. Still, they are very similar.
As the old reviews mostly seem to agree, "April Love" isn't great cinema, just a nice movie.
Notes ... I discovered "The Great Dan Patch" in a similar fashion on TV, at around 3:00 a.m. about 20 years ago ... I think "State Fair," in one of its incarnations, also featured harness racing ... the sub-plot of "April Love," that Tugfire was the favorite horse of the O'Connell character's tragically killed son, is a lot like the story of Burgomeister, Billy Haughton and Peter Haughton. Once upon a time, the Burgomeister story of winning the 1980 Hambletonian would've made a nice film (along with the Rambling Willie and Silk Stockings stories). Maybe they still can? ...
Loved the scene in which the victorious Tugfire was brought home in an open trailer, pulled behind a sedan driven by Shirley Jones, with Boone as the passenger.
Both "April Love" and the earlier "Home in Indiana" were distributed by 20th Century Fox. I saw the overnight movie on the FXM network, which I'm not familiar with. Perhaps it's Fox Movies?
I think I've also seen harness racing in a movie called "Green Grass of Wyoming," or something titled similarly.