Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne in Love Affair (1939)


(director/writer: Leo McCarey; screenwriters: story by Leo McCarey and Mildred Cram/Delmer Daves/Donald Ogden Stewart; cinematographer: Rudolph Maté; editors: Edward Dmytryk/George Hively; music: Harold Arlen (song)/Buddy G. DeSylva (song)/Roy Webb; cast: Irene Dunne (Terry McKay), Charles Boyer (Michel Marnet), Maria Ouspenskaya (Grandmother Janou), Lee Bowman (Kenneth Bradley), Astrid Allwyn (Lois Clarke), Maurice Moscovich (Cobert); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Leo McCarey; RKO; 1939)
“Kicks into a tearjerker drama in the third act.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Leo McCarey (“Ruggles of Red Gap”/”Make Way for Tomorrow”/”The Awful Truth.”) helms this sentimental romantic comedy that kicks into a tearjerker drama in the third act. It’s taken from the story authored by McCarey and Mildred Cram. The adult screenplay is by Delmer Daves and Donald Ogden Stewart. Future director Edward Dmytryk takes a turn as co-editor, while another future director, Rudolph Maté, is the cinematographer. The film was made twice again, once by McCarey as An Affair to Remember (1957) and in modern times Nora Ephron made it as Sleepless in Seattle (1993), but neither version was as good as the original.

While crossing the Atlantic from Naples to New York, haughty French artist playboy Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) comes onto the down-to-earth American nightclub singer Terry McKay (Irene Dunne) but is at first rebuffed. Michel is set to marry American industrial heiress Lois Clarke (Astrid Allwyn) in New York, while Terry is set to marry the kindly and wealthy Kenneth Bradley (Lee Bowman), the man who saved her career. The strangers dine together and soon find they make a nice couple. At a stopover in Madeira, Michel takes Terry to meet his widowed warmhearted grandmother Janou (Maria Ouspenskaya). Granny is convinced Terry is the right woman to make her wild son settle down and take his craft more seriously. Receiving granny’s blessing, the two open up their heart’s to each other. Before docking in New York, the two make a pact to meet six months later on top of the Empire State building to see if they still love each other more than their would-be mates and if their careers would improve. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Empire State building, Terry is hit by a car and is told by the doctors that she might be left crippled. Not wanting to burden Michel with a cripple, she fails to contact him. It then leads to an accidental meeting they have much later, where Michel is happy to be with her despite her condition.

The acting and directing was as smooth as silk, which I guess is a good thing. In lesser hands, such a sentimental bitter-sweet romance story might feel like polyester sold from a pushcart.