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.