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An Affair to Remember Print E-mail
Tuesday, 04 February 2003

An Affair To Remember

20th Century Fox Studio Classics
MPAA rating: Unrated
starring: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Robert Q. Lewis, Charles Watts
release year: 1957
film rating: Three-and-a-Half Stars
sound/picture: Four Stars
reviewed by: Bill Warren

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 faces.

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 that movie.)

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. Wheeler.

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 "Backstory.")

"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.

more details
aspect ratio(s):
16x9 enhanced
special features: audio commentary; AMC "Backstory" episodes, stills, trailer, language audio choices, subtitles in English and Spanish
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 36-inch Sony XBR

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