Sunday, December 25, 2016

Before I Die #592: An Affair to Remember (1957)

This is the 592nd movie I've seen of the 1,187 films on the "Before You Die" list that I'm gradually working through.

Director: Leo McCarey

One of those late-1950s movies that has some excellent elements to it, but is painfully weakened by certain film tropes of the day which have aged horribly.

The story revolves around Nickie Ferrante, played by classic leading man Cary Grant. Ferrante is a world-renowned playboy with a countless number of wealthy, socialite ladies among his many conquests. However, this tale begins with newspaper announcements that the playboy is finally settling down and is officially engaged to a massively wealthy New York City heiress. A monkey wrench is thrown in the works, though, when Ferrante falls in love with a woman he meets on a cruise back to the U.S. from Europe. The woman, Terry McCay (Deborah Kerr), is also engaged. She also does not fall prey to any of Ferrante's charms. This seems to inflame Ferrante's interest and passion all the more. More than that, it actually blossoms into genuine love for Terry. After a visit with Ferrante's wise and loving grandmother in an Italian port, Terry actually sees Ferrante's genuinely lovable core. She falls for him, but the two do not fully act on their new-found mutual love. Instead, they return to their respective fiances in New York. Soon, though, Ferrante breaks off his engagement and promises to meet Terry in six months at the top of the Empire State building, six months being long enough for them both to end their relationships and for Ferrante to actually work for the first time in his life. Things are going as planned, but when a severe accident occurs, their love is put through a very serious test.

The movie has some dashes of the screwball comedy genre - a type of film from the 1930s and 1940s which I mostly dislike. Ferrante is a playboy who has always been immersed in the high society of the women whom he has been bedding, and this fits right in with the screwball comedy genre's preoccupation with the rich and famous. However, this is offset a good deal by Terry McCay, who is a rather down-to-earth nightclub singer. And while there are moments of the unnaturally sharp, cutting dialogue typical of screwball flicks, the pace is a bit more relaxed. It also helps that the movie avoids the overload of pratfalls and sillier elements of screwball. I can't say that I found the movie nearly as funny as it was meant to be, but I found Deborah Kerr to be a phenomenal counterpart to Cary Grant's self-satisfied Nickie Ferrante. She carries an assured slyness that is more than welcome in such a movie.

Like pretty much any movie starring Cary Grant at the time,
this one features incredibly vibrant sets, costumes, and solid
framing. The movie's greatest asset, though, is probably
Deborah Kerr.
The general story certainly has more than a few sappy romance elements. For me, the most painfully melodramatic is when Terry is paralyzed by an oncoming car, just before she is about to meet Nickie at the top of the Empire State Building and accept his proposal for marriage. This moment alone knocks the movie down a few notches in my book. It doesn't help that we also get to see an incapacitated Terry get serenaded by a group of oh-so-cute grade-schoolers not once but twice. These moments smacked of Hollywood, bottom line interference. "Hey, little kids singing sells tickets. People love that stuff! Put some kids singing in that picture!" Painful hardly describes it for me.

That said, there was a depth and occasional subtlety that I found surprising and enjoyable. While there are certainly questions which are ignored or glossed over, I appreciated how the movie did take on the relatively mature theme of infidelity and adult relationships to an extent. Ferrante's public breaking of his engagement sends the story on an unexpected turn, and there are a few somewhat darker moments periodically. These added just enough bite to prevent the movie from becoming saccharine.

An Affair to Remember was enjoyable enough, though it's probably not one that I feel a need to see again. I suppose it's considered a "great" movie due to some then-novel turns in narrative, coupled with strong performances by Grant and Kerr. Those who love classic Grant from the '40s and '50s are sure to appreciate this one.

That's 592 movies down. Only 595 to go before I can die.