Love Affair (1939)

“My father used to say that wishes are dreams we dream when we’re awake.”

Love Affair Poster

Synopsis:
A French playboy (Charles Boyer) meets an American singer (Irene Dunne) on board a ship and the two fall in love, despite being engaged to others. They agree to meet in six months at the top of the Empire State Building, but when tragedy befalls one of them, their plans are changed forever.

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Review:
Leo McCarey’s classic tearjerker is perhaps best known as the original version of his later cult classic, An Affair to Remember (1957) — but it’s actually the better of the two films. While the storyline is undeniably hokey and contrived, Dunne and Boyer have enough star-power and genuine chemistry to make us believe in their shipboard romance, as well as their desire to reunite once/if the stars are aligned. Given that it’s almost impossible to discuss Love Affair without explicit comparisons to its remake, I’ll proceed by reiterating that this version is superior on nearly every account — except production design and cinematography. At just 87 minutes long, the storyline zips by at an appropriate pace, leaving us with blessedly little time to ponder the logistics of what’s happening, and instead simply enjoy the fine performances by Dunne (lovely and charming), Boyer (convincing as a smitten playboy), and Maria Ouspenskaya (as Boyer’s sentimental grandmother). While we can’t help groaning at some of McCarey’s narrative choices — would Dunne and Boyer’s previous lovers really take the betrayal so easily? would “the tragedy” really result in such a facile separation? — we’re rooting for Dunne and Boyer all the way, which is exactly the point in an escapist romance like this.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Irene Dunne as Terry McKay
    Love Affair Dunne
  • Charles Boyer as Michel
    Love Affair Boyer
  • Maria Ouspenskaya as Boyer’s grandmother
    Love Affair Ouspenskaya2

Must See?
Yes, as a tearjerker classic.

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One Response to “Love Affair (1939)”

  1. First viewing. A once-must, for its place in cinema history, its unique plot angle & the lead performances.

    I’d probably have to agree this is better than the popular remake, even if it isn’t a great movie. It’s a lot less sappy than most other McCarey pics. Dunne and Boyer have very good chemistry together – which makes the opening and closing sections much more successful (even dialogue-wise), and which makes it a little disappointing when we go through the middle section not seeing them together. They’re an interesting couple so we want to spend more time with them, especially as they grow and change. I’m not a huge fan of either actor but I think they’re both especially good in this.

    The script has odd elements indeed. What’s with the agreement to not see each other for six months? Yes, I know it’s agreed to by the main characters, but why? If you compare this film with ‘Brief Encounter’, for example, you’ll see what I mean: in ‘BE’, the would-be lovers are each married but they meet anyway, and we get to know so much about them as a result. As I’ve mentioned, since Dunne and Boyer agree to not meet, we get here a middle section during which we’d like to see them steal away for a lunch together or something – anything! Especially since they’re not married to anyone else anyway! 😉

    That said, the film does movie along swiftly. As noted, it is a good early example of the ever-popular tearjerker genre.

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