#309. An Affair to Remember (1957)

After finding I didn’t like Cary Grant for some reason, back when I’d only seen him in She Done Him Wrong and Bringing Up Baby and Awful Truth, I bought and read Marc Eliot’s recent biography of Grant and, as will probably prove the case with most people who strike you the wrong way before taking the time to get to know them, I started to see him in a better light. Or a more nuanced light, anyway. I became more appreciative of his skillset, now that I understood he was working in much different Hollywood environment. The imperial studio system. A system he helped overthrow.

            But now I’m wondering if it isn’t also the case that he just got better with age, more reclusive and humble and serious about his work, so that what I’m interpreting as this arc of mine—where I disliked him at first and then I read the book while going through the List and I came to like him because of the book—isn’t more a matter of Grant having just gotten better with age, more likeable.

            An Affair to Remember is probably his best performance on the List to date (although I’m increasingly appreciative of how he delivered that quickfire dialogue from the early Howard Hawks comedies, His Girl Friday especially), especially in the third act when he’s on the ropes about having apparently lost the interest of his soul mate, played by Deborah Kerr—who navigates the role with a dutiful composure that shows some vulnerability, too; she looks like somebody legitimately trying to be better than her impulses, above them, which rang my bell when I watched this during the fall-out from a breakup, a breakup I didn’t want, which is generally a period of wondering, What did I do wrong, how can I be better, what if I promise to be better?

            Both lovers are cheating on their respective spouses to see each other but, between the two of them, Kerr seems to be the only one appreciating what’s at stake, the only one burdened by the moral weight of what they’re doing.

            The List’s write-up on An Affair to Remember says it’s the ultimate romance to watch in a cozy home setting: rain at the window, curled ‘neath a blanket, chocolate in abundance. When I read that before turning the movie on I thought the writer was bullshitting, trying to hit a wordcount despite running out of things to say, but now that I’ve finished it, good lord, this movie packs an emotional punch at the end…I started welling up.

            And despite that moral diciness about the situation, similar to the affair in Brief Encounter, this movie’s an admirable tearjerker—which oughta be expected, because it’s directed by Leo McCarey, who made 1936 a way darker year than it needed to be with his heart-punching movie Make Way for Tomorrow. McCarey doesn’t just get you crying by killing off a character (although that does happen in this case). He builds us up slowly through the whole movie with demonstrations of tenderness between the characters, the things they sacrifice and the ways they change so’s to best accommodate each other, and then he punches our chest again with some powerful show of how these characters’ love for one another manifests in private—same thing he does in Make Way for Tomorrow, where we suffer at the sight of how an elderly couple, each of them separated to live with a different one of their adult children during a time of financial hardship. Alone, we see how they cherish the letter or phone call from one another, how they’re constantly thinking of each other and, in the way that my dad grew up in exile, in New Jersey, with his relatives toasting each other every Christmas saying, “Next Christmas in Cuba,” the older lovers in Make Way for Tomorrow are constantly thinking forward to some future when they’ll be reunited indefinitely—a future that will never come.

            So there’s a real jolt of emotion at the very end of An Affair to Remember that McCarey conveys with a single brilliant shot, and you’ll know exactly which one I’m talking about when you see it (no shit, I’ve got goosebumps just remembering it) but I’m wondering if I might not have been extra primed to be moved by that scene cuz of something that my roommate showed me the other night.

            Apparently one of his old college friends was fucked up in Wynwood the night before and ran over somebody. There’s security camera footage of his car rolling onto the sidewalk, running he guy down, ripping the dude’s leg off and dragging a tire trail of blood down the road. Two bystanders chased the fleeing driver, smashed his window, dragged him out of the car and subdued him until the cops showed up. While straddling the driver’s chest, they took a picture of him looking disoriented.

            So when (spoilers) Kerr gets run over by a car on her way to meet and marry Cary Grant, and is rendered a paraplegic, I was writhing extra hard when it happened because here she is looking elegant and great on screen and meanwhile, given what I just saw from that security cam footage, I have a pretty solid idea of what her mangled body must’ve looked like after the crash.

            But speaking of how that traffic accident forces her to misss her rendezcous with Grant: I realized that this is probably the inspiration for that gimmick at the end of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. In the first one, two young people fall in love and, at the end, promise—as they’re departing on separate trains—to meet up at a certain date at a certain place.

            Then the movie ends.

            The sequel, Before Sunset, has them running into each other ten years later and we find tha tone of them kept the appointment but the other did not.

            Anyway: this movie is all varieties of heartbreak and, while not quite so melodramatic as Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind or All That Heaven Allows, it’s got that melodramatic lilt of 1930s cinema that’s aged beautifully. It’s neat to be watching a movie from the 1950s, a nostalgic period in itself, and to feel, from its art, a nostalgia for the 1930s.

            I’m not a big fan of the genre, and I don’t see this as something I’ll revisit, but I’d definitely recommend it to anybody looking for something to swell and weep at.

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