I’m of the generation that filters this movie through the lens of another. Sleepless in Seattle convinced those of us who weren’t around in 1957 that An Affair to Remember is the great film romance, the classic that all others aspire to be. Indeed, it ranks a lofty 5th on the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Passions list, so you’re not wrong to think that this is one for the ages.
Alas, the love affair between Nicky Ferrante (Cary Grant) and Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) leaves a lot to be desired. I blame some of it on my repeated viewings of Sleepless, which seems to have turned moments of high romance into sobby sound bites. All I can think about is Meg Ryan’s inability to say anything except “Hello” and Rita Wilson’s howling about Kerr’s shriveled little legs.
But the film as a whole has a tinny ring. Adapted from director Leo McCarey’s own 1939 film, Love Affair (again remade in 1994), this one goes only as far as the appeal of its two stars. Grant cuts a fine playboy, and Nicky is the reality show hotshot of his time. More famous for cycling through girlfriends than for any real contribution to society, like holding a job, he is engaged to an heiress (Neva Patterson) when he meets the girl of his dreams during an Atlantic crossing. Kerr is equally magnetic as Grant’s love interest, a singer plucked from obscurity and saved from poverty by a smart, handsome businessman with a heart of gold (Richard Denning). Terry takes pride in the fact that her man is off dealing with numbers and stuff while she gets to relax on a cruise back home.
Grant and Kerr are an engaging couple and have a sure chemistry. It’s easy to be swept into their affair. They start off sparring and coy, not too combative, and then turn tender and even giddy as they abandon themselves to love. The script does a good job reining in the pair’s chemistry, however, and the hokey machinations that push the two together and then pull them apart weaken the film.
A lot depends on your believing that slick Nicky would rather be a struggling artist than marry up. Once he’s rediscovered his hobby thanks to a supportive Terry, he ends up looking pretty goofy slapping up a billboard in a pair of overalls. Grant is a lot of things, but bohemian painter is not one of those.
Terry’s actions are puzzling as well. It’s not giving anything away to say that a proposed reunion at the top of the Empire State Building goes awry and leaves Terry in a state not to be seen. At least this is what she thinks, and she enlists the help of her spurned lover to keep her condition secret. He obliges but says what we’re all thinking. If she and Nicky really love each other, they should just get on with it. Their unnecessary separation doesn’t heighten the romance but frustrates it. At least the interlude allows for some cute kids to run around and sing a bit. I’m always up for that.
Prod: Leo McCarey, Jerry Wald
Dir: Leo McCarey
Writer: Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart, Leo McCarey
Cast: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Marni Nixon
Time: 119 min
Country: United States