Saturday, 4 February 2017
Movie Review: Love Affair (1939)
Celebrated international playboy Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) meets American aspiring singer Terry McKay (Irene Dunne) on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic. Despite both being in relationships with other people, they cannot help but fall in love. During a stop at the island of Madeira they visit Michel's elderly grandmother Janou (Maria Ouspenskaya). She reveals that Michel is a talented painter lacking the motivation to dedicate himself to his craft.
On the approach to New York City, Terry and Michel arrange to meet again six months later at the top of the Empire State Building if they succeed in settling their affairs and launching their careers. Both break off their prior relationships, Michel works hard to start painting again and Terry proves herself a successful singer. But on the appointed date and at the agreed-upon time, destiny has a surprise for the seemingly perfect couple.
Directed by Leo McCarey, Love Story has stood the test of time remarkably well. A great deal of credit goes to the idyllic and timeless story of two people finding each other while literally drifting through life, but McCarey makes it all work by tuning down melodrama in favour of pragmatism. The film avoids lingering in one place or overplaying any one moment. For all the romance on display, the story concludes in a brisk 87 minutes, with the power derived from the strength of attraction rather than any sense of inflated sentiment.
An Affair To Remember in 1957 with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The remake is glossier, but also loses Boyer's international charm while unnecessarily inflating the running time to nearly two hours.
Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer are perfectly matched, and both bring a mischievous glint to the proceedings. On the confined yet artificially secluded boat, they are adults alone but attached, and afforded the freedom to flirt. The relationship pull is presented with warmth and recognizable realism. The unexpected highlight of the evolving romance occurs during the Madeira interlude with grandmother Janou, one of those serendipitous moments in cinema, transcending the screen to achieve an ethereal quality with Maria Ouspenskaya sprinkling the magic dust.
Back in New York the action moves swiftly as they separate to sort out their emotions and lives, McCarey wisely aware that the strength of the film resides when his couple are in close orbits.
Love Affair reaches a quite magnificent climax, Michel and Terry succumbing to the forces of destiny despite strong side winds. Boyer and Dunne rise to peaks of performance in a final scene where the words being spoken hide the genuine conversation underneath, until Boyer pulls off a shattering moment of realization.
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