Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Love Affair (1939)

Director: Leo McCarey

A romance story for the ages is shared in the motion picture Love Affair, heralded as one of the best pictures within perhaps the best year in American cinema history, but its luster would overshadowed by the multitude of other great pictures out of 1939 and a near exact remake that would be more remembered. Connecting a love story with the icon image of the Empire State Building is what makes this tale so memorable despite the idea being reuse numerous times since this original film. Widely and critically acclaimed, Love Affair would have been the best picture perhaps if it were not for the enormous line up of hugely successful films to come out of Hollywood during that particular year.

Love Affair is a romantic drama of a romantic rendezvous that fails to happen due to a tragic event causing one to miss arrival, heartbreak, and learning that love goes beyond disappointment from random circumstances. French artist Michel (Charles Boyer) and American singer Terry (Irene Dunne) meet aboard there trans-Atlantic liner and though they are engaged to others, they begins a relationship that blossoms into a passionate romance. Upon arrival to New York they plan a rendezvous on top of the Empire State Building six months later, after they are to get out of their current relationships and pick up where they left off. In her hast to make their romantic meeting Terry is struck by a car and crippled, causing her to miss the rendezvous with Michel, leaving him to think she never intended to be with him. Afraid of what Michel might think of her new physical status, Terry keeps her status a secret from him, even when they run into each other later on in a theater. It is until later when Michel visits Terry, after he has tried to move on and becomes a successful artist, that he learns of Terry’s truth and pledges that he loves her no matter what state she is in.

The picture is a love story of a classic plot structure where man and woman fall in love realizing that though they are with others, no one else will do, but each other. When Terry has her crippling accident making Michel believe the absolute worst, that she does not love him because she never met up with him, she hides the fact she now is more of a burden being  unable to walk and will not see her in the same light, she keeps the truth from him. An iconic piece to the film is the use of the world’s tallest building at the time, the Empire State Building, still a new fixture to the New York skyline, and described as “the closest thing to heaven” by Irene Dunne in the film.

A story with heavy sentimentality goes right along with the styling of director Leo McCarey, filmmaker of such recent features as the very emotional Make Way for Tomorrow and romantic comedy The Awful Truth, both films dealing with hard facts of tough changes in life, although The Awful Truth ends on a happy note. Love Affair shares the characteristics that McCarey wished people had within themselves. In the real world if two individuals engaged to other people fall in love, end their engagements to be with each other those two individuals would go through a murky mess in relationships with their exes and their new partners as well. Here, however, the exes seem to understand rather well and move on quickly, almost encouraging Michel and Terry to be together, because that is what will make them happy. These aspects are highly unlikely in true life relationships, but McCarey holds within himself a world, much like that in Frank Capra’s films, where people care for each other and are so selfless when it comes to helping others find true happiness. In any case it makes for a nice story here in Love Affair.

Dunne and Boyer plan to meet atop the Empire State Building
Irene Dunne by this point in her career was an established major Hollywood star, fully broken away from her more rigid musicals past to being a gifted romantic comedy star to accompany her strong vocal talent, which too is often still showcased in many of her pictures, including this one.. Both her acting and singing would gain Oscar nominations, Dunne for best actress and the song “Wishing,” of which she performs, would be up for best original song.

Dunne’s co-star was the major romantic leading French born actor Charles Boyer. Coming off the praiseworthy performances in The Garden of Allah and Algiers, Boyer’s charm and French accent made him a foremost name among female audiences in romantic movies. He carries into Love Affair his style in the role of a striving artist and playboy, winning the heart of the leading lady with his sophisticated charm, and wins over the audience with his vulnerability when he falls in love with Terry.

In the memorable role of Charles Boyer’s loving grandmother in the tiny elderly Russian born actress Maria Ouspenskaya. Living in a sea front town where Michel and Terry stop to visit on there thrans-Atlantic cruise, we meet the lovely woman, and upon deep conversations Michel’s grandmother greatly approves of Terry. Upon meeting her Terry falls even more in love with Michel after conversing with this quaint, lovely woman. Here Ouspenskaya plays a part that represents the inner loving side of Michel which lies underneath his playboy fa├žade. It is this setting of her Mediterranean village Michel’s emotional lies, where he returns to pine when he believes Terry had stood him up. Ouspenskaya’s role is not long while on screen, but her presence is felt when Boyer returns to the setting and Ouspenskaya is not there, manifesting the lasting impact she leaves on the audience’s mind. Maria would be nominated for her supporting role, the second time she was named on the list.

Love Affair was a profitable success and littered the lists of top films of the year as well as multiple nominations for that year’s Oscars, including nominations for: best picture, best actress, best supporting actress, best original story, best original song, and best art direction. Unfortunately for the picture Love Affair would not win an award and would be drowned out in 1939 by other major classics to be including Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Eighteen years later Leo McCarey would revisit Love Affair, remaking the film, almost shot for shot, based on the original screenplay he co-penned and was nominated for. 1957 saw the release of An Affair to Remember, a color version of the tale starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr which would on its own become a major classic and named as one of the greatest romance movies in American cinema. Due to the remake’s success Love Affair is somewhat forgotten, even falling into public domain when the copyright was not picked up in the late 1960s.

Despite the loss of interest the story of Love Affair would live on mightily, seeing another remake in 1994 with Warren Beatty, Annette Bening, and Katharine Hepburn in her final role. Love Affair is very good picture produced in the heart of one of the best years in motion picture production in Hollywood. Here is the rare case where it was noted as being one of the very best in a year and it would be buried by its competitors and in later years further buried by an even more memorable remake by the very same filmmaker that brought this original. Love Affair makes for an interesting note in motion pictures for being good, but left behind by some of cinema’s greatest pictures which happened to release around the same time.

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