LOVE AFFAIR (1939) 

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Irene Dunne
Charles Boyer
Maria Ouspenskaya
Lee Bowman
Astrid Allwyn
Maurice Moscovitch
Ferike Boros

Leo McCarey



Time: 87 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama/Romance

Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Dunne), Best Supporting Actress (Ouspenskaya), Art Direction, Song, Story and Best Picture.

The charisma and elegance of Boyer and Dunne keep this romantic tragedy afloat despite the maudlin middle and overly dramatic end. Though this film has been remade often, this version sparkles with wit, sophistication and a genuine connection between its' stars. The tale is kept simple, relying on honest emotion and sexual chemistry to drive the story and generate romance. Since Terry (Dunne) and Michel (Boyer) first meet on a transatlantic cruise and have no preconceptions about each other or illusions about their future, they are able to be themselves, which proves to be a heady elixir. Michel exudes a reckless virility that is quickly shown to be a mask for the sensitive and loving soul buried beneath his playboy image. Terry is a warm and clever woman with an open mind and a sharp sense of humor. It's no wonder Boyer falls instantly in love with her. She calls him out as an unrepentant philanderer, but is still unable to resist his charms. The development of their "friendship" is humorous and enchanting, which makes the dreary third act of the film somewhat easier to bear. All great love stories, at least according to Hollywood, must involve some bit of disaster or the happy ending is just not worth it.

Since both characters were otherwise involved when they met and are overwhelmed by the sudden change in their affections, they separate, not only to finagle out of their current relationships, but to see if what developed during their ocean crossing was the real thing. As we all know, they agree to meet 6 months later at the top of the Empire State Building. If someone fails to show, they move on with their lives as if the magical voyage never happened. Of course, tragedy strikes Terry as she hurries to meet Michel and we're forced to watch our happy couple strive to make the most of their now empty lives. Dunne puts on a good face as the crippled Terry, a woman who believes she's doing the right thing by not burdening Michel's life with her disability. Even though she's bitterly disappointed, Terry's frank determination not to let life pass her by is admirable and believable, as Dunne's performance deters one from feeling sorry for her. What she doesn't know is that Michel is devastated by her failure to appear and renews his love of painting by channeling his pain into his art. It's his work that finally brings them together.

"There are many steps betwixt the lip and the altar...and anything can happen on a boat."

While being fairly realistic, I had a hard time giving a damn about this part of the film. We all know that Michel, despite his initial shallowness, is a caring, decent man who fell in love with Terry's personality as well as her beauty and she should have known that seeing how he took such loving care of his grandmother he'd do the same for her. Granted, her decision to keep her injury a secret can be perceived as honorable since they only knew each other a short time before they pledged their love, but to me it's only Hollywood hooey designed to make the ending as heart-wrenching as possible. The nice thing about this version is that the reunion is treated with dignity and subtlety, giving the illusion that had Michel walked away there would be no hard feelings between the two. They entered into their pact with eyes wide open and though the connection is palpable, it's one based on reality and not some idealized notion about finding the One.

These are adults dealing with mature situations and the lack of fantasy tempers the ridiculousness of the plot. That being said, the story is a real doozy and if you can't suspend your disbelief, you're going to probably hate every hokey minute of it. However, if you don't mind a bit of corn in your classic cinema, Dunne and Boyer will make you yearn to hold onto that someone special in your life. Dunne's talent and allure are vastly underrated these days and that's a real shame. Her characters are the perfect combination of tough and tender with just the right amount of wit and sex appeal thrown in for good measure. Those unfamiliar with her work are truly missing one of Hollywood's funniest and classiest actresses. This is not my favorite role of hers, but it proves how a great actress can overcome the silliest story and make it one worth watching.

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