I'd like to spank the Academy

Love Affair (1939)

Love_AffairDirected by Leo McCarey

This was the movie that was responsible for some of the difficulties last week. The first copy I checked out from the library was the worst quality DVD I had ever watched. The disc itself was fine; it didn’t have any scratches or divots. But the sound was so bad I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying half the time, and the picture looked like a bad transfer of a sub-par VHS. I didn’t feel like watching that DVD would give me a fair picture of Love Affair, so I had to dig up another copy from a different library. (It is available for streaming on Amazon, but Amazon was being extremely stubborn; while I could see that the movie was there, it wouldn’t let me stream it. Amazon kept trying to stream Downton Abbey, and wouldn’t believe me when I said I wanted anything else. True story.) Anyway, the second DVD I got wasn’t impressive, either, but at least I could understand what the characters were saying. The picture was clearer, too; it still looked like a VHS, but it was at least a higher quality one. It made me feel bad. This movie deserves better.

So what’s the story? Michel Marnay, a famous French playboy, is traveling by sea to New York to join his heiress fiancé. He meets Terry McKay, a down-to-earth American woman who is coming back from a business trip. She’s engaged to her boss. Michel and Terry fall in love, but decide to part for six months to give Michel a chance to prove to himself that he can be something more than just a playboy and that he’s worthy of Terry. They make plans to meet at the top of the Empire State Building after the six months. With so much determination between the two, what could possibly go wrong? If this story sounds suspiciously familiar, that’s probably because Leo McCarey remade his own movie in 1957 and called it An Affair to Remember.

The Good: I was a little bit nervous going in. I had only seen Charles Boyer in one movie before this one, and that was Gaslight. I don’t like Charles Boyer’s character in Gaslight, and I wasn’t sure he would be a good enough actor to erase that character from my mind. But Charles Boyer makes a very charming playboy turned good. Irene Dunne plays an independent woman who refuses to fall for silly pick-up lines equally well. They made a very good, very believable screen couple. I could understand why they would fall for each other, which is something that doesn’t always happen.

There is also another person who deserves mention in this movie for her acting. Maria Ouspenskaya plays Michel’s darling, elegant little grandmother. She’s not in the movie very long at all, but I couldn’t help falling in love with her. She is such a sweet, beautiful old lady.

The screenplay was very fun. Terry gets to say all sorts of things to remind Michel that as attractive and charming as he is, he’s still just a man. But Terry isn’t perfect, either, and she gets called out on her imperfections, too. I like the evenhanded treatment of both people.

The Bad: The one problem with the story is that I think it is inconsistent with Terry’s character that she doesn’t share her secret with Michel. I realize she is a proud and independent woman, but I feel like she would have trusted his love enough to at least give him a chance to react to it. But then I guess the story would have resolved too quickly.

The Ugly: Again, this isn’t the movie’s fault, but someone really needs to make a decent DVD of this movie. It’s inexplicable to me that no one has. I suppose it’s because this movie has been overshadowed by An Affair to Remember, but Love Affair is equally good and deserves a better DVD.

Oscars Won: None.

Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actress in a leading role (Irene Dunne); best actress in a supporting role (Maria Ouspenskaya); best writing, original story; best art direction; best music, original song.

Comments on: "Love Affair (1939)" (2)

  1. Every time I come across the name “Irene Dunne,” I think of “Move Over, Darling.” (“Like Irene Dunne done… Did.”)

    This sounds adorable, and I’m bummed that the DVD is such poor quality. I’ve never seen “An Affair to Remember,” so my only thought when you described the plot was “Hey, this sounds like that movie they watch in ‘Sleepless in Seattle’!”

    Why do you think producers/directors remake their own films?

    I kind of want to have a “originals vs remake” binge where I go back and watch An Affair to Remember vs Love Affair, and Move Over Darling vs My Favorite Wife, You’ve Got Mail vs Shop Around the Corner. Want to do that with me when I move back home?


    • I would totally do that with you. And I’ve been trying and trying to figure out why he would remake his own movie. I can only think that he must have decided that he could do better now that he was a more experience director. But Star Wars did not get better when George Lucas went back and “fixed” it in the 1990s.


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