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It's a story so enduring that it's been made into a movie three times and nominated for a collective ten Academy Awards. It's a story so dear to writer/director Leo McCarey's heart that he made two of the three versions himself. The original shipboard romance classic, Love Affair (1939) tells the simple story of two strangers who meet aboard an ocean liner and fall deeply in love despite the fact that they are engaged to marry other people. As a test to their relationship, they agree to meet in six months on top of the Empire State Building. Just as everything looks like it's headed towards a happily-ever-after ending for the couple, a terrible twist of fate prevents one of them from making the appointment, leading to misunderstanding and heartbreak.
Love Affair teams debonair French actor Charles Boyer and the elegant Irene Dunne for the first time as the ill-fated lovers Michel Marnet and Terry McKay. Boyer is perfect as the privileged lothario to whom everything has always come too easily, and Dunne is lovely as the down-to-earth woman who wins his heart. Boyer and Dunne both claimed this film as their personal favorite and recalled great camaraderie during the production, save for the one problem of never having a complete script to work with. Pages were re-written almost daily, so the actors didn't bother memorizing lines for fear they would be scrapped the next day. Many rewrites tried to fix a distinct gap that emerged between the lighter first half of the movie on the ship and the more dramatic second half on land. McCarey compared the problem to the inevitable letdown one feels after any vacation and struggled to find the right element to bridge the two parts cohesively. It was Boyer's own suggestion that a scene between Michel and his grandmother (Maria Ouspenskaya) be built up into something more substantial. The resulting mid-film sequence proved to be just the right ingredient that made it all work. It became a pivotal moment that gave added power to the characters, and it turned into one of the most touching parts of the whole film.
Love Affair was well received during its original release, and its Oscar-nominated song "Wishing" became one of the most popular tunes of that summer. It garnered six Academy Award nominations in 1939, but didn't stand a chance against the epic, Gone With the Wind, which swept the awards that year. McCarey remade the film himself in 1957 as the highly successful An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. This time he added luxurious color and CinemaScope to the story, creating another classic tearjerker. After director Nora Ephron affectionately referenced An Affair to Remember in her 1993 hit Sleepless in Seattle, the story of Love Affair reached a whole new generation of fans who discovered its timeless charm. Another remake followed in 1994 reclaiming the original title Love Affair, this time starring real-life husband and wife Warren Beatty and Annette Bening along with the legendary Katharine Hepburn. Original stars Boyer and Dunne went on to star in two more films together, When Tomorrow Comes in 1939 and Together Again in 1944.
One interesting product placement bit of trivia: The champagne industry was interested in promoting a new product: pink champagne. In one scene, Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne gazed into each others' eyes while sipping on pink champagne, and sales went up immediately afterwards.
Producer/Director: Leo McCarey
Screenplay: Mildred Cram (story), Leo McCarey (story), Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase
Cinematography: Rudolph Maté
Costume Design: Howard Greer, Edward Stevenson
Film Editing: Edward Dmytryk, George Hively
Original Music: Harold Arlen (song), Buddy G. DeSylva (song) (as B.G. DeSylva), Roy Webb Cast: Irene Dunne (Terry McKay), Charles Boyer (Michel Marnet), Maria Ouspenskaya (Grandmother Janou), Lee Bowman (Kenneth Bradley), Astrid Allwyn (Lois Clarke).
by Andrea Foshee