This Month's Featured Equipment Reviews
An Affair to Remember
DVD Romantic Drama
Written by Bill Warren
Tuesday, 04 February 2003
|An Affair To Remember
|20th Century Fox Studio Classics
||Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Robert Q. Lewis, Charles Watts
This was director Leo McCarey's first film in five years. He'd been a
Hollywood mainstay in the 30s and 40s, with titles like the Marx Bros.'
"Duck Soup" and "Going My Way" to his credit. But he came back in a big
way from wherever he had been with "An Affair to Remember," a popular
film in its day. It was a remake of McCarey's own "Love Affair"(1939),
which starred Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne in the roles played here by
Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. (And in the third version in 1994 by
Warren Beatty and Annette Bening under the "Love Story" title.) "An
Affair to Remember" had gracefully slipped into near-obscurity until it
became a plot element in "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993), where women
happily weep over the older movie, while men look on, dumbfounded.
"An Affair to Remember" is a good romantic comedy that turns into a
romantic melodrama, which is not so good, but it does have an all-stops
out, romantic/sentimental ending (which the 1994 version should have
had). It's an elegant piece of 1950s Hollywood filmmaking, with
luxurious color, handsome sets (but very little location work, though
it starts on the high seas off France), and an ideal pairing in Cary
Grant and Deborah Kerr. On their own, they always made their costars
look good; paired, they're even more appealing.
Cary Grant was often considered to be playing himself, though the real
Grant (born Archie Leach) was really very little like the characters he
played. As the narration here points out, he tended to be insecure;
showing up at a tribute for John Ford, he was asked his name by a
receptionist. He identified himself, and the skeptical receptionist
said, "You don't look like Cary Grant." "Nobody does," replied Grant.
Instead, Grant is now recognized as one of the best actors ever to have
worked in movies; brilliant at comedy timing in different modes
(compare "Gunga Din" and "Charade" -- could hardly be more different,
and Grant could hardly be more appropriate in both), and obviously, one
of the handsomest men of all time. He still looked great when he died.
Deborah Kerr was also perfect every time out, often cast as a
stiff-upper-lip young British Lady in the Mrs. Miniver vein, but
equally good when someone had the wisdom to cast her against type (as
in "The Sundowners"). Watching her and Grant together, going through
the expected romantic comedy paces, is the greatest pleasure of "An
Affair to Remember." The movie is hardly realistic in style or
execution, but the two stars could hardly be better.
Grant is Nickie Ferrante, a playboy who is just on the verge of
marriage when he returns to New York. (However, we quickly see that he
had at least one affair while in Europe.) On a luxury liner, he
encounters Terry McKay (Kerr) on her way back to the United States from
Europe; she, too, expects to be married when she returns. But they are
beginning to fall in love. This is not syrupy romantic stuff -- when
the film gets around to that sort of thing, it does it very well -- but
is instead witty, low-key romantic comedy. McCarey so carefully keeps
real romance in the background that the first time Nickie and Terry
kiss, they're on a shipboard staircase, and the upper deck hides their
Nickie's reaction surprises even him, though Grant cagily plays that
element very subtly. We see it most clearly when he takes Terry to
visit his grandmother Janou (Cathleen Nesbitt), who lives in a
beautiful Mediterranean hillside villa, patiently waiting for death to
rejoin her with her late husband. She's charming and witty, and
instantly sees from the way Nickie and Terry act toward each other,
that they are indeed falling in love, but trying not to let the other
one know. (In the Beatty-Bening version, this role was played by
Katharine Hepburn, a brilliant piece of casting and the major virtue of
Back on the ship, they finally do begin to yield to their feelings,
much to the amusement of the other passengers. When they reach harbor
in New York city, they vow to wait six months to see if their feelings
last, and then to meet each other atop the Empire State building.
Naturally, there are complications. Naturally, though, it does wend its
way to that four-hankie happy ending.
The first half of "An Affair to Remember" is by far the best part of
the film; the second half is diluted with songs (Marni Nixon singing
again for Kerr), especially a couple of teeth-grinding tunes by the
children Terry is teaching that bring the overlong film to a crashing
halt. McCarey pushed the kids to be as cutesy and sweetypie as
possible. This is what fast-forward was invented for.
This DVD is in splendid shape; color by DeLuxe has rarely looked
better, with its creamy, pastel hues ideally suited for this kind of
story. The sets, though clearly sets, are excellent, and McCarey's use
of the CinemaScope format is splendid. Milton Krasner was the
cinematographer, and art direction is by Jack Martin Smith and Lyle R.
The disc has some extras, notably a very good commentary track by film
historian Joel McBride, plus some interjections by the indomitable
Marni Nixon. The episode of AMC's "Backstory" devoted to "An Affair to
Remember" is also included, but its emphasis on "scandal" is most
distasteful. It's as if the producers of the segment felt that a
troubled production with romance in the background is intrinsically
more interesting than a more balanced approach. (For the record: Grant
was trying to get over his affair with Sophia Loren, and Kerr was
heading for divorce. Now you don't have to watch this episode of
"An Affair to Remember" is, classically, a "woman's picture" in the
sense that women will emotionally bond with its lovers more than men
will. But that's probably just an illusion; I first saw this movie when
I was 14, and bawled like a baby.
||audio commentary; AMC "Backstory" episodes, stills, trailer, language audio choices, subtitles in English and Spanish
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||36-inch Sony XBR