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Love Affair

18 Nov

Love Affair – directed by Leo McCarey. High Comedy. A career woman and a philanderer meet on an ocean liner and agree to meet again in 6 months time, but their plan is run over by a motorcar. 88 minutes Black and White 1939.

★★★★★

Charles Boyer was a lush screen lover. He had wonderful drooping eyelids – bedroom eyes they were called in those days – a sensual mouth, and a deep French accent. Yum! Monsieur Boyer was also a marvelous actor, and you can see behind the surface charms lie even greater charms – innocence, affection, loyalty, and the tact of true fun.

Irene Dunne comes to this from success as the ingénue Magnolia in Showboat, which she had done on the stage, and which she had just completed aged 38. Here she is 41. She is fabulous, and sings Plaisir d’amour and Wishing. She never loses her glad eye. She never forgives because she never blames.

And here we see something the old Hollywood could do nowhere better, which was to star actors of a certain age as though they had no age at all.

So these two over 40 stars come together in a story which will subsequently be re-made, also by McCarey, with Deborah Kerr, aged 36, and Cary Grant, aged 53. And again with Warren Beatty, aged 57, and Annette Bening, aged 36. Each version is worse than the one before, indeed, each one is atrocious, but the first one, this one, which is first class, perhaps because it was written by Donald Ogden Stewart and perhaps, if what David Thomson says is so, because McCarey allowed the two stars to improvise their scenes.

Boyer didn’t like it, but fell in with it. Dunne was excellent at it, and it is her performance which carries the film once it turns solemn, for she does what Cary Grant later did, she plays the entire predicament of her injury as further grace for light comedy. She resists pathos like the plague. Boyer on the other hand has one of the great screen moments when he realizes what has happened to her. Watch for it; watch it happen to him.

This is comedy of faces. This is high comedy. This is comedy of the most life-loving fun. You may call it sophisticated, but it is also the comedy of two people experienced enough to suppose they would neither of them find anyone to be married with, which accounts for the real background of the story and the justification for their age, which Rudolph Maté films understandingly.

The dread, minute Maria Ouspenskaya plays the part of the grandmother, and she is not bad for once. It was finally played by Katharine Hepburn in her last film role. But the grandmother of them all is Catharine Nesbitt in the Grant/Kerr version.

McCarey’s drunken sentimentality over those singing children may give you the dry gripes, but isn’t it strange that material that, in its remakes, would disgust you, you should find in this, its first and original version, such charm, such delight, such perfection.

It’s the actors, of course. Boyer and Dunne. Don’t miss it.

 

 
 
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