Affair to Remember, An (Blu-ray Review)14 Feb, 2011 By: Mike Clark
Stars Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Cathleen Nesbitt, Richard Denning.
According to the American Film Institute Catalog for the 1950s, director Leo McCarey’s perpetually popular remake of his own estimable Love Affair (1939) was still shooting a few scenes a couple months before its July release in 1957 —which means that Cary Grant had turned 53 when he made it. While it’s not exactly a privileged secret that Grant was good-looking until the day died, check out his physical-specimen quotient in this version’s shipboard swimming pool scene and remind yourself that Spencer Tracy was 49 and looking all but in gramps mode when he appeared in Father of the Bride.
Affair is quintessentially dapper Grant, and it hardly hurts that with the movie’s first half taking place on an ocean liner, he is always dressed up and sometimes even in a tux. But what I never quite noticed until this Blu-ray edition — perhaps because her performance is so ladylike and refined — is the glamour treatment McCarey gave to co-star Deborah Kerr as well. If even Blu-ray can’t salvage the two scenes that Kerr’s character (who eventually becomes a music teacher) has with singing children late in the film, I’m not certain I ever before appreciated the visual oomph of her cabaret scenes (also in the second half) in which her vocal stand-in from The King and I (Marni Nixon) again gave Kerr some dubbing help.
Along with a tandem release of All About Eve, this is the first time Fox Entertainment has delved into “deep catalog” for the issuing of a Blu-ray. Along with cardboard packaging, it includes backgrounder text and glossy still photos printed on high-quality paper — pretty much replicating what Warner does with its more ta-ta-da-da-ish Blu-rays (whose latest examples include The Color Purple and All the President’s Men). Otherwise, this release basically transfers the 2007 standard DVD intact, which means there are also some wide-ranging bonus featurettes on the superstar leads, the filmmakers and the production.
Fox’s Blu-ray folks had to work with DeLuxe Color here instead of Technicolor — the more stable process that has, for instance, benefited many vintage Criterion selections from the get-go. I was exceptionally curious about this release because one of my most infamous nights ever as a onetime AFI Theater programmer saw me walking straight off the stage (under the throes of my 20-ish crush on a woman audience member I had just talked to for the first time in ages) and crashing to the floor with a mike in my hand. And the reason I was on stage in the first place was to apologize to a full house over the fact that Fox’s original studio print of Affair (which we were about to show) had faded to red.
But I enjoyed this Blu-ray more than any rendering (of many) I’ve seen of Remember since I first caught it as a child during its original release — in a double bill with Ten Thousand Bedrooms, the mega-bomb that almost sent Dean Martin back to Steubenville after his breakup with Jerry Lewis. Either Affair or The Pride and the Passion was the first Cary Grant movie of my life (in New York City, they opened a day apart), and at the time I was probably more excited that McCarey’s comedy-drama also featured Richard Denning and his very serious hair; he had, after all, been in Creature From the Black Lagoon and Creature With the Atom Brain, essential male grade-schooler viewing of the day. But the comical interplay between the leads, the cruel plot twist that has Kerr getting hit by a car on her way to wedded bliss and what was and is that killer final scene — they all gave me an un-childlike taste for tearjerkers that went against my more everyday enthusiasms for Mickey Mantle and Moose Skowron.
The Affair Blu-ray has an intensity you don’t get on the standard DVD or TV showings; in the same shot, Grant’s tanned skin tones complement redheaded Kerr’s pale ones, and even the process shots look pretty acceptable. And the extras here include a featurette on McCarey that dovetails nicely with the even more impressive supplements about the director on Criterion’s edition of Make Way for Tomorrow, which came out last March. Both films have a way of walloping you in the gut and seem consistent with a comic-dramatic practitioner who a) was an eternal optimist and devout Catholic — but b) one who began abusing alcohol and painkillers that shortened and otherwise harmed his career both in terms of quality and productivity. This was all after a 1940 auto accident that almost killed him and mandated a long recovery.
By the time of Affair, McCarey hadn’t made anything like a great film since 1945’s The Bells of St. Mary’s (said to have been the biggest grosser in RKO history, by the way). His final two films after Affair were first-class debacles as well — and yet for this one time, there was a bolt of lightning that ended up sustaining itself (thanks at least in part to how much Affair figured in the plot of 1993’s popular Sleepless in Seattle). Maybe it was the well-timed reunion with Grant, whose breakthrough performance had come exactly 20 years earlier in The Awful Truth, the screwball comedy (and the genre’s best, in my opinion) that won McCarey his first of two Oscars for direction. Whatever McCarey’s rocky personal state at the time, Affair is a beautifully acted picture. Grant and Kerr are in total synch, much as Grant and Irene Dunne are in Truth.
Also as part of the featurettes is a welcome profile of underrated producer Jerry Wald, whose manic drive (but not bad traits; he was apparently a beloved industry figure) inspired Budd Schulberg to write his classic Hollywood novel What Makes Sammy Run? A lot of producers managed to do superior work at one studio or another, but Wald (who died at 50) managed to distinguish himself at Warners, RKO, Columbia and finally at Fox. At RKO, he even managed to produce a movie as impressive as Nicholas Ray’s The Lusty Men (one of the best American movies not on DVD) even when mercurial owner Howard Hughes was doing all he could to drive the studio into the ditch.