original film poster
|Directed by||Leo McCarey|
|Produced by||Leo McCarey|
|Music by||Roy Webb|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Box office||$1.8 million|
Love Affair is a 1939 American romantic film starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer and featuring Maria Ouspenskaya. It was directed by Leo McCarey and written by Delmer Daves and Donald Ogden Stewart, based on a story by McCarey and Mildred Cram. The movie was remade in 1957 as An Affair to Remember, also directed by McCarey, and again with the original title in 1994. A Hindi-languaged version named Mann was released in India in 1999.
One December, French painter (and famed womanizer) Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) meets American singer Terry McKay (Irene Dunne) aboard a liner crossing the Atlantic Ocean. They are both already engaged, he to heiress Lois Clarke (Astrid Allwyn), she to Kenneth Bradley (Lee Bowman). They begin to flirt and to dine together on the ship, but his worldwide reputation makes them conscious that others are watching. Eventually, they decide that they should dine separately and not associate with each other. At a stop at Madeira, they visit Michel's grandmother Janou (Maria Ouspenskaya), who approves of Terry and wants Michel to settle down.
As the ship is ready to disembark at New York City, the two make an appointment to meet in the new year, six months later on top of the Empire State Building, giving Michel enough time to decide whether he can start making enough money to support a relationship with Terry. He finds work selling some paintings and designing advertizing billboards while Terry successfully negotiates a contract with a nightclub to perform through to June. When the rendezvous date arrives, they both head to the Empire State Building. However, Terry is struck by a car on a nearby road, and is told by doctors she may be paralyzed for the rest of her life, though that will not be known for certain for six months. Not wanting to be a burden to Michel, she does not contact him, preferring to let him think the worst. Meanwhile, Michel, who waited until closing time, returns home reluctantly and continues working his two jobs; Terry is overheard singing in the garden of her physiotherapy by the owner of a children's orphanage, who hires her as a music teacher.
Six months go by, and during Terry's first outing since the accident, the two couples meet by accident at the theater, though Terry manages to conceal her condition. On Christmas Eve, Michel visits her at her apartment and finally learns the truth. He assures her that they will be together no matter what the diagnosis will be.
Despite the popularity of his romantic and screwball comedies, Leo McCarey had become tired of directing them. His wife suggested they should go on a cruising vacation around Europe to combat his writer's block, and when they returned to the United States, they watched the Statue of Liberty pass. McCarey immediately told her his idea about two passengers who fall in love on a cruise but realize they are both "obligated to somebody else." With the premise created, Delmer Daves developed the rest of the story as Donald Ogden Stewart co-wrote the dialog with McCarey. Edward Dmytryk and George Hively were the movie's editors. Filming took place in the fall of 1938. The rough cut was screened in January 1939.
Actresses like Helen Hayes and Greta Garbo developed interest in starring but the McCarey couple preferred Irene Dunne, who had previously appeared in McCarey's The Awful Truth and was a close family friend; Terry's occupation as nightclub singer intended to display Dunne's singing talents. Charles Boyer's reputation as a romantic actor (from starring in History is Made at Night and Algiers) made him McCarey's first choice. Concurrently, Boyer rejected Harry Cohn's offer of the leading role in Good Girls Go to Paris to do Love Affair instead. He and McCarey were acquaintances and Boyer believed McCarey was an underestimated director, so he canceled many acting plans for the rest of 1938 to work with McCarey and Dunne.
There was no official script when the movie went into production. Irene Dunne later noted that the dialog would change frequently and the cast would receive pieces of paper between filming; McCarey's common directing tactic of improvization also continued throughout. However, McCarey gave Dunne the opportunity to choose the signature song for the movie: she decided upon "Wishing," which became one of the most popular songs of 1939; the orphans were dubbed by Robert Mitchell's Boys Choir. Boyer was allowed input in Michel's characterization; he suggested that Michel visiting his grandmother should have a prominent appearance so Terry's accident would not create a tonal shift.
Maria Ouspenskaya described working on the film as "an atmosphere of work that is inspirational. [...] Actor, electricians, and cameramen loved their work and did not want to break away from that atmosphere." Boyer would later praise McCarey's filmmaking for the movie's success; he was described in an interview years later as "still speak[ing] of Mr. McCarey with sincere awe."
The praise for Love Affair among film critics reflected in Clark Wales' quip: "Recommending a Leo McCarey production is something like recommending a million dollars or beauty or a long and happy life. Any of these is a very fine thing to have and the only trouble is that there are not enough of them."New York World-Telegram declared it "the most absorbing and delightful entertainment of its kind [in] a long time" and another called the film "tender, poignant [and] sentimental without being gooey".
"The screenplay is an exceptionally intelligent effort," wrote the Box Office Digest, "[and] McCarey's skill in handling individual scenes with the old Roach technique carries through this tough spot and on to a grand climax." But the review added: "It must be unfortunately recorded that there is a let down in interest for a half reel when boy and girl are separated."
On characterization, The New York Times remarked on "the facility with which [Boyer and Dunne] have matched the changes of their script--playing it lightly with a superb utilization of the material at hand." Leo Mishkin added: "Certainly, this Terry McKay of Miss Dunne's is one of the greatest things she has ever done on the screen[.]"Box Office Digest wrote, "[Boyer and Dunne have] never done more delightful work, and to say that they step along in stride -- step for step, is a tribute to either one in red hot competition." The only notable criticism of characters came from Dunne herself, who told Silver Screen years later: "If I had been in that girl's place, far from hiding, I would've trundled my wheelchair up and down the sidewalks of New York looking for [Michel]."
Plans for a Love Affair remake were first reported in 1952, which had Fernando Lamas and Arlene Dahl attached to the project. Eventually, McCarey remade it in 1957 as An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in the lead roles, using a very similar screenplay.
In 1967, the film entered the public domain in the United States because the claimants did not renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication. Because of this, the film is widely available on home video and online. The film can be downloaded legally for free on the Internet Archive.
However the public may feel about charmingly insane people on screen, Leo McCarey is fed up with them.