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! 


  1. Well, my favorite movie EVER so what else can I say, it's just PERFECT and I will always be sorry about that stupid, wooden and cold remake (which I love to call "An Offense to Remember") that's sadly more famous nowadays.

    Renata =)

  2. What's there to say about my favorite movie - it's perfection to the last detail. But sadly, it's dreadfully neglected. Color films cloud people's minds. And a remastered DVD release is long overdue. I totally agree with you Susanne that these last 10 minutes are magic Irene moments. I remember I was watching the last minutes over and over because there's so much to see. :) Not to forget my favorite scene - the amazing 5 minutes before they will arrive in New York the other day. What else can I say - this film is a must-see!

  3. Good movie, but every time I see Charles Boyer, I can only think of "Gaslight," and I just know he's a bad guy! He was so damn evil in that picture...

  4. Honestly, I like "An Affair To Remember" but Irene's performance makes all the difference - and that she and Charles Boyer are simply so wonderful together. I love this scene too, you mentioned Janine, but my favorite is still the end. However, remakes are as normal as can be for Hollywood; for instance, our beloved "The Awful Truth" was a remake (already the third! filming)
    That this impression sticks to you like that, Rod, certainly says something about Mr.Boyer's acting...another underrated representative of this film era! I have to rewatch "Gaslight"!;)

  5. Well, just wow. I just finished watching Love Affair on youtube (certainly NOT my favorite way to watch any film!)and honestly, it put me in mind of Now, Voyager and Humoresque, as far as great romantic films are concerned. I have a dark sin to confess: I didn't care too much for An Affair To Remember (frankly, it bored me silly)and on some level I assumed this version, the original, would be more of the same, only in black and white. I'm really happy to be proved wrong, Susanne!
    A few thoughts:
    The scene where they first meet on board the ship is so damn sophisticated! ID's touch is so light, so effervescent. The cinematic equivalent of pink champagne.
    When she quotes her dad "The things I love best are either immoral, illegal or fattening", that's a really famous quote here in the U.S.A, but I had no idea it originated in this film!
    And another surprise-when she starts singing "I Can't Help (Falling In Love With You)" in French, I freaked out. My only knowledge of this song is the Elvis Presley version--I thought he introduced it to the world!
    I can't watch Boyer w/out thinking about his tragic end-what a beautiful person he was. I'm happy he and Irene had such a great rapport.
    And I LOVE the background shots of New York (I'm carrying on a love affair of my own with that city, though I've never been there) and it's fun to see NYC, back when it was putting on its best face!
    All in all, SO happy to have finally seen "Love Affair"! Thank you for bringing it to my attention!
    (Oh, P.S. Susanne: Have you heard they're releasing both the Margaret Sullavan and Susan Hayward versions of "Back Street" on DVD, but not Irene's? That's just wrong!)

  6. Rob, I am so happy that you liked this film, and put it in the same row as "Now,Voyager" and "Humoresque," because that's simply where "Love Affair" belongs. Quite a trio of films I love! As you know "Humoresque" got me interested in JC... do you know that Irene was at the brink of signing the contract for "Now, Voyager" but then the Queen of the Warner lot got hold of a script! ;) But Bette certainly gave a wonderful performance.
    I saw this new release, and it IS all wrong, but fortunately a couple of months ago a Spanish company released a clear print of Irene's version. It was wonderful to watch it in such a quality, I still don't like the story but it's a top-notch Dunne performance!

  7. This film is fantastic and Irene Dunne is my all-time favorite, but I think the criticism of An Affair to Remember is a little unfair. It's my favorite movie and I don't think it's a bit boring (except for maybe the 1,000th time watching the scene with the grandmother). Regardless of which version one may prefer, the performances of Grant and Kerr are amazing. Both are amazing actors, and although their styles may differ from Dunne and Boyer, they definitely exhibit a great deal of chemistry. I think the first two versions are simply magical. However, feel free to criticize the 90's remake also titled "Love Affair." :P If you don't want to see this amazing story butchered, stay away.

  8. I didn't even know there was an earlier "Affair to Remember" and I am watching it now. I like the Boyer and Dunne version so much more than the one with Grant and Kerr. The story feels more natural, the two lead protagonists more genuine and relatable. I like them both, you understand -- just find the older movie more involving.

  9. Can anyone advise as to the best print of LOVE AFFAIR available on dvd? The VHS release from the Hal Roach videos advertised their print to be from "original elements" and it was a pretty good picture--but that video never made it to dvd. I had read that the Museum of Modern Art in NY had a restored 35mm print of the film--but no plans to put it out on dvd. Just a great movie experience--wish I could see it as crisp and clean as some of the other classics from the era. --Jimk