The 1957 weeper An Affair to Remember is widely regarded as one of the top romantic films of all time. Not by me, of course, but by, you know, society and whatnot. It’s now out on Blu-ray, which means if you love a good cry, you can cry at a crystal-clear picture. Oh, and if you have any interest in seeing this movie, you should be a chick, so make sure you are before moving forward.
There is a scene in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle where Rita Wilson, who is, significantly, a woman, cries while describing a scene in 1957’s An Affair to Remember. Meanwhile, Tom Hanks (man), Victor Garber (man), and Ross Malinger (boy) all look incredulous and uncomprehending as she weeps. That pretty much sums up the problem with me reviewing An Affair to Remember. I’m a guy, so while I think it’s a decent romance, I’m watching Rita Wilson cry and, like Tom Hanks, I’m thinking, “What the hell?” That lack of appreciation probably has more to do with my being born with man-parts than anything else. If you’re a woman, you’ll probably love it.
The positives for this film, about a playboy and nightclub singer who, although both are planning to marry other people, meet on a boat to New York and fall in love, include the performances of the two leads. Gary Grant, as playboy Nickie, and Deborah Kerr, as singer Terry, are consummate pros who have a very easy rapport together. Especially in the comedy scenes aboard ship, they play off each other very well, and director Leo McCarey keeps things light. It’s hard to buy the duo as falling in love, though. They seem more like buddies than anything else, but there is no denying that they perform well together.
Unfortunately, the movie, a remake of McCarey’s own Love Affair, has to rely on the usual ridiculous plot maneuvers to manufacture the emotional tear-jerking for which it is primarily known. As Nickie and Terry draw closer to New York (and their fiancées), they decide they will wait six months and then meet on top of the Empire State Building on a specific day. Huh? So then, of course, one of them doesn’t make it due to circumstances that have nothing to do with not wanting to meet, and the other never tries to find out why. Huh? In fact, the other never even hears why from anyone else. Huh? Even when they meet later, one tries to keep their inability to walk from the other. Huh? It’s all so silly, that it just makes it hard to buy into the story. You can suspend disbelief at times, but not give it a wholesale holiday, especially when there is no sci-fi involved. You tell me that guys in fedoras are controlling my destiny and I’m fine with it, but stuff like this really annoys me.
Grant remains a charming and witty presence throughout, and Kerr has a somewhat more thankless role, instilling McCarey’s Catholic outlook into the relationship, but as the movie wears on off the boat and the sparking of their affair, things head downhill. Kerr leads a group of children in not one, but two, unnecessary songs that don’t fit with the tone (or plot) of the film. It throws things off track and plumps up the running time to nearly two hours, when a brisker pace would have been more beneficial. It seems like McCarey felt that since kids singing worked in Going My Way, he needed to put it in this movie, too. Additionally, the aforementioned ridiculous plot devices become more annoying and things never click the way they did earlier in the film.
That said, some people (women) will still find the reconciliation of the characters and really the whole movie emotionally compelling. It’s not. It’s too manufactured, and just because a character on screen is crying doesn’t mean you should cry. Or maybe I’m just a hard-hearted bastard. It’s probably a little of both.
The Blu-ray of An Affair to Remember is well stocked with extras and brings a decent, if not spectacular, picture to those who want their 1950s romantic tear-jerkers to be as crisp and clear as possible. Unfortunately, the extras, while a nice set, are taken wholesale from the 2008 50th Anniversary DVD release. So if you have that set, tread carefully.
The real differences between this set and previous releases are the packaging and the fact that it’s in HD. How is the HD? Not fantastic. It’s not bad, but you don’t go, “Wow, that Cary Grant sure looks amazing on Blu-ray.” Not that you’d say that anyway, since it’s sorta weird. Still, it’s a nice picture and probably an upgrade from DVD (and certainly from VHS or watching it on broadcast TV). The packaging is an odd mix but might appeal to the target audience. It’s a 24-page booklet with pictures from the set, scenes from the movie, and publicity shots of the stars, along with some narrative about the film and stars. At the back is a little tab that holds the disc. It doesn’t hold it very well, but it will sit there as you move it from room to room.
Once you get past the new items, you still have a very good commentary track. Film historian Joseph McBride is clearly a big fan of Grant, Kerr, and McCarey, but he points out poorly thought-out or silly scenes or characters when they occur. He doesn’t simply say, “Oh, isn’t this great!” and he’s very knowledgeable about McCarey’s background and motivations and how they play out in the movie. Singer Marni Nixon, who dubbed Kerr’s singing voice, also participates (although it’s clear she was recorded separately) and adds some info about the singing scenes.
In addition to the commentary track, there are several featurettes, although only a couple are directly related to the movie. Grant and Kerr each have their living spouses appear to talk about their personal relationships. It’s interesting to learn more about the two stars off the screen, but the relationship to the movie is very limited and both are relatively short. The extras on producer Jerry Wald and director Leo McCarey are much longer and more encompassing of their entire careers. These are semi-interesting, although, again, the tie-in to information about the movie is fairly limited.
The three featurettes that are more directly related to the film include one on the movie's “look.” I didn’t really think the look was all that amazing, but it's covered in some detail. Also, there is something that appeared on AMC called “Backstory: An Affair to Remember." It sets itself up as though there were a lot of backdoor shenanigans going on during the filming (if you get my drift), but there really weren’t. At the time Cary Grant had the hots for Sophia Loren and wanted her to visit him, but she didn’t. Big whoop. Finally, there is an old newsreel of the premiere of the movie on board a ship.
This is a decent package if you don’t have the most recent DVD release, but I’m just not excited about the movie itself. If you love the movie, though, and don’t have the 50th Anniversary release, this is worth picking up.