Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Love Affair

Charles Boyer and Irene 

Release date 03.16.1939

"Anything can happen, don't you think?" (Terry)

Sailing from Europe to New York, Michel Mornat (Charles Boyer) - a notorious playboy, who is on his way to marry heiress Lois Clarke (Astrid Alwyn) - meets Terry McKay (Irene) - a young woman kept by her boss and "fiancé" Ken Bradley (Lee Bowman). Though both are (almost) going steady, they start flirting and Michel clearly has a shipboard romance in mind.

First encounter...

Obviously, Terry is attracted to him and wouldn't be adverse to a little fling, but she fears that they would make the newspapers and stops the entaglement before it really started. However, on a shore excursion - the boat docks at Madeira - they run into each other, and Michel invites Terry to join him for a visit to his grandmother. Janou (Maria Ouspenskaja) lives on a hill in a house with a calm, unwordly atmosphere that immediatley captivates Terry. 

with Janou (Maria Ouspenskaja)

From his grandmother she learns about some other sides of Michel; not only is he a talented painter, but there is nothing wrong about him the right woman couldn't fix. These hours together work like a catalyzer for their feelings and back aboard Michel and Terry know that something serious is happening between them.  

 Work and love or a life of "pink champagne"?

Although they are sure about their feelings for each other, they are not sure if they could manage a long-term relationship; both are used to a life of "pink champagne" - and that someone else pays for the champagne. Michel has never worked before and Terry only a short time as singer at a nightclub before she was picked up by Ken. They agree not to see each other for six months, and have a try at finding a job and changing their lifestyle. If this will work out they'll meet again atop of the Empire State Building and then the future will be theirs. 

Terry and Ken (Lee Bowman) - Michel is not amused

Both take the first step and leave their respective partners. When his art doesn't sell, Michel takes a job as painter of signs while Terry starts singing again. At last, the six months are over and the Empire State Building is already in sight, but then fate strikes. Terry - in a hurry to meet Michel - is run over by a car, and this accident brings her into the wheelchair. Not knowing if she'll ever walk again, she doesn't want to be a burden for Michel and does not contact him. 

Terry and the kids singing "Whishing" 

Whereas the fact that Terry didn't show up is the dissapointment of his life, Michel just can't turn back to his playboy ways and instead concentrates on his painting. Likewise, Terry refuses any help from Ken and makes a living as music teacher at an orphanage still hoping that she'll escape the wheelchair in the nearer future and then she'll "run to Michel." Coincidentally they meet at a theater performance. Michel not aware of her state of health, and irritated because Terry is accompanied by Ken , visits Terry the next day. He simply has to know why she didn't climb the Empire State Building before he'll leave "to sail the seven seas" trying to forget her... 

The last visit...

"Love Affair" is not only a very beautiful film but an interesting mixture of different genres. Romantic comedy - mainly taking place on the cruiser - and melodrama walk hand in hand glued together by well-nigh religious elements. An igniting moment for Terry's and Michel's relationship is when they pray together in a little chapel on Janou's estate. The scenery is immersed in light coming from a window above and concentrating on Irene thus arousing the effect that we - and Michel - seem to see her anew. When they leave the chapel there is a moment of slight embarrassement between our main characters; something has changed and they know it. Both our protogonists are not quite flawless - the first detail we learn about Michel is that he just betrayed his fiancee with her best friend - and Terry's relationship with Ken - though he is the only page in her "little black book" - is not exactly one out of an etiquette guide for ladies. But we are told to love the sinner and not the sin, and who does not want to believe that love might have a cathartic effect and bring out the best in us? Of course this "catharsis" has to stand a test, and our couple has to prove that they are changed as individuals to be allowed to become a couple again.

one of my favorite publicities...

As serious as this sounds as light is the tone in which the story is told - certainly an outstanding, appealing feature of "Love Affair." Charles Boyer and Irene are simply wonderful in the leads, and their first co-work resulted in a film they both called one of their favorites. Again we are lucky enough to witness the mysterious moment of onscreen chemistry; in the case of Irene and Charles a chemistry more based on tenderness and warmth than  on repartee and timing which connected Irene so wonderfully with Cary Grant. Charles Boyer was Irene Dunne's other favorite leading men - Miss Dunne knew whom to pick. Irene had the fondest memories of the atmosphere on the set of "Love Affair" and gave a by an Academy Award nomination awarded performance.

on set with Leo McCarey and Charles Boyer 

She is not only supported by her leading man, but by the fine direction of Leo McCarey - another one of Irene's favorite co-workers. On one hand low-key on the other hand most impressive, McCarey finds a touching visual language for this "affair" - the first encounter, the aforementioned scene in the chapel, their first kiss or the whole last ten minutes of this film... anyway, those last ten minutes! If I would need a reminder why I started this project - I do not, just in case - I could simply watch these ten minutes. That's  top class Dunne  - an emotional rollercoaster of a scene handled solely by the use of her speaking voice and her facial expressions; and in passing she proves why her Terry was and is the woman Michel fell in love with. That someone like Charles Boyer is Irene's counterpart in this scene is an exhilarating onscreen moment. 

There we sing again...

All of this would be certainly enough to make "Love Affair" one of my favorite Irene Dunne films, but I get a super extra - a song! "Sing My Heart" was especially written by Harold Arlen  for this movie and fits Irene's voice perfectly. A fav song in a fav film - that's certainly worth a recommendation!