In 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle, Meg Ryan and Rosie O’Donnell sob their way through a viewing of An Affair to Remember. Who can forget the characters mouthing along to the dialogue, their eyes welling up with tears? Director/screenwriter Nora Ephron could not have chosen a more appropriate inspiration for her modern-day romantic fairy tale–if you’re looking for a weepie that will make you reach for the tissues every time, you can’t go wrong with Affair.
The film stars Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in the tale of two people who meet on a ship and fall in love. Of course, it’s not as simple as that–Nickie (Grant), an artist and inveterate playboy, and Terry (Kerr), a singer and teacher, are both engaged to someone else, yet they fall in love with one another when their paths cross on an ocean voyage from Europe to New York. When the two part at the end of their trip, they agree to meet on top of the Empire State Building in six months–giving them ample time to remove themselves from their respective romantic entanglements–to begin their relationship in earnest. However, while on her way to keep the appointment, Terry is hit by a car and crippled in the accident. Nickie takes the perceived rejection bitterly, as Terry refuses to contact him to explain her condition. But a chance meeting at the theater leads Nickie to look up his old flame and finally confront her about why she never showed up that day.
“Oh, it’s nobody’s fault but my own! I was looking up … it was the nearest thing to heaven! You were there …”
And cue the waterworks.
The movie is a remake of the 1939 Irene Dunne–Charles Boyer film Love Affair. Both films were directed by Leo McCarey, and for the most part, the movies follow identical storylines (while we’re on the subject, I would personally recommend skipping the 1994 remake of the story, also titled Love Affair, starring Annette Bening and Warren Beatty. Despite the presence of the inimitable Katharine Hepburn–in her final film role–on the whole, it just doesn’t work this time around … though Bening, as Terry, makes a valiant effort at recapturing the magic of her predecessors).
It’s hard to make comparisons between the two, because I love elements of both movies. But I find myself wishing that Dunne and Grant had ended up as co-stars in a version of this film. Judging by their sentimental pairing in 1941’s Penny Serenade, it’s obvious the two stars were both quite capable of juggling maudlin material with some finesse, and I can’t help but imagine how they would have played off of one another in this story.
Still, Kerr and Grant make a charming pair in the film, her banked passion matching his suave charm quite well. The movie also features Neva Patterson, who passed away last month, as Nickie’s ex-fiance; Richard Denning as Terry’s former love; and Cathleen Nesbitt as Nickie’s adorable grandmother. While the movie is sometimes difficult to watch because of its insistence on pummeling the audience’s emotions, the solid performances make the sometimes sickeningly sentimental pill a bit easier to swallow.
What is it about this movie that makes it so maudlin? I blame the script–the dialogue seems to be deliberately crafted to wring every single tear from the audience.
“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories. We’ve already missed the spring!”
“I really hope you’ve found happiness, and if you’re ever in need of anything–like someone to love you–don’t hesitate to call me.”
And the real doozy:
“If you can paint, I can walk! Anything can happen, right?”
Put a fork in me and pass the Kleenex–I’m done.
Kerr is particularly effective in her delivery of some of these lines, especially in the final scenes of the film during her character’s confrontation with Grant. As the camera focuses on her face–lips quivering, eyes shining with unshed tears, an expression of almost unbearable angst etched in every pore–well, only the hardest of hearts can’t feel a stab of sadness for Terry’s sorrow.
Yes, I’m a sucker like that.
If you’re looking for a film that will set you off on a cinematic crying jag the likes of which you may never have experienced, An Affair to Remember is just the ticket. We recommend several boxes of tissues, a couple of aspirin for the inevitable headache … and maybe a couple of shots of Jack Daniels beforehand to brace yourself for the sometimes cloying sentimentality to follow.
Our Maudlin Meter rating for this film: