Love Affair (1939)

A beloved Classical Hollywood tearjerker as love and fate intertwine in this melodrama directed with unassuming grace by Leo McCarey. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,373

Dir. Leo McCarey
1939 | USA | Drama/Romance | 87 mins | 1.37:1 | English
Not rated – likely to be PG

Cast: Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer, Maria Ouspenskaya
Plot: Two chic strangers fall in love aboard an ocean liner bound for NYC. Though they are both involved with other people, they intend to reconnect six months later at the top of the Empire State Building.
Awards: Nom. for 6 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction, Best Original Song
Distributor: Lobster Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

My first Leo McCarey film, Love Affair could be one of the best introductions to his body of work.  It’s a beloved Classical Hollywood tearjerker and was remade by McCarey himself in 1957 with An Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. 

In this 1939 version, Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne play Michael and Terry respectively as they meet and fall in love aboard a ship heading to New York.  (Well, Titanic doesn’t always have the monopoly on love affairs on a boat.) 

Michael and Terry, however, are set to be engaged, yet they flirt with the prospect of infidelity, though is it really infidelity if no one is married yet?  They make a pact to see each other six months later on top of the Empire State building if Michael is able to find work and make enough money to support Terry. 

“It’s a funny thing, but the things we like best are either illegal, immoral or fattening.”

We get strong but not overly theatrical performances, allowing the film to operate in a far more delicate fashion than one might expect. 

An example of the delicateness that McCarey achieves in Love Affair comes most prominently in the sequence that sees the couple visit Michael’s grandmother, Janou, in a stopover. 

The scene of Terry singing as Janou plays the piano while Michael watches on might just be one of the most heartwarming cinematic moments of that time. 

Love Affair is proof of McCarey’s mastery of the weepie, yet the film goes beyond shifting emotions of hope and tragedy, settling for a rarefied air of optimism despite crippling assumptions and unintended consequences.

Grade: A-



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