Thursday 1 November 2012

1,001 Films: "An Affair to Remember" (1957)

An Affair to Remember is the middling tearjerker famously enshrined by Sleepless in Seattle as the film most lachrymose female singletons of a certain age are likely to end up sobbing in front of. Cary Grant and bored nightclub singer Deborah Kerr are forced together in the confines of a cruise ship; he's finally about to settle down with a wife when the boat docks, she's got a dullard hubby to be getting back to. An hour's worth of longing exchanges and maritime metaphors later ("We changed our course today"), they agree to meet in six months' time, at the top of the Empire State Building, to see what (if anything) has changed in their feelings, and perhaps their private lives, too. Fate, however, has other plans.

It's a not-quite film. Kerr is not quite Hepburn; since all its romantic memories are (re)created on a studio backlot, it can't quite muster the sophistication or depth of a Roman Holiday or Voyage in Italy; and Leo McCarey isn't quite Douglas Sirk, although he makes more of the material - and does more with his characters - than many a contract director would have. It's best approached as an example of the constraints imposed upon the women's picture (and, perhaps, women themselves) circa 1957, evident in the way Grant is encouraged to be debonair and eventually lovelorn, but never especially funny, charming or interesting. Kerr's profession means there are endless dreary musical numbers to get through, and her class of all-singing, all-dancing, bright-as-a-button poppets ("poor Molly has the measles") are mostly unbearable. A half-century on, it may well require the forgiving qualities of the fairer sex to play as it once did. Now The Dirty Dozen, on the other hand...

An Affair to Remember is available on DVD through 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

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