In 1957, director Leo McCarey was on the last legs of his storied career. First known as a comic director who introduced Laurel to Hardy and clowned with the Marx brothers, then as a maker of upstanding religious family fare like Going My Way and The Bells Of St. Mary's, McCarey hit his apex with 1937's The Awful Truth, one of the best screwball comedies ever made. His 1939 follow-up Love Affair, starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer, scored six Oscar nominations. But in the '50s, with his light touch foundering under the weight of a new pro-America, anti-communist ideology—he was a friendly witness in the HUAC hearings on the Red menace in Hollywood—he accepted the assignment to direct an update of Love Affair, this time in breathtaking Cinemascope and glorious Technicolor.
The result of the unusual undertaking (directors who've remade their own films can be counted on one hand) was An Affair To Remember, a stately romance distinguished by two appealing leads, Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Grant plays a European gadabout headed to New York for a celebrity wedding to his heiress fianc?e, and Kerr is a nightclub singer returning to her sugar daddy. They forge a bond on their transatlantic voyage and agree to meet on the observation deck of the Empire State Building in six months' time. But on her way to the reunion, Kerr is struck by a speeding car and crippled. Grant, believing he's been jilted, and Kerr, wishing to spare her beloved the wrenching choice of whether to commit to her, try to pursue lives of artistic independence, but are haunted by what could have been.
Nobody would mistake An Affair To Remember for a master class in cinema. McCarey's widescreen technique is utilitarian, and the third act, in which the lovers are kept apart mostly by Kerr's overactive conscience, spends a lot of time spinning its wheels. Yet the principals are in such fine form, underplaying against their stagy backdrops, and the tragic turn of the plot is so gripping, that the movie succeeds in spite of its white-elephant pedigree. In particular, the famous final scene remains an edge-of-the seat experience, as Grant paces around the immobile Kerr, talking in riddles about who did and didn't show up at the Empire State Building that fateful day.
Key features: An above-average commentary track, mostly by film historian Joseph McBride, with interjections from the charming Marni Nixon about her experiences dubbing Deborah Kerr's singing voice.