Monday, November 21, 2016

An Affair To Remember (1957)

Back in 1993, the sleeper hit of the summer was Sleepless in Seattle, a fantastic rom com starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, who would go on to become America’s Sweethearts of the 90s. It was a throwback to the grand old weepers of a generation hence, like An Affair to Remember, and to drive the point home, it even featured references and film clips to that old chestnut. I’d seen parts of it, thought it completely boring and dated, and scoffed at the revitalization the film enjoyed as a result of its inclusion in Sleepless.

Now, having seen it years later for its being a part of the Fox Film Collection, I now have to eat crow. An Affair To Remember is a splendid work, an archetype of its genre, and, for its first hour at least, it’s an almost perfect example of the sort of product Hollywood’s Golden Age was best known for: a witty, tightly wound script, served magnificently by a lush score and set, and the greatest star power the industry has ever known. When they say they don’t make them like this anymore, I have to sigh. It’s no longer a trite, pithy expression – it’s all too true. Too sadly, profoundly true.

Cary Grant is Nickie Ferrante, an Italian, womanizing playboy about to marry an American heiress and thus receive a huge fortune, but on the boat over he meets Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr), a singer, and immediately they hit it off. The gossip-mongering media, of course, has a field day (busybodies were a common trope in the 50s), but the two lovebirds don’t care – they become so smitten that they make a mutual pact to meet at the top of the Empire State Building six months later to marry – enough time to break off their respective engagements, and allow a resultingly penniless Nickie to forge a living.

Nickie turns to painting, his great passion, to make ends meet, while Terry’s eyes tell her fianc√© all he needs to know, and he accepts their breakup. But six months later, at the moment of the lovebirds’ long-awaited reunion, Terry gets hit by a car, and is rendered incapacitated, leaving Nickie to wait all night long for his absentee beloved. She refuses to make contact with him until she can walk, occupying herself with a new job as a children’s music teacher. But when they accidentally meet at her apartment, a still confused Nickie guilts her for her rebuff, until he notices her wheelchair. The two repledge their solemn, mutual love, she vowing to walk again as long as he will be by her side. 

An Affair to Remember certainly passes the ultimate romance’s litmus test: do you want to see the two leads end up together? It passes it with flying colors – you want to see Grant and Kerr together so desperately, that if they don’t, you’re inclined to dispel the notion of love once and for all, as if it were a folly as insignificant as Santa Claus. (Nah, strike that. I just saw Miracle on 34th Street.) Ok, perhaps I’m overdramatizing, but I really was worked by the film, hook line and sinker. At least for the film’s first half – the boat half, a setting that always seems to facilitate romance (see a previous Fox entry, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, or any given episode of The Love Boat, one of my favorite 70s shows). And I love the way the chemistry is so relaxed, so casual – these characters are adults, spouting adult dialogue, not like today’s adults, who strain for as many clever, quippy, reference-laden lines they can muster, all in a neurotic frenzy of insecurity, immaturity and overall insufferability.

But, as I alluded to earlier, there’s a problem. After the inevitable separation, and the succeeding trial term, I was getting all set for the grand finale: the reunion at the top of the Empire. They’ve paid their dues, and they’re all set for the Famous Final Scene, closed-lips smooch and all, and then the orchestra swell and end title card.

But then I looked at my DVD time counter. There was still thirty-three minutes left to go.

And that’s when Deborah Kerr gets out of her taxi and gets hit by a car.

Oh, snap!

This, of course, was a plot development symptomatic of those 50s tearjerkers, particularly of the Douglas Sirk ilk: just when you think all is right and well in Romanceville, some eleventh-hour impediment arises to either delay, frustrate or completely obstruct the consummation we assumed would occur. But damnit, why did it have to invade this film, with dapper Grant and elegant Kerr, who were all set to live the rest of their lives in each other’s arms?

Even worse, the delay period after the tragic accident is easily the worst part of the film. We have to suffer through not one but two unbearable children’s musical numbers (she’s now a teacher, remember), and all the while we want her, desperately, to just tell Nickie that’s SHE CAN’T WALK but will GET BETTER and WHY DON’T THEY JUST GET MARRIED IN THE MEANTIME?

Because then they won’t have that achy, unrequited feeling. You know how I said I was manipulated during the first half on the film but didn’t mind? Well, now I’m manipulated in the second half and I do mind.

Yeah, I suppose I should be happy that at least they’re together in the end, under different circumstances, but why couldn’t it have been the way I expected. Perhaps the Rolling Stones were right – “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”

But I could definitely have done without the kids singing.

Overall, a minor demerit doesn’t detract too much from a rating of: 

                       Rating:  ***1/2

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