Sunday, March 16, 2014

Making a Date to Meet at the Empire State Building

"The things we like best are either illegal, immoral or fattening."

Terry (Irene Dunne)

(1939 is widely regarded as the greatest year ever for the motion picture. Ten movies were nominated for Best Picture that year, and today I take a look at the second of those 10 movies to hit the theaters.)
Have you ever seen "An Affair to Remember"? Or "Sleepless in Seattle"?

If you have, you've essentially seen "Love Affair," which premiered 75 years ago today.

"Love Affair" was remade as "An Affair to Remember" with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr 18 years later. Then, about 35 years after that, "An Affair to Remember" inspired "Sleepless in Seattle" with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

And a year after that, "Love Affair" was remade under the original title starring Warren Beatty, Annette Bening and Katharine Hepburn in the final movie appearance of her career.

Consequently, Richard Gilliam of says "Love Affair" is "among the most influential romance films of its era." I guess that's difficult to dispute.

A more difficult (if not impossible) point to dispute is that — with all due respect to Grant and Kerr, Hanks and Ryan and Beatty, Bening and Hepburn — the original was the best.

Charles Boyer played a French painter and Irene Dunne played an American singer. The two met on an ocean liner that was crossing the Atlantic and embarked on a relationship, even though each was already engaged to someone else.

I suppose that was about as scandalous as producer/director Leo McCarey dared to be at the time. Engaged and unfaithful may have been about as risque as audiences would accept. Married and unfaithful wasn't family friendly in 1939 (it is no more family friendly today, just more acceptable).

As the ship arrived in New York, Boyer and Dunne agreed to meet at the Empire State Building in six months; six months later, they were both on their way to their rendezvous when Dunne was hit by a car. She didn't keep the date and didn't contact Boyer, allowing him to imagine the worst.

Then they met by chance, Boyer learned the truth, and, in typical Hollywood fashion, he pledged that he would be with her no matter what. He pretended that he had been the one who hadn't kept the date, not the other way around. Kinda corny, huh? Well, when compared to modern movies, I suppose it is, but it seems to have been pretty effective 75 years ago.

Boyer was undeniably one of the top male romantic leads of his day in the movies, and I'm sure he was quite a box–office draw. I don't know where Dunne would rank on a list of the top female romantic leads from that era, but she was recognized for her acting. She was nominated for Oscars five times — including a nomination for her work in "Love Affair."

"Love Affair" received five other Oscar nominations and lost all five — four to "Gone With the Wind."