Love Affair (1939)
Starring: Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer
Directed by: Leo McCarey
Released by: RKO Radio Pictures
Synopsis: Swinging French bachelor and painter Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) meets an American singer named Terry McKay (Irene Dunne) on a cruise liner sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. Soon these two very different people will find that they have one thing in common: their blossoming love for each other.
Review: While I tend to avoid being rant happy in my Filmstrip Memories reviews I must state the following: modern romantic films are in the gutter in terms of storytelling finesse and creativity. Many of them focus on snarky, hateful relationships that lead to an unconvincing happy ending, often lacking the passion needed for this sort of story to work. So it’s a great pleasure to have found out about Love Affair, a romance film that combines all the best elements of a romance story, making it one of the best ever filmed.
A frequent problem most love stories face is that there’s so much that you can do with them. You either tell a very tragic and dramatic love story that takes place in an epic moment in time (Titanic, Gone With The Wind), tell a very social heavy story that deals with the intricacies of common human drama (Love Story) or make it all a joke in which people get confused as to who loves who or that they are too prideful to admit they are in love (The Philadelphia Story). This can lead to a creative rut in which the writers find it difficult to tell a story without running into a few issues, one of them being that every idea has been done, and you either play with the ideals established before, or you try and create a unique spin on it. This is where Love Affair comes in.
Love Affair is a big melting pot of romantic ideals. Michel Marnet, played by Charles Boyer, is the typical charming playboy that quickly wins the heart of any woman that crosses his path, while Terry McKay, performed by Irene Dunne, isn’t so quick to accept him. And yet despite these characters being classic archetypes there is a lot of complexity to them. For all his charm Michel is at heart a romantic that hasn’t been so successful but doesn’t stop him from enjoying life, while Terry isn’t as strong as she lets out to be during the first scenes of the movie, but is far from a needy woman. These characters are very multi-faceted, and the story knows how to use them.
The plot is fairly simple to comprehend. It’s a “love conquers all” story in which the relationship of the main characters is tested throughout the plot. But rather than just go through the phases of the romance it takes its time in showing us how they grow as a couple, starting off as enjoyable acquaintances and ending in an inspiring affair. The performances in the film are very honest and sincere, making the viewer believe in their passion and cheer for them when it all works out. I won’t yield any spoilers, but let’s just say that the ending to this story is considered to be one of the most moving ever shot on film.
That’s not to say that everything is smooth sailing for the characters. As is the norm in these stories a lot of obstacles will come their way. Some of them are rather simple like pride and confusion, others are far more complex like ending a previous relationship in pursue of another one. But what I mean is that it isn’t a web of confusing side stories and characters, a common problem seen in any kind of love story (film, stage play, book, etc.). Regardless of how the story ultimately is, Love Affair remains engaging, whether you are watching a common scene or a scene filled with intense human drama.
But the one thing that surprised me the most about the film is how epic it feels despite being a seemingly simple story. The film starts on a cruise ship that is traveling the Atlantic Ocean. This gives the film the opportunity to show us very beautiful locales that enhances the mood of the film. The French village the characters visit is simply beautiful, and it becomes a very vital plot point. So not only is it beautiful to look at it serves as a gateway into the emotions of the characters. The last half of the film takes places in New York City. As clichéd as this setting may be it certainly is a very fitting way to end the romance.
The film was remade in 1957 as “An Affair to Remember”, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Between the two films there are no major differences in plot. The film is shot in widescreen and in color, and some scenes were slightly altered, but overall there’s no real difference. In fact, the same script was used in this film. In my honest opinion, the acting in that film is not as moving as in this film, but they are indeed rock solid. Which movie is the better one is all a matter of personal preference. Both films still retain the sense of an epic romance story despite the story basking in its simplicity.
Love Affair has quickly become one of my all-time favorite movies as well as romance stories. It proves that a lot can yield from a fairly straightforward story, and that it all lies in how that story is told. In this case, it uses exotic locales as well as the honesty between the two characters to give the audience a romance they will never forget.
Rating: 5 filmstrips out of 5