1001 Classic Movies: An Affair to Remember

An Affair to Remember (1957), starring Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant, is one of the 1001 classic movies you should see.

Each Monday, I'm going to recommend a classic movie you should see (for the reasons behind the 1001 series and reviews of earlier films covered go here). February's theme is the leading ladies of Cary Grant. This week's actress is Deborah Kerr who appeared with Grant in three movies, including the all-time classic romance, An Affair to Remember (1957).

An Affair to Remember tells the story of Nickie Ferrante (Grant) an international playboy who is a frequent subject of the gossip columns for his romances with high-profile beauties. Nickie is engaged to an heiress (Neva Patterson), but during a transatlantic voyage he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Terry McKay (Kerr), who is also engaged to a wealthy businessman (Richard Denning). The pair agree to separate for six months and then meet at the top of the Empire State Building, but a cruel twist of fate causes one of the lovers to miss the appointment.

An Affair to Remember is a remake of director Leo McCarey's 1939 romance, Love Affair. McCarey, who experienced a career slump after the failure of  his anti-Communist drama My Son John (1952), decided to direct a Cinemascope remake starring his old friend Grant and Kerr, who was then an in-demand leading lady. The result was a huge hit that earned four Oscar nominations and is now regarded as the ultimate screen romance in old Hollywood history.

An Affair to Remember was the second of three films Grant and Kerr made together: The other two are the romantic comedies, Dream Wife (1953) and The Grass Is Greener (1960). By 1957 Kerr was in the middle of a successful streak of movies that began with From Here to Eternity (1953), but Grant was in the early stages of a comeback after he had unexpectedly retired earlier in the decade (Ironically, Grant's reason for leaving show business was the failure of Dream Wife). Grant was reluctantly persuaded out of retirement by Alfred Hitchcock for To Catch a Thief (1955), but the unexpected success of An Affair to Remember really marked Grant's comeback and solidified his status as old Hollywood's No. 1 leading man.

An Affair to Remember Viewer's Guide: For better or worse, this movie has established itself in pop culture as the great example of cinematic romanticism. Here's what to look for when you watch:
1. Original film. An Affair to Remember is virtually a shot-for-shot remake of the 1939 film, which makes for some incongruous details such as Grant having a French grandmother (the very Gallic Charles Boyer starred in the original). However, McCarey did build up the comic scenes in the early part of the movie to capitalize on Grant and Kerr's unique chemistry.
2. Remakes. An Affair to Remember inspired one direct remake, the 1994 version of Love Affair starring real-life couple Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, and it is used as a major plot point in Nora Ephron's rom-com Sleepless in Seattle (1993).
3. Empire State Building. Nickie and Terry's romance doesn't quite eclipse King Kong (1933) as the most memorable old Hollywood movie featuring the Big Apple landmark, but it gave the skyscraper a reputation for romance that still exists today. If you take a quick tour through social media, you'll find many couples getting engaged on the iconic viewing deck.
4. Songs. The second half of the movie almost becomes a musical with Kerr (her singing voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon) and a children's choir singing three tunes. This decision was inspired by Kerr's recent smash hit, The King and I (1956), especially the "Getting to Know You" number.

Janet Gaynor chats with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant during her visit to the set of An Affair to Remember (1957).
Other critics: An Affair to Remember has a 64 percent fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and Leonard Maltin calls it a "middling remake. . .bubbling shipboard comedy in first half, overshadowed by draggy  soap-opera cliches and unnecessary musical numbers in NYC finale" in a two and 1\2 star review for his Classic Movie Guide. Critics in 1957 were mixed about the movie's merits. Variety gave a thumbs up, calling it "alternately funny and tenderly sentimental," but The New York Times' Bosley Crowther was having none of it. He complained that the movie was full of "immature emotion" and "ridiculously childish" plot points. "The lady's failure to notify her fiance of her accident seems absurd. The fact that the man does not hear of it in some way is beyond belief. And the slowness with which he grasps the obvious when he calls upon the lady is just too thick," Crowther opined.

The bottom line: It's true that An Affair to Remember has too many kiddie choir scenes and a plot line that was creaky in 1957, but the movie is still a grand entertainment. Grab your hankie and a bowl of popcorn and get swept away by one of  old Hollywood's great romances.

Availability: An Affair to Remember will air at 8 p.m. April 21 on TCM. It is also available for online streaming on Netflix Instant and on DVD, Blu ray, and video on demand.

Next week, I'll be back next Monday to wrap up the leading ladies of Cary Grant theme with an article about he and Audrey Hepburn in Charade (1963).