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The working title for this film was Love Match. According to modern sources, two weeks before the film was set to go into production, the French embassy, which had been consulted on historical information pertaining to the script, informed RKO that it would not allow the film to be made because it portrayed an illicit affair between a French man and an American woman. The French embassy felt that, because of the war, France could not afford to alienate American sympathies for its people. The embassy threatened to have Paris protest to Washington if the picture went into production. As a result, production was abandoned and a new script was written by Delmer Daves, who transformed the story into a bittersweet comedy about two lovers who meet on a ship. Modern sources also note that Irene Dunne's character was based on a woman Daves met on a ship returning from Europe. The woman was reportedly wisked off to Europe to stave off a scandal resulting from her affair with a government official in a small town. According to a Hollywood Reporter pre-release news item, production on the picture was suspended on November 29, 1938 to give writers Daves and Stewart time to polish the script, and to allow Dunne and Boyer to rehearse their final scenes. A biography of Charles Boyer notes that once filming began, much of the day-to-day production routine was characterized by last minute script alterations and Boyer's ad-libbing. Boyer considered this to be his favorite among all his American films. The Boyer biography also notes that Buddy DeSylva's song "Wishing," which was performed by Dunne, along with the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir, became one of the most popular songs of 1939. Although Hollywood Reporter pre-release news items list actors Marian Folsey, Mary Bovard and Helene Millard in the cast, their appearance in the released film has not been confirmed.
According to the file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the PCA strongly objected to an early version of the treatment, and stated that it was "so violently in conflict with both the spirit and the letter of our Production Code" that it could not be approved. In a letter to RKO, dated September 15, 1938, the PCA called Love Affair a "low-toned, sordid story of gross sexual irregularities, without even a semblence of what we call 'compensating' moral values." Two weeks later, after examining a refurbished treatment, the same PCA official called the story "satisfactory," but expressed reservations about the portrayal of "Terry" as a kept woman. The PCA later insisted that in order to receive a Production Code seal, the film must adhere to the Code's establishment that the "immoral conduct of these people must not be condoned, nor justified, nor made to appear right and acceptable." In addition, the PCA reminded RKO that "both immoral parties must by punished." Further recommendations from the PCA came in December 1938, when it suggested that the final scene of the film include a shot of "Terry" walking up the road with a cane "to add some flavor of tragedy into the ending." According to a February 1939 PCA memorandum, director Leo McCarey wanted to restore a scene that he had previously agreed to remove. The scene had to do with "Terry" being visited in her penthouse apartment by the man who had been keeping her. The memo also indicates that the film was given a preview showing "out of town" on February 18, 1939, with the scene in question left in, in order to test its importance to the film. Six days after the preview, the PCA reported that the scene would not be included in the picture. In the end, all references to illicit sex were removed from the film.
The film received Academy Award nominations in the following categories: Best Picture; Best Original Story (Mildred Cram and Leo McCarey); Best Actress (Irene Dunne); Best Supporting Actress (Maria Ouspenskaya); Best Interior Decoration (Van Nest Polglase and Al Herman); and Best Song ("Wishing").
Irene Dunne and William Powell were featured in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of Love Affair on April 1, 1940; and Dunne and Boyer starred in a July 6, 1942 Lux Radio Theatre broadcast of the story. Love Affair was remade by McCarey for 20th Century-Fox in 1957 as An Affair to Remember, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.