The shots of New York City are the best part of the otherwise regrettable An Affair to Remember.
Many people rate An Affair to Remember (1957) as one of Hollywood’s great romantic films. I am not one of them. In fact, I just hated this movie.
A brief (I promise) summary: Nicky Ferrante (an extremely tan Cary Grant) is an International Playboy who has finally gotten engaged to Lois, a wealthy heiress. While on a cruise, he meets Terry McKay, a former nightclub singer who is engaged to a wealthy lawyer, Kenneth. Nicky and Terry fall in love but try to deny it (they also have to try to hide all the time they’re spending together on board ship so they won’t cause a scandal amongst the other passengers who are interested in everything Nicky does, what with him being an International Playboy and all that). On a stopover someplace on the Riviera, they visit Nicky’s grandmother at her villa and she recognizes that the two are meant for each other. They finally do, too, and decide that they will find their way out of their respective engagements and meet in six months at the top of the Empire State Building to see if they’re still in love or get married (I’m not sure of the exact promise because, well, I dozed off a little). Nicky ditches his heiress fiancé, which is a difficult decision, because apparently despite being a world famous International Playboy, he has no money, and what he really wants to do is paint. He stops wearing ties and begins to paint still lives of fruit and landscapes of the sort you might find in your dentist’s office which, as it turns out, the dentist’s grandmother painted in her art enrichment class at the country club. Terry, meanwhile, goes back to singing in nightclubs and proving that marrying a rich lawyer would probably be a good career move. Finally the six months are over and the meeting at the Empire State Building is set to take place. Terry is so excited about it that when she gets out of the cab, she is hit by a car. She is left unable to walk and confined to a wheelchair. She decides she doesn’t want Nicky to know what happened to her and refuses to let anyone contact him. Meanwhile, Nicky thinks she just decided not to show up and heartbroken, throws himself into painting sad landscapes and pictures of Terry and his grandmother, who has died (no word on who got the villa). A priest gets Terry a job as a choir instructor to a group of cheery rosy cheeked orphans who sing dreadful songs. Nicky and his heiress ex-fiancee run into Terry and her lawyer ex-fiance. They barely acknowledge each other, but soon after, at Christmas, Nicky finds Terry at her apartment (he looks her name up in the phone book) and confronts her. She tries to hide her condition but he realizes what happened when he sees one of his paintings that his dealer told him he had given to a young lady in a wheelchair. They reconcile.
(Okay, not as brief as I should have been, but it could have been worse.)
First, let me just say that I have nothing against big color 1950s romances; in fact, sometimes there’s nothing else that feels quite right for certain moods (hello, Douglas Sirk!). But this one didn’t enthrall me, charm me, or make me tear up. It just made me angry.
What did I hate about this movie? There are so many things. I didn’t feel there was much chemistry between Grant and Kerr. The “witty banter” they converse in for the first half of the movie feels painfully forced rather than charming. For some reason this type of, shall we say, repartee, is bearable in a black and white movie from the 1930s, or on stage in a Noel Coward comedy, but by 1957 it just seemed flat and made the two leads seem like cardboard cutouts rather than real people (this is, btw, a remake of the 1939 film Love Affair, with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer—maybe it worked better at that time). I just sat there listening thinking, “No one talks this way.” Do I believe it’s fine to immerse yourself in a little movie fantasy land where people are eternally clever in a glitteringly sharp kind of way? Absolutely. But here it just doesn’t work. The slow pace of the film didn’t help.
Little things kept nagging at me throughout the film. If Nicky is a world famous International Playboy (his engagement is on the news), why does he seem to need to marry an heiress for her money? Why does he have an Italian last name, a French grandmother, and a Cary Grant-vaguely British accent (I guess that’s the international part)? Why did the costume designers keep on dressing the red-haired Kerr in colors like beige, taupe, and gray? Did we really need those eternal interludes of the orphans and their annoying singing?
But most of all, I hated what is supposedly the big turning point of this movie: Kerr’s accident and her decision not to let Grant know about it because she doesn’t want him to see her in a wheelchair. So wait, instead of letting him know why she couldn’t meet him, she decides to leave him wondering why she abandoned him? That’s not romantic, that’s rephrehensible. Instead of finding out that she had a good reason, he’s left thinking, “I guess she didn’t take the promise seriously after all,” “I guess she didn’t really love me,” or “What’s so wrong with me that she wouldn’t show up and never let me know why? I must really be awful.” She supposedly loves him yet chooses to make him miserable? This is just a terrible decision. Does she really believe that he won’t love her anymore because of her being unable to walk? How little she must think of him. He should be insulted by that thought. And if she does think that and it turns out to be true, well, then just find out immediately and put a clear cut end to the whole thing. Whatever, I just can’t believe the sheer meanness of her choice to not tell him what happened and what prevented their meaning. There’s nothing worse than having someone suddenly cut you off without any explanation, so that all you can do is think you must be the world’s worst person if you can’t even get an explanation. Kerr’s actions aren’t romantic, they’re just cruel. And so is this movie.