“An Affair To Remember” received four Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography, Costume Design, Original Score, and Best Song.
A remake of his 1939 film "Love Affair," director Leo McCarey had hoped to pump up his sagging career after a five year absence from the big screen - and hit paydirt when "An Affair To Remember" became the top grossing film of the year for Twentieth Century-Fox. Best known for a string of successful comedies - "The Bells of St. Mary's" and "Going My Way" perhaps his best loved - McCarey also directed several Marx Brothers films, and wrote a huge amount of short comedies for Hal Roach during the Twenties and Thirties, including several gems for Laurel & Hardy.
"Affair" also spawned a hit single - sung by Vic Damone - and the film inspired "Sleepless In Seattle," Nora Ephron's popular weepie, in 1993, and motivated Glenn Gordon Caron to remake the film yet again in 1994 as "Love Affair," with Warren Beatty and Annette Benning. Ephron's film drove countless fans to track down the '57 film, and the film soundtrack also made a surprise return to record shelves so people could experience the melodrama of McCarey's updated version.
When 20th Century Fox introduced Cinemascope, the company wanted an emphasis on stereo sound, and particularly compositions that took full advantage of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio - orders cinematographer Milton Krasner followed to a T, with McCarey using the format for a few amusing visual gags as well. 20th Century Fox's new DVD boasts a rich transfer that reveals why Cinemascope wowed audiences and enticed audiences away (for a while) from the square limits of television. The new anamorphic transfer has a pleasing array of colours, and their stability and clarity attests to the improved 'scope lenses that replaced the older and more experimental ones that captured the studio's first widescreen productions.
Though a straightforward 2.0 stereo mix, dialogue is the main ingredient, and Hugo Friedhofer's underscore makes good use of the film's theme song throughout.
While less detailed than his commentary for "How Green Was My Valley," Joseph McBride delivers a consistent flow of facts, covering the film's production, the two ultra-charismatic leads and equally effective supporting cast, and some telling biographical material on the director. While some studios may frown upon discussing the colourful past of key players, the commentary allows McBride to be frank, and covering McCarey's political leanings are important in understanding the film's strengths and weaknesses in a career that spanned several decades. McCarey's last film was the infamous Red Scare epic "My Son John" in 1952, where the director dramatized his strong anti-Communist views. Ironically, Donald Ogden Stewart, co-writer of the original "Love Affair" was blacklisted during the Red scare, didn't receive credit for the remake, but his name was restored in print and all publicity, though his name remains absent during the opening credits.
Also edited into the commentary track is Marni Nixon, perhaps best known as the most well-known voice in films. A professional singer for years, Nixon had already dubbed Deborah Kerr's singing in "The King And I," and would later perform similar miracles for Natalie Wood in "West Side Story" and Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady," and would (finally!) appear onscreen, singing of course in "The Sound of Music."
Now in her early 70s, Nixon has an amazingly youthful voice, and gives some delightful career observations, though her best insight concerns the unique role of a dubbing actress; much like an actor's requirements to adapt to a part, Nixon explains her job to form-fit her voice and style to that of the actor, thereby creating a more complete character with smooth aural transitions. Nixon also discusses the difficulties she and fellow 'dubbing' actors faced in getting deserved credit, including efforts to get her name on the soundtrack album.
Like other entries in 20th Century Fox's new “Studio Classics” line, the DVD comes with an excellent documentary in the AMC Backstory series. The doc manages to stay on the side of good taste when detailing the strange ironies of Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr - two actors whose own marriages were falling apart at the time, plus Grant's own intense affair with Sophia Loren - while McCarey was trying to show peers and colleagues he still had an active role in moviemaking. Interviews include archival snips of Kerr discussing her character and working with Grant, and it becomes evident the actor's enigmatic persona dominates the doc through the interview segments with Curtis Harrington (then an assistant to producer Jerry Wald), Kerr's daughter, historian Rudy Behlmer, Grant biographer Nancy Nelson, and Peter Bogdanovich (who interviewed both Grant and McCarey for Esquire magazine before becoming a director himself).
Also glimpsed in the doc are a pair of rehearsal takes, some archival footage of the film's premiere, and morsels from a Cinemascope promo reel. Though the promo piece isn't on the DVD, the original Movietone "Shipboard" premiere is, with appearances by Wald, McCarey, Fox chief Spyros Skouras, Celeste Holm, "upcoming" Anthony Franciosa with date Shelley Winters, Fernando Lamas and wife Arlene Dahl, and poor starlet Debra Paget, "having an affair to remember with a life saver."
The film's non-anamorphic trailer accompanies trailers for the first three “Studio Classics” titles, plus a still gallery with production shots, wardrobe tests, and a colour still.
By 1957, co-writer Delmer Daves had already established himself as a respected writer/director (arguably achieving his best-known success with "A Summer Place"), while McCarey followed his smash with two more Fox productions before retiring. Fans will find a bittersweet portrait in "Pieces of Time," Peter Bogdanovich's Esquire collection, which includes a brief interview and appreciation for the AFI's Oral History Program.
© 2003 Mark R. Hasan