It’s not unusual for a director to remake their own movie. Hitchcock did it, Cecil B. DeMille did it (twice!), and Leo McCarey did it. Love Affair (1939) and An Affair to Remember (1957) are two of the greatest romantic films of all time and while it’s easy to make that claim about a whole array of movies, these two surely stand out from the crowd, precisely because of McCarey’s sensitivity, subtetly and humanity as a director.
In Love Affair (1939) and An Affair to Remember (1957), Terry McKay (Irene Dunne/Deborah Kerr) and Michel Marnet/Nickie Ferrante (Charles Boyer/Cary Grant) fall in love aboard a transatantic ship, while engaged to other people. As a result, they vow to meet again on top of the Empire State Building in six months so they can finally be together. It’s a tale as old as Hollywood itself and like so, it has been remade, copied and referenced countless times, because why not? Its message is timeless, and both films are just lovely enough and poignant enough to balance themselves between romantic comedy and romantic melodrama. The simplicity and straight-forwardness move the story along effortlessly and its comedic value adds to what would undoubtedly be a soppy tale otherwise. On top of this, the performances of the two leads are obviously the stand-out points of each film. In Love Affair, Boyer’s debonair coolness and Dunne’s endearing wit and charm are a wonderful combination and the two enjoy great chemistry and ease with each other. In An Affair to Remember, Kerr and Grant play Terry and Nickie with just as much grace, ease and confort as their counterparts. Kerr’s ability with comedy and drama (and a wonderful touch of sarcasm) rivals that of Dunne, who’s always been known for that, while both Boyer and Grant bring a touch of class and irresistible sophistication to their roles, without ever losing the depth of their characters, even though Boyer’s Michel is much less reserved about his playboy reputation. This has perhaps to do with the more relaxed tone of Love Affair. While incredibly moving, Love Affair has a 1930s romantic dramedy feel (McCarey’s glorious period), while An Affair to Remember has a darker tone to it. It was made 18 years after Love Affair, and in that time, McCarey’s life had eerily mimicked that of Terry McKay and her tragic accident, which might explain the ‘life is too short’ type of vibe in An Affair to Remember. Love Affair is perhaps more carefree, while An Affair to Remember is wiser. That’s not to say, of course, that there isn’t a great deal of sentiment and maturity in Love Affair. There is. Not least because of the grandmother (Maria Ouspenskaya, in a role later played by Cathleen Nesbitt), a sort of figure of wisdom in both films.
Personally, I adore both of them. They’re nearly virtually identical and equally great. If pushed, I’d say I might prefer An Affair to Remember, simply because of that wonderful, immortal line, ‘Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories. We’ve already missed the spring.’ Oh Deborah, why must you do this to me?