A French playboy, Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer, All This, and Heaven Too), falls for an American ex-singer, Terry McKay (Irene Dunne, The Awful Truth), during a transatlantic cruise. There is one minor problem; both are engaged to other people. They decide to give each other space and agree to meet atop the Empire State Building in six months.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Love Affair, finely directed by Leo McCarey (Duck Soup and Going My Way), is an old-fashioned romantic mood piece that has been overshadowed somewhat by its glossy 1957 remake An Affair to Remember (also directed by McCarey, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr). That’s really too bad because this is a sharp, touching, sophisticated dramedy.
Back in 1939 (often regarded as Hollywood’s greatest year), the film was hailed as a modern classic. It received numerous Oscar nominations. The film was also a big hit with audiences. However, next to other releases from that year — Gone with the Wind, Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights, The Wizard of Oz, etc. — it doesn’t look like much today. Still, Love Affair is a charming mixture of romance, comedy, and melodrama.
The script by Delmer Daves (A Summer Place) and Donald Ogden Stewart (The Philadelphia Story) is a carefully calculated balance of humor and sentiment. The first half is by far my favorite section of the film. Later, the story moves into the territory of melodrama. It does get a bit mushy, but the genuinely poignant climax redeems the saccharine excesses.
Dunne has great rapport with Boyer. The sophisticated stars look great together (Dunne and Boyer immediately re-teamed for another rom-com, When Tomorrow Comes, which was released the same year as this movie), and even hammy Maria Ouspenskaya (Dodsworth and The Wolfman), who plays Boyer’s grandmother, doesn’t spoil the fun.
The supporting cast also includes Lee Bowman (Buck Privates), Astrid Allwyn (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) and Maurice Moscovitch (In Name Only). Watch out for future Warner Bros. starlet Joan Leslie (Sergeant York and The Hard Way) and Bessie “Queen of the Hollywood Extras” Love.
This elegant RKO production was beautifully shot by legendary cameraman Rudolph Maté (The Pride of the Yankees and Gilda). The original music is by prolific RKO composer Roy Webb (Magic Town and Marty). Co-edited by future director Edward Dmytryk (The Caine Mutiny and The Carpetbaggers).
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
As I stated before, the 1957 is more famous, but the original doesn’t deserve to be ignored. Love Affair ends on Christmas Day, so it is a nice film to watch over the Holidays — get your handkerchiefs ready! Love Affair was remade one more time in 1994, with Warren Beatty, Annette Bening and Katharine Hepburn. P.S. Love Affair is in public domain and a good-looking copy is hard to come by. B&W, 88 minutes, Not Rated.