Judge Ike Oden had an affair once. He wouldn't call it particularly memorable.
"There must always be something between us, even if it's only an ocean."
Fox is dusting off some of its old "Studio Classics" DVD line for re-release onto Blu-Ray. Among the upgraded titles is An Affair To Remember, the 1957 Leo McCarey (The Bells of St. Mary) directed, Oscar-nominated melodrama starring Cary Grant (Charade) and Deborah Kerr (The King and I). The Technicolor romance is touted as a masterpiece of Fox's studio canon, a vehicle that capitalized on the charm and comedy of Grant and Kerr's onscreen coupling and broke hearts with its tragic melodrama. Yet An Affair To Remember isn't quite as grand as its reputation, holding up as an inventively directed, annoyingly dated, and barely above average tearjerker.
Facts of the Case
Playboy Nicky Ferrante (Grant) and former night club singer Terry McKay (Kerr) meet aboard a cruise ship. They are engaged to wed other people, but find themselves falling in love anyway. Rather than throw their lives away on a romantic whim, the couple make a pack: take six months to establish lives and careers for themselves separated from the financial security of their (soon to be ex) fiancés, and reconnect on top of the Empire State Building. If one fails to make it, it clearly wasn't meant to be. Of course, things don't go exactly as planned.
An Affair To Remember requires a certain amount of patience and understanding from modern viewers. The film is fairly saucy for its time, containing a fair amount of frank double talk and sexual innuendo. This isn't surprising as the film is about infidelity—how it happens, what happens after it, and the pain of finding those flames of passion extinguished, especially when love, not sex, is the cause.
An Affair To Remember is as wholesome a film about affairs as you're likely to find. Nicky and Terry are engaged to be married, but haven't quite tied the knot yet, letting the audience know the characters have a little room to worm out of their obligations without becoming too unlikeable. Nicky, a renowned womanizer who seems to be marrying for money (though his heiress, played by Skin Game's Neva Patterson, is quite fetching), first pursues Terry for sport; it is only when she rejects him in favor of friendship that the two begin to connect. In this way, An Affair To Remember carefully lays out its protagonists in the most likeable, sympathetic way possible, making for a breezy, romantic first hour that is fun if you're a fan of Grant and Kerr's repartee.
Thankfully, An Affair To Remember doesn't let us off the hook in its second hour, despite a tame, self-imposed moral code. Nicky and Terry face tragic, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, sure, but they are also forced to ditch two very likeable fiancés. Richard Denning (Hawaii Five-O) plays a millionaire businessman who may be the most understanding man ever to be dumped in a romantic film. Seriously, the lengths at which he goes to pursue Terry are vast, making the audience sort of root for him to win her love (even though no one in their right mind would go against Cary Grant). This doesn't build mounting resentment against Terry or Nicky, it just creates what I like to call "The Duckie Effect" (named for John Cryer's character in Pretty In Pink, and yes I know it came several decades after An Affair To Remember—I just like Duckie). We want the protagonists to get together in the end, but also kind of want them to get together with those who they don't share quite the same feelings for. "The Duckie Effect" makes for messy and thoroughly confused logic, but a testament to the amount of empathy An Affair To Remember evokes in all of its characters.
Leo McCarey directs the film imaginatively, pulling off simple, albeit clever camera moves and framing that ingeniously gets into the heads of Nicky and Terry. Most of the actual romantic flim-flam is cleverly framed just barely offscreen, teasing the sexual tension without every giving any sort of reprieve. It makes the affair aspect of the film even more lurid, even though it probably consists of barely a few pecks and hugs. This sort of filmmaking is the kind that plays on audience expectations without actually playing into them. It's the sort of crafted direction that modern romantic comedies and melodramas should take note of (I'm looking at you, Katherine Heigel's resume).
Grant and Kerr never miss a beat in their performances. Grant plays a variation of his suave persona, going from a lecherous high-society charmer to, well, Cary Grant—suave, handsome, and decidedly masculine without every compromising a sense of vulnerability. Kerr balances a goody-two shoes sensibility with the naive, girlish sensibility of a woman who has fallen in love for the first time fairly late in her life. She's conservative, sure, and is never presented as an object of sexuality, but her girl-next-door charm makes her more than affable. With some off-tempo line readings and a few smoldering looks, they make one of the most credible onscreen couples you'll ever find.
Fox's Blu-ray of An Affair To Remember is as regal as the film itself. While the image suffers from blur and grain (during dissolve transitions, rear screen projections and usage of stock footage), the majority of the 1080p transfer is incredibly sharp and clean. The Technicolor "Cinemascope" cinematography looks particularly fine, though the black levels are a bit lacking. Accompanying the strong video is a fine 5.1 DTS-HD mix, delivering very clear audio and a full, rich orchestral score.
Special features have been ported over from the 50th Anniversary Edition released back in 2008, which include an audio commentary (with film historian Joseph McBride and Kerr's singer, Marni Nixon), five featurettes (An Affair To Remember: Deborah Kerr, An Affair To Remember: Cary Grant, Directed By Leo McCarey, A Producer to Remember: Jerry Wild, The Look of An Affair To Remember, an episode of AMC Backstory about the film, Fox Movietone News, and a trailer. I would take Fox to task for not bringing some new content to the party, but I'm not sure how one might go further in-depth than the substantial collection of features here.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As mentioned before, the film is dated. I don't mean dated in the sense old fashioned moral values, or in the sense that almost all of the melodramatic twists and turns have been regurgitated in a zillion other movies. No, An Affair To Remember is dated in its overall script's construction—bloated with unnecessary characters, musical setpieces, and bad comic relief.
Leo McCarey worked his way through the ranks of Hal Roach Studios, which birthed the seminal Our Gang series, as well as Laurel & Hardy films and Marx Brothers movies (McCarey had a hand in all of it, according to the special features).
Rather than play the story straight and somber, McCarey injects comedic and musical elements in the vein of these productions (right down to an Our Gang style group of kids) to make the film lighter and appeal to a broader audience. While some of the elements are amusing, they distract from and elongate the film's story. The movie feels at least twenty minutes too long, making it a downright struggle through boredom during certain scenes.
The worst of these are the scenes involving Nicky's dear old grandmother. The scenes are purely expository for Nicky, building on very Catholic sensibilities (Nicky's grandmother has her own chapel, where we see Terry pray). Perhaps it's the atheist in me, but this whole section slows down the entire first half. Worst of all, Grant isn't even in a five minute section of it. His absence is missed, and the saccharine monologues the audience must bear borders on movie-killing.
I'm sure many cinephiles feel the total opposite about these elements (check out the special features if you don't believe me). The mixture of broad comedy and tragic drama was more unique when the film was made. Said elements, as well as a flare for religious tangents, are regarded by film historians as McCarey's bread and butter trademarks. While I can respect then man's perspective in making these choices, they simply don't hold up on a cinematic level, detracting from the film and making An Affair To Remember's "classic" status a bit overhyped.
One more gripe: Fox's digibook case, while aesthetically pleasing with some cool, built-in liner notes, holds the disc about as well as my third grader's beat up Five Star homework folder. If the set gets knocked off a surface or flipped over, the disc is leaving the case. I appreciate an environmentally friendly design, but the packaging smacks of cheapness disguised as sleekness.
It isn't perfect, but as a film and Blu-ray double dip, An Affair To Remember lives up to its name. Now I'm going to stop this review before I end up pulling another Pete Travers style pull quote on you.
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