By the time 'Sleepless in Seattle' was released in 1993, the reputation of 'An Affair to Remember' as a romantic classic had been firmly cemented for a few decades. But director Nora Ephron revitalized interest in the timeworn tale by paying reverential homage to it in her own film, using numerous clips and borrowing a critical plot element. Since then, 'An Affair to Remember' has only grown in stature, attracting legions of new fans. What's lost in the furor, though, is the fact that Leo McCarey's glossy comedy-drama isn't really a very good film. Trite, treacly, and self-important, it pales when compared to dozens of similar movies in the same genre.
Of course I like 'An Affair to Remember.' It's almost impossible to resist the considerable charms of Cary Grant and sincerity of Deborah Kerr, and not be seduced by the glamorous locales and fetching color photography. Yet few movies are as shamelessly sentimental and manipulative, and the story is hard to swallow even by the broad-based standards of Hollywood romance. What's more, the tale was told far better - by McCarey himself, of all people - 18 years earlier in its first incarnation, 'Love Affair,' one of the many great films of 1939, starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. That version runs 30 minutes shorter than its bloated remake and possesses infinitely more whimsy and heart. Rarely does lightning strike twice, and though 'An Affair to Remember' is a stellar picture and many would argue McCarey improved upon his original, I remain partial to the earlier film.
Grant portrays quintessential playboy Nickie Ferrante, who makes no apologies for his parasitic lifestyle, living off rich women and enjoying the spoils they provide. On a transatlantic cruise, he meets the lovely Terry McKay (Kerr), who has given up a blossoming singing career to be involved in a secure yet unfulfilling relationship with a successful businessman. The two flirt and spar as an attraction develops, and after a visit to Nickie's elderly mother (Cathleen Nesbitt) on the riviera, they become closer. The complications of their respective lives, however, prevent them from forging an immediate life together, so when the ship docks in New York, they agree to meet six months later at the top of the Empire State Building, "the nearest thing to heaven we have in New York." By that time, they both hope to extricate themselves from their relationships, stand on their own two feet for a spell, and realize the depth of their feelings for each other. Tragedy, however, intervenes, dashing their plan and threatening their future together.
'An Affair to Remember' is one of a series of ultra-romantic films from the mid-1950s that run thick with lush trimmings and rely on a saccharine presentation to tug heartstrings. It succeeds on those counts, but the story struggles for credibility and the dialogue often seems stale. McCarey also pads the movie with a couple of unnecessary musical numbers that slow down the action in the more dramatic second half and lessen the romantic tension. Yes, it takes longer for the lovers to (possibly) reunite, but that's not always a good thing. As the plot progresses toward its climax, a bit of ennui sets in that doesn't do the film any favors.
But when you've got Grant and Kerr as leads, even the most tired material can seem fresh. The duo possesses considerable chemistry and does their best to breathe life into the dialogue. Their conviction pays off and it's impossible to resist their characters and relationship. Grant is, well, Cary Grant, and his patented debonair persona is on full display. Kerr, who was nominated for six Best Actress Academy Awards during her career and - criminally - never won, never gives a bad performance, and she's in top form here, bringing a welcome naturalness and warmth to Terry that make us, like Grant, fall in love with her.
Without Grant and Kerr, there would be no affair to remember. The two actors make this film the classic that it is, and though it's reputation may be a bit overblown, it's still - more than a half century after its initial release - worthy of a fond backward glance every now and then.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'An Affair to Remember' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a very attractive digibook. The 50GB dual-layer disc is tucked neatly into the back cover of the 28-page hardcover volume, which is lavishly illustrated with both color and black-and-white photos and printed on high-quality glossy paper. The text provides an overview of the movie's plot, bios of Grant, Kerr, and director McCarey, and some behind-the-scenes anecdotes; there's also a cast list, and quotes from the film are sprinkled liberally throughout the pages. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and primary audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. After inserting the disc in your player, the full-motion menu with music immediately pops up; no promos or previews precede it.
If the movie itself isn't enough to wring a few tears, then the sparkling transfer from Fox will certainly make the film's faithful weep with joy. The studio has taken great care with 'An Affair to Remember,' and the 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC effort showcases the picture's glamorous settings with marvelous clarity, superior contrast, and fine color saturation. Light grain maintains the film-like feel and softens the rear projection work that 1080p tends to intensify.
Hues are rich and vibrant, despite the use of single-strip color technology, with the blue ocean making an especially strong statement. Kerr's gowns and reddish hair look lush yet natural, and fleshtones, from Grant's bronzed skin to Kerr's creamy complexion, are spot-on. Black levels possess nice weight and whites remain in check, while close-ups, which are used sparingly, yield strong details. Shadow delineation is good, with no incidents of crush, and background elements are relatively sharp.
Only a couple of stray marks could be seen on the pristine print, and no edge enhancement or digital noise break the spell. Fox once again scores big on a classic movie transfer, and that is good news indeed!
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track provides clean, crisp audio that helps perk up this romantic classic.
Any surface defects, such as pops, crackles, and static, have been meticulously erased, leaving a vibrant, engaging track. The syrupy music score enjoys a lovely surround presence, while mild stereo separation across the front channels opens up the sound field during the exterior shipboard and urban sequences. Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand, thanks in part to the impeccable diction of Grant and Kerr, and no distortion in the higher register ever creeps in. The subwoofer remains pretty quiet, but that's to be expected for a movie of this sort.
All in all, the audio is quite good by vintage film standards, and certainly improves upon the previous DVD release.
A substantial spate of supplements enhances this release, and will certainly please both the film's rabid fans and classic movie buffs.
'An Affair to Remember' remains as shamelessly sentimental and cloyingly sweet as ever, but this classic tale of thwarted romance has plenty of charm, too, thanks to top-flight portrayals from Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr and a nice continental flair. Fox has given this time-honored favorite the red carpet treatment, with handsome digibook packaging, restored video and audio, and a cavalcade of extras. So grab a box of tissues and enjoy this weepie with one you love. Recommended.