An Affair to Remember

Twenty years ago today I married my wife. If you’ve visited this website before it probably won’t surprise you to find that the wedding was themed, to some extent, around movies.

(It certainly won’t surprise you if you are among the ten percent of my regular readership that was actually there. Hi, thanks for supporting the blog. We’ll catch up soon.)

Looking back I feel bad that my own interest so heavily dominated proceedings but while my wife was and is an avid reader she didn’t and doesn’t love books in quite the same way that I love films and, er, she likes films too. If we were getting hitched now I’m sure sewing and fashion would be a big part of the proceedings as well (read her blog here).

Anyhow, each of the tables at the reception was named after a classic celluloid love story, I wore a movie tie and we danced to movie music. (I did propose in the style of an Austen gentleman so it wasn’t all my stuff all the time.) The invitations were also laid out like a film poster. What film took precedence though? What movie was the centre piece? What was the picture selected to put everyone in the picture?

An Affair to Remember was a favourite of ours from the second we saw it. Unlike Casablanca (the greatest romantic movie of all time) and When Harry Met Sally (our absolute favourite) it was one we discovered together which makes a difference. More than this though it has a simple charm that those other films do not and is a more relatable story. Casablanca has the whole war setting and like a surprising amount of screen lovers, they don’t end up together and Nora Ephron’s delightfully sharp script for When Harry Met Sally, while grounded in reality, is more com than rom. An Affair to Remember, for the first half at least, is just pure boy meets girl and lots of us have felt that thrill of a brand new relationship.

For the first sixty minutes Leo McCarey’s 1957 film purely features Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr flirting, bantering and convincingly falling for one another. There is no high drama and while amusing it isn’t really laugh out loud funny or eminently quotable. It also doesn’t feel contrived and there aren’t many films of its type that don’t rely on some level of coincidence. The reason these two keep running into each other is because they are on the same cruise liner. Let’s be honest, that’s going to happen.

Admittedly there is an angle with Grant’s Nickie being is a bit of a gossip column celeb which makes it hard for the couple to be left alone. This aspect is fairly incidental though. Grant as ever is the very picture of suave, effortless charm and it is this film that probably suits his persona best. It is Kerr that grounds the film though with her character Terry’s brilliant display of caution and reluctance giving in to a powerful yet still bottled up passion. It is her reserve, impatience and frustration you can identify with and without her the film would have none of its authenticity. The one time the two go ashore before finally disembarking, when they visit Nickie’s grandmother in the Villefranche-sur-Mer, is the point that all pretence and self consciousness falls away. It is here that they fall in love with each other and where we the audience commit to them too. Also, without this crucial episode they wouldn’t have got together at the end but there’s a chance you won’t have seen the movie so I won’t say any more on this.

Then there’s that famous bit; the big wonderful idea that is the fantastic fulcrum of the whole thing. Both being engaged and dependent on other people, the two decide to get their lives in order and meet again in six months time at the top of the Empire State Building. Now that is romantic! You can keep your lusty teens soliloquising around a balcony, you can keep picking up feisty ladies in your arms and sweeping them up staircases or out of factories and you can keep your hill of beans and your not noticing it’s raining. The Empire State Building idea beats them all. It’s such a good notion that Hollywood couldn’t resist doing the whole thing again, albeit with full acknowledgement of this film, in Sleepless in Seattle.

It is of course after this point that the film changes tack because (spoilers) one of them doesn’t make the appointment. The second half of the movie is not as strong as the first but it needed to go off in a different direction and collectively it all works. We have enjoyed seeing Terry and Nickie together so we absolutely stay with them emotionally while they are apart. There are real treats in this part of the film too. The fact that both of their previous partners stay on the scene and neither of them are demonised is refreshingly different, even sixty one years later. I know life doesn’t always go like this but sometimes it does and the movies nearly never reflect this. The two people in question don’t get their resolution and you can feel their stoical and tragically romantic anguish almost as much as the central duo. They are the ones in this scenario that will find this affair hard to forget and it’s good that they play such a big part.

There has been some criticism of the scenes where Terry, inconvenienced by a heartbreaking change to her circumstances, conducts a scrappy children’s choir as a way to make ends meet. Certainly this whole section is pretty corny by contemporary standards and is the only part of the film that hasn’t aged well. The song she is teaching these innocents though, these kids facing every possible opportunity in their lives, has such poignancy. The lyrics about ‘how you get to tomorrowland’ may be twee but they voice her anguish and having her hopes dashed while she wishes for a day in the future where she’ll be back on her feet and able to run to her love, a day which may never come.

It all feeds perfectly into the ending as well, which is kind of lovely but not without it’s sad undertones. This is one of the strengths of An Affair to Remember, it has a satisfying denouement but there isn’t any final closure.

Frankly, moving on from this point it could still go in any direction.

There’s more to be said.

Just like life.

Which is always an amazing adventure when you share it with the one you love.

Which is why we chose it for our wedding.

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3 thoughts on “An Affair to Remember

  1. I literally just saw this for the first time a couple nights ago. While I love the impeccable acting by Grant and Kerr, I just personally don’t like movies where engaged or married people fall for other people. I dunno, it just makes me sad.

    1. In which case don’t watch Little Children, Sleepless in Seattle or Brief Encounter. In fact you can pretty much rule out Casablanca too and avoid any version of Wuthering Heights. This said I know what you mean, I felt a little uncomfortable with this aspect of An Affair to Remember when I first saw it but it is about two people who were going to marry for the wrong reasons; one because of expectations and one through gratitude. As I say, what I like about this film is that neither of the spurned spouses are demonised a la The Wedding Crasher.

      1. I’ve actually seen Casablanca years ago and remember liking it, although I forget about the “married/engaged” aspect of it. And I read Wuthering Heights which I found incredibly boring, so I doubt I’d watch any film adaptation of it anytime soon, lol!

        That is true; it’s nice to see that the spurned ones are not demonized and not blamed or anything.

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