Sunday, August 3, 2014

Deja Vu All Over Again

Film: Love Affair
Format: DVD from NetFlix on laptop.

So I’ve been having the weirdest feelings of déjà vu. For the first 20 minutes or so of Love Affair I felt positive that I had seen this before. An aristocratic playboy and a former singer meet on a cross-Atlantic cruise and romance blooms despite the pair each being engaged to other people waiting for them. It seemed so familiar and I just couldn’t figure out what it was. And then, the boat docks for a short stay in Madeira and our two main characters go for a sojourn at the top of a hill where his grandmother lives…and it all clicked. I haven’t seen Love Affair before, but I’ve most definitely seen An Affair to Remember. As it turns out, the film from the late 1950s is a direct remake of this one, as in shot-for-shot and line-for-line in places. I knew it seemed familiar. They’re even both directed by the same guy.

And, as it turns out, An Affair to Remember really is Love Affair with more detail added in. The one is a remake of the other. This time, our flamboyant playboy is named Michel and is played by Charles Boyer. Our shipboard romance is named Terry McKay, just like in the remake, and is played by Irene Dunne. Here’s the thing—I’m not going to wrap up this review too quickly (because I never do), but if I ever could, this is the place. If you enjoy An Affair to Remember, you’ll appreciate Love Affair. However, if you have to choose only one of these two films, go with An Affair to Remember.

Why? Two reasons. First, Irene Dunne isn’t Deborah Kerr. Second, Charles Boyer isn’t Cary Grant.

I’m sure that I’m biased because I saw An Affair to Remember first, but I’m pretty confident that I would feel the same way had I seen them in the opposite order. The remake is simply a better version of the story. It’s more vibrant, more fleshed out, and more interesting. The characters themselves are more interesting in the remake, particularly in the case of our wayward Romeo. In short, this is one of those rare cases in which the remake outstrips the original by a wide margin.

Love Affair has fallen into the public domain, which means that copies of it are readily and easily available just about anywhere. This is evidenced, I think, by the copy I got from NetFlix. It’s been some time since I’ve seen a film this badly in need of a restoration. The sound is muddy and terrible, and there are large tracts of the film with audible noise. I guess what that means is caveat emptor when it comes to finding this to watch yourself. A part of my disappointment here is undoubtedly that the copy I got felt very, very old.

On the positive side, it’s still a sweet story. It works about as well here as it does in the remake. It’s notable, I think, that the remake didn’t fix some of the problems with the original screenplay. Notably, those problems are the actions of Terry McKay in the third act. She behaves in a way that absolutely defies reality. This is a woman who has evidently decided that nothing in the world is more important than her pride, and come hell or high water, or a lifetime of loneliness and torment, at the very least she doesn’t have to face the man she loves as anything less than the most perfect version of herself. Hey, if it were really love he wouldn’t care that much, would he?

This isn’t a total washout, though. There are moments of sweetness and filmed joy here. That Michel’s grandmother is played by Maria Ouspenskaya, for instance, is a good thing. I can’t think of another actress from the era who could have done the role as well or with as much feeling. This sequence, in fact, works as well here as it does in the remake. So there are definitely good things about this version of the film. It’s just not as good as what came 18 years later.

Bottom line? If you’re only going to watch this once, watch the version that’s better.

Why to watch Love Affair: A classic romance.
Why not to watch: An Affair to Remember is better.


  1. I like this a lot, mostly because of Irene Dunne's light-hearted performance. I choose to think that Terry had a goofy idea that Michel shouldn't be saddled with an invalid. Agree completely that public domain copies have really hurt this film. I haven't seen An Affair to Remember in years and years so can't compare.

    1. I like Irene Dunne just fine. She's just not Deborah Kerr. That said, she rose dramatically in my estimation in the last 15 minutes of the film, where she is pitch-perfect.

  2. I'm looking forward to your Oscar round-up for Best Picture 1939. I saw Love Affair just a few weeks ago so I've seen all ten of the nominees. (There aren't that many years outside of the 1990s where I've seen all the nominees.)

    All you have left is Of Mice and Men! And that's a great movie! It would have been a serious contender in any other year but it got lost in the shuffle in 1939. Which shows what a great year 1939 was.

    Anyway, I love your Oscar round-ups, and I'm eager to see what you have to say for the films from a long-ago time like 1939. I'd go for The Wizard of Oz as my favorite picture of 1939, with Stagecoach a close second. But I have no problem with GWTW taking home the big prize.

    1. As it happens, Of Mice and Men is the only film I have left in 1939 in all of the categories I'm looking at. I'm hoping to get that film done this month. When I do, I plan on doing a full month of 1939 Oscar posts.

    2. I think the biggest mistake in 1939 was the lack of a Best Picture nomination for The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I don't think I would give Hunchback the win over Wizard of Oz. But it would be a close call.

    3. 1939 is such a strong year. Ranking those films is going to be incredibly difficult.