Review by Matt Bailey
Posted on 09 July 2004
Source Fox Studio Classics DVD
Get out your handkerchiefs, because you’re going to need them for An Affair to Remember. International Playboy Nicky Ferrante (Cary Grant) and kept woman Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) fall in love on a ship (well, a set of a ship anyway), despite the fact that they are both engaged to other people. Whoops. Returning to New York, they make a date to meet at the top of the Empire State Building in six months to see if they still love each other. Meanwhile, they try to put their lives in order and let their betrotheds down easy. Melodrama being what it is, McKay never makes her meeting with Ferrante due to another rendezvous, namely an unfortunate and unplanned encounter between a speeding car and her legs. However, melodrama being what it is, the two lovers reunite in tears and wonder the rest of their lives why they did all the stupid and stubborn things that kept them apart in the first place. There are also lots of songs.
Perhaps spurred by the success of Universal’s Ross Hunter/Douglas Sirk melodramas, producer Jerry Wald persuaded Leo McCarey to return to the screen to make a lush color Cinemascope remake of his 1939 film, Love Affair. An Affair to Remember uses the same script (with a few comic improvisations here and there by leads Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr) and often, the same camera setups. It’s an interesting case of a director doing a faithful remake of one of his own pictures, but ultimately a failure. While An Affair to Remember is the more popular film (and a film that experienced a resurgence of popularity in the early 1990s when the story was rewritten as and featured in Sleepless in Seattle, a modern romantic comedy by Nora Ephron), the original Love Affair is by far the better film. And I think we can all just pretend that that 1994 Warren Beatty/Annette Bening remake never happened.
The flaws in the film lie primarily with the script, which may have worked as a melodrama in 1939, but feels too old-fashioned for 1957. In reworking elements of the script for the remake, McCarey originally attempted to transpose the climactic attempted rendezvous at the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge, but Cary Grant insisted that it remain at the Empire State Building.
Speaking of Cary Grant, the stars don’t get off the hook that easily either. Despite their apparent on-set improvisations, Grant doesn’t have the easy comic and romantic chemistry with Deborah Kerr as he had with Irene Dunne in other Leo McCarey films such as The Awful Truth or Penny Serenade or with Katherine Hepburn in Holiday or Bringing Up Baby. Deborah Kerr also seems to be holding back. There is none of the heat she showed with Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity or even with Yul Brynner in The King and I. Whatever connection there is between Grant and Kerr (and between their characters) seems brittle and mannered. You never get the feeling that these two could have fallen for each other over the course of a few days, let alone that they could have the same feelings for each other after such a long time apart.
Kerr was not the first choice for the role of Terry McKay. In an attempt to recreate the screen chemistry of Hitchcock’s Notorious, the producers offered the role to Ingrid Bergman, but she turned them down. It’s interesting to speculate how different the film might be with Bergman in place of Kerr, but perhaps a more exciting film would have lured Irene Dunne back to the screen to reprise her role from the original Love Affair and to re-team her with her former co-star Grant and former director McCarey, even though she would have been near 60.
The film also suffers from a certain slackness of pace. Twenty minutes or more easily could have been trimmed from the running time, starting with the two musical numbers sung by children that seem to have been imported from some other movie.
In spite of the flaws and could-have-beens, there is no denying that the final scene of the movie is very touching, albeit in an utterly mawkish and obscenely sentimental way. Still, you might want to keep that hankie handy.