Director: Leo McCarey
Writer: Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart, and S.N. Behrman
Producer: Leo McCarey
Cinematographer: Rudolph Maté
by Jon Cvack
I had no idea An Affair to Remember (1957) was a remake of this film, or that An Affair to Remember was also made by Leo McCarey, for that matter. Funny enough, it was only when the couple mentioned meeting at the Empire State Building that I connected the dots; instantly recalling Rosie O’Donnell’s monologue in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), left to wonder if a movie scene will ever take on such grand, multi-generational significance ever again.
The story involves French painter Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) who meets an American singer Terry McKay (Irene Dunne) aboard a ship cruising across the Atlantic. The two are both engaged, yet find themselves continually bumping into each other, flirting, and developing a strong attraction; all the more complicated by Marnet’s international reputation which puts a spotlight on their attempt at furtive conversation.
While the movie falls victim to the cheapness and minimal coverage (not to mention a terrible transfer through Kino Video), it’s soon forgotten when Marnet brings Terry to his visit his grandmother in Portugal; providing what is now a classic scene in any romance where the man shows his tenderness for an elderly woman, concretizing Terry’s attraction to him; knowing that he’s one of the better ones. They then leave, vowing to meet at the top of the Empire State building. Yet when Terry gets hit by a car on the way over, she’s parallelized and far too proud to contact Michel about her injury (a dilemma best described in Sleepless in Seattle).
I’ve been trying to find a quote that I came across about Leo McCarey, in which a fellow filmmaker complimented his ability to convey the human experience better than most from the period. He once told others to “...photograph the ugliness of people. I don’t want to distress people.” As simple as films might have been in terms of plot - an old married couple dealing with children that don’t want them in Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), or that of a beneficent priest in Going My Way (1944) and its sequel The Bells of St. Mary (1945) - McCarey somehow captures more heart than any of its replications have achieved.
At under 90 minutes and with the feel of a filmmaker that hasn’t fully leaned into the language, Love Affair is one of a handful of films to get a much better remake; and perhaps the only one in which the original was made by the same filmmaker. It’s the type of film that gives you a glance into cinema’s history, providing a rare glimpse of what’s to come and for a film that would have a profound impact on the culture for decades past.
BELOW: A tale of two genres
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