An Affair to Remember (1957) dir. Leo McCarey
Starring: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr
By Alan Bacchus
What starts out as a flighty wistful affair on a cruise turns into a near tragic story of lost love. The film famously spawned a reverant homage in Sleepless in Seattle and a remake as Love Affair. An Affair to Remember is a classic for the right reasons.
Cary Grant plays Nickie Ferrante, a suave playboy, who is on his way to New York to be with his new fiance. Deborah Kerr plays Terry McKay, a beautiful singer who is also on her way home to be with her waiting beau. But when a boat cruise courtship is struck, Nickie's and Terry's future plans become extremely complicated. They agree to meet up with each other after 6 months atop the Empire State Building to see if the sparks in their brief relationship are still alive.
Just when you think the film becomes predictable we're sent on a couple of surprising left turns in the second half. Leo McCarey and Delmer Daves are skilled screenwriters. He makes Nickie and Terry's courtship a difficult endeavour as they throw the most insurmountable obstacles in their way. After the initial courtship on the boat we think there would be a central conflict involving Nickie and Terry's respective fiances. But Kenneth (Richard Bradley) recognizes and accepts Terry's love for Nickie, and as the biggest surprise, he becomes her biggest supporter of rekindling their affair.
I admit I've never been a big Cary Grant fan. And here he plays the same character as in every one of his films again. But within the Cary Grant oeuvre he's never been better. In the first half, as expected he's charming and suave, with his usual effortless affability. In the second half we see a diffrent side to Grant. He is a given a powerful moment of sadness, which he acts with an unexpected subtle understateness.
Saying all this, the film is not perfect either. There are a couple of missteps though, namely a lengthy musical musical sequence in the school where Terry works. It's a sequence plugged into the wrong movie. But in 1957, it was part of the standard Hollywood formula to include at least one musical sequence like this.
The introduction of Nickie to Terry feels like a film in a bottle and out of touch with the real world. Despite being engaged, upon first sight Nickie instantly pursues Terry without a second thought to his impending marriage. He even takes her out to the French Rivera to meet his grandmother. Neither character thinks it's weird to be meeting elder relatives after knowing each for less than a week. Though they don't consummate, it's never an innocent affair.
There's some manufactured conflict during their reconnection at the finale, which could easily haven been solved with a simple admission of the truth from Terry. But for some reason she doesn't tell him why she stood Nickie up at the Empire State Building. Her intent and motivation in this moment is confusing. The film also has an unsatisfactory abrupt ending shortly afterwards. But that was the way Hollywood told stories back then - very little breathing time between climax and credits. Enjoy.
An Affair to Remember is available in a Special Edition Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. It's elegantly packaged with mondo extras and glossy liner notes, perhaps intended to compete against the fine Warner Bros classic re-issues of late. Either way, it's welcomed competition. This is a fine disc to buy.