Once you get me to talking, it’s hard for me to shut up. Ask me a question, and I open like a river lock. Enthusiasm and anecdotal knowledge pour out, and I struggle to stall the flow. Classic movies, though, rarely come up in conversation.
Classic: (adj) judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind OR remarkably and instructively typical
Classic, to me, means a project ages well and repeated encounters create fresh experiences. It’s kind of like childbirth. The pain of the giving birth to my first child was enough to put me off the whole affair, but I went ahead and did it a few more times like I forgot how I sat on bags of frozen peas for weeks.
I’d argue that An Affair to Remember was both a critical and box office success. Although many might disagree that success is owed, in a large measure, to Cary Grant. I don’t think anyone would disagree that it is a Classic.
I’m mad picky, yo, especially when it comes to romance. I do not want insta-love, insta-lust, pages of sex or introspection on how hot the other MC is. What I want is to care about who’s on the page or screen.
When I find myself tangled in a romance plot, it’s because a character or scenario or setting attracted me and held my attention. I suppose you could say the creative project wooed me. These gems have warmed and broken my heart over and over until the eventual HEAs left me emotionally and physically exhausted but utterly satisfied.
The attraction usually features the disenfranchised and downtrodden moving into their purpose and finding real love in the process. I like stories about real people who overcome hard things.
I love An Affair to Remember so much because it’s not really any of those things, at least not at first.
Two people who live charmed lives cross paths on a trans-Atlantic voyage and fall in love. While on the trip, they commit to one another. When they return home, they break off their other relationships and work their butts off to live independently in order to be their best selves for their true loves.
But Fate, sometimes, isn’t fair.
The dialogue in the first half of this movie is quick and clever and drips of innuendo. You’d have to be a special kind of somebody to be immune to dialogue uttered by Cary Grant. I mean, for real, Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant’s chemistry is atomic!
Here’s the gist, folks, An Affair to Remember is corny. It’s melodramatic. It’s a remake that was then remade again. But, doggonit, it works!! Why? Because Kerr and Grant are believable. The filmmakers have made the audience voyers, and I am unapologetic about how excited I am when they start flirting. Our heads remain on swivel the entire time as these two high-profile people try not to be demonstrative about their attraction while on the cruise and then visit sexy spots around the Mediterranean. Nickie is humanized and Terry softens, and attraction grows into love.
We care, almost instantly.
What I don’t care for is most of the second half of the film. Deborah Kerr has never been a favorite of mine despite her being in some beloved films. I especially don’t like the hood version of “Getting to Know You” from Kerr’s previous film The King and I. It’s an utterly unnecessary mini-minstrel show. I usually fast forward past this part.
Six months after their missed date, Terry and Nickie cross paths when they attend a Holiday ballet with the exes they both dumped. After another Junior Minstrel Show interlude, Nickie suavely bursts into Terry’s apartment.
Nickie says, (in a barely veiled attempt at coolness), “If one of us didn’t show up, it would be for a darn good reason.” He’s hurt, the spontaneous thunderstorm while he waited for hours alone at the top of the Empire State Building hasn’t left his spirit, but he’s also discovered the joy of earning his own money and being his own man, so he never returns to the Park Avenue life he walked away from over a year prior.
Terry, though, does have a good reason for standing Nickie up, but it also is kinda not.
When Nickie falls into Terri’s arms at the end, I just absolutely lose it Every. Single. Time. It’s schmaltzy. It’s predictable. It’s melodramatic. It’s frigging beautiful.
Doesn’t matter if I’ve watched the entire film that sitting or just the last five minutes, I still mouth the words and blot at my eyes. After, I hug whatever’s closest a little too tight. My dogs and my children glance at the TV and wisely back away…
“Oh, it’s nobody’s fault but my own! I was looking up…it was the nearest thing to heaven! You were there.” Terry McKay
“If you can paint, I can walk. Anything can happen, right?” Terry McKay
I’ve got goosebumps from transcribing those lines.
Contemporary audiences may pan An Affair to Remember, but all storytellers can learn a few things from this film. In The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird, chapter 4 “Creating Compelling Characters” opens with this line: “Character is the human element of your story, the aspect that the audience actually cares about.”
Later, Bird says, “Audiences … want to identify with them (characters).” And, “The audience wants to cheer and fear for every hero throughout the story.”
I’d say An Affair to Remember does that for me and countless others who mark this film as an all-time favorite.
What about you? What books or movies break all your rules but you love anyway?