Sunday, March 2, 2008

Target #196: An Affair to Remember (1957, Leo McCarey)

TSPDT placing: #452
Directed by: Leo McCarey
Written by: Delmer Daves (screenplay), Leo McCarey (story), Mildred Cram (story),
Donald Ogden Stewart (uncredited)
Starring: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Richard Denning, Neva Patterson, Cathleen Nesbitt, Charles Watts

Well, consider me surprised and very impressed. After delivering two considerable disappointments in Duck Soup (1933) and The Awful Truth (1937), director Leo McCarey well-and-truly redeems himself with one of the finest romances I've ever seen, one of the few pictures with enough emotional depth to challenge City Lights (1931), The Apartment (1960), or even Casablanca (1942). Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr illuminate the screen as two strangers who meet on an trans-Atlantic luxury cruise and finds themselves falling in love, only to be faced with their own impending marriages to other people. Funny, sensitive and extremely touching, An Affair to Remember (1957) rarely puts a foot wrong in its stirring exploration of mature romance, with both stars delivering rich and authentic performances that complement the pleasant, bittersweet tone of the film. Milton R. Krasner's cinematography, captured using DeLuxe colour, gives the film – particularly the scenes set in New York City – a cold, wintry feel, making the ending even more poignant as the two lovers come together for a warm embrace. An Affair to Remember was a remake of McCarey's own 1939 film, Love Affair, which starred Irenne Dunne and Charles Boyer. Then-acting veteran Cary Grant, who received his big break in the director's The Awful Truth, plays Nickie Ferrante, a witty and debonair social playboy/failed artist, who, in the wedding event of the year, is due to marry wealthy socialite Lois Clark (Neva Patterson). On his luxury cruise to greet his would-be bride in New York, Nickie meets Terry McKay (a lovely Deborah Kerr), who is initially too proud and sensible to have anything to do with the notoriously charming Nickie, but nonetheless slowly falls for him. The pair attempt to hide their budding romance, to the amusement of their nosey fellow passengers, but soon they realise that their situation is simply inescapable. They plan a rendezvous in six months' time, on the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building, giving each other the opportunity to repair their uncertain lives and decide if they truly are in love with each other.

What impressed me the most about McCarey's direction is how seamlessly he was able to blend together comedy, romance and drama. The first half of the film is very much a light-hearted romantic comedy, but the pair's departure from the ship proves an important turning-point in the tone of the story, and the audience is left gripping their seats, wondering anxiously "will they ever get together again?" The film's single misstep lies with the addition of two children's choir musical numbers, performed by a group of freckle-faced urchins under Terry's instruction. These songs have absolutely nothing to do with the story, and I suspect that their inclusion was purely a matter of extending the running time. Conversely, Kerr's musical numbers {her vocals dubbed by Marni Nixon} are touching and beautiful, fuelled with intense emotion, and lovely to listen to. The film's most tender sequence undoubtedly takes place at the the residence of Nickie's grandmother (Cathleen Nesbitt), who plays the piano as Terry begins the sing, the defining moment when we realise that Nickie and Terry are destined to fall in love.

Currently my #5 film of 1957:
1) 12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet)
2) The Bridge on the River Kwai (David Lean)
3) Det Sjunde inseglet {The Seventh Seal} (Ingmar Bergman)
4) Letyat zhuravli {The Cranes are Flying} (Mikhail Kalatozov)
5) An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey)

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