Remember the classic 1957 Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr movie An Affair to Remember? I knew it was a tear-jerker, but I had forgotten how funny it is, too, until I watched it again today. The first half plays like a romantic comedy–the second half becomes more like melodrama (keep the tissues handy!).
It begins with playboy Nickie Ferrante meeting a former lounge-singer named Terry McKay on a cruise ship. They are both engaged to wealthy people who provide lavish lifestyles for them that they couldn’t possibly maintain on their own. Neither Nickie nor Terry has held a job for a long time. They are traveling alone and meet when Terry finds Nickie’s cigarette lighter.
I like this scene where they realize they are sitting back-to-back in booths in the dining room. They’ve been trying to avoid each other in public, but it isn’t working. Everyone in the room is watching them. And the ship’s photographer is covertly snapping photos of them to sell to the other passengers.
When the ship arrives in NYC, the lovers make arrangements to meet at the top of the Empire State Building in 6 months if they both feel the same way about each other, and if Nickie can find a way to support the two of them in the manner they’ve become accustomed. Kind of a tall order considering he has never had a real job.
Surprise! A television reporter is there to interview them about their fairy tale romance and upcoming wedding. It’s a bit awkward for Nickie, who was planning to break up with Lois. This is her living room:
It’s also awkward for Terry, who watches the interview from the lovely apartment that her fiance pays for. When the reporter (Robert Q. Lewis, playing himself) asks Nickie, “When are you planning to get married?” he looks into the camera and says, “In a little over 6 months’ time.” Get it?
Terry gets the message and promptly breaks up with her handsome millionaire fiance. (I like this apartment. Must’ve been hard to give it up! I think I would’ve asked the housekeeper to come with me, at least.)
After breaking off the wedding, Terry goes outside onto the balcony and stares up at the Empire State Building. Kind of cool how we just see the reflection in the door and know what she’s staring at. (Can you count how many times images of it appear in the movie? Or at least in these photos I took from it?)
Nickie has never worked a day in his life. Like Terry, he has been “kept” by a series of wealthy lovers. The only skill he has is painting. He promptly gets himself an artist’s garret and goes to work. An art dealer takes a look at his work and pronounces it “very good.” He might even be able to sell some of it. Hooray!
Nicky waits. And waits. But Terry never shows up. We find out she got hit (off screen) by one of those taxicabs in the photo above. She is in a hospital. Paralyzed. Weeping. Hysterical. “But I have to get to the Empire State Building! I have to!”
She goes home. Starts to recover. A minister gets her a job as a music director leading a children’s choir. (Doesn’t this apartment look like something out of my 1956 Better Homes & Gardens decorating book that I always show you photos from?)
Her neighbor checks on her. Terry is wearing a lovely red suit and is in full hair and makeup to spend the day alone, paralyzed, on her sofa. Which is a good thing because the door rings and–guess what! It’s Nickie! He has tracked her down. He’s bitter and angry that she never showed up, but he wants to give her the shawl that his grandmother left to Terry after she died a few months earlier.
Terry pretends everything is normal. She doesn’t tell him about the accident. She says she’s sorry if she hurt him. He pretends he didn’t actually go up to the Empire State Building and she’s surprised. He asks why she doesn’t get up–is she sick? No, she says. Just resting. For several months now.
Nickie says he painted a picture of her and didn’t want to sell it. But his art dealer said that a woman in a wheelchair had come in and admired it so much that he let her have it. She didn’t have the money to pay for it. They took pity on the poor crippled lady.
Nickie suddenly has an epiphany. It was a WOMAN IN A WHEELCHAIR. Terry hadn’t moved from the sofa since he arrived. Something was up here. Also, she was living in a very modest apartment compared to what he had expected. He notes that she doesn’t have a very good view outside her window.
He’s suspicious now. He starts to look around. Then he goes into her bedroom, and there it is. The painting of Terry and his grandmother, hanging on her wall. I love how the director shows the reflection of the painting in the mirror but focuses on Nickie’s face when he sees it.
He rushes into her arms. “Why didn’t tell me, Darling?” “Because I didn’t want you to love me out of pity,” or something like that. To tell you the truth, I was sniffling too loudly to hear every word they said.
An Affair to Remember was actually a remake of Leo McCarey’s 1939 film Love Affair, starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. (Irene Dunn is another one of my favorites!) Here they are, making plans to meet in 6 months at the top of the Empire State Building. Doesn’t it look like they’re up in the clouds instead of down on the water?
- An Affair to Remember premiered in 1957 and was nominated for 4 Academy Awards.
- The movie was remade again and called Love Affair in 1994 with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.
- After the movie was mentioned in Sleepless in Seattle, the VHS tapes of An Affair to Remember sold over 2 million copies.
- Producer Leo McCarey originally planned to reunite Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman in this movie, who had starred so successfully together in the Alfred Hitchcock movie Notorious. When Bergman turned down the role, Deborah Kerr was chosen instead.
- They were originally planning to film on location, but due to budget cuts ended up doing everything on elaborately decorated soundstages.
- Deborah Kerr’s singing in both this film and The King and I was dubbed. The real singer was Marni Nixon.
- Producer Leo McCarey feared that New York as a movie setting had gotten to be too much of a cliche and decided that the couple should meet at the Golden Gate Bridge instead. Cary Grant insisted that the Empire State Building be used, however, and got his way in the end.
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