Comedy · Drama

A Love Affair, Recycled

Rita Wilson describing An Affair to Remember. Image: Buzzfeed
Rita Wilson describing An Affair to Remember. Image: Buzzfeed

You really can’t beat Rita Wilson’s monologue in the 1993 romantic comedy, Sleepless in Seattle.

In the film, a chagrined Tom Hanks is describing a potential meeting his young son has arranged with a stranger (Meg Ryan) at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day. Wilson immediately recognizes this rendezvous from the 1957 classic film, An Affair to Remember.

But as Wilson describes the touching 1957 movie, she becomes increasingly emotional. Soon she’s sobbing as she re-enacts a famous scene between Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. “It’s so amazing when he comes to see her,” she says, tears spilling down her cheeks.

Sleepless is Seattle is, essentially, a love letter to An Affair to Remember. In one scene, Ryan and on-screen friend Rosie O’Donnell are watching the 1957 classic and it’s clear they’ve seen the movie dozens of times. They recite several passages, including Deborah Kerr’s famous line: “Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.”

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Rosie O’Donnell (left) and Meg Ryan watching An Affair to Remember. Image: laughterkey.com

O’Donnell quips, “Men never get this movie.”

The film in question, An Affair to Remember, stars Cary Grant as an internationally-famous playboy whose engagement to an American heiress becomes worldwide news. As he sails from Europe to New York to marry his fiancé, he meets a fellow passenger (Deborah Kerr), with whom he falls in love.

Cary Grant meets and romances Deborah Kerr. Image: lsdjfkd
Cary Grant romances Deborah Kerr. Image: Dynasty Forever

This romance leads to a messy business once the pair land in New York. Grant needs to sort things out with his fiancé, while Kerr has to decide what to do about her boyfriend. As the ship pulls into port at New York, Grant and Kerr agree to meet in six months (on Valentine’s Day) at the top of the Empire State Building to see if they Have Something Here.

We have a confession to make regarding this film. For years we eschewed it because we feared it would be too schmaltzy. But when we finally watched it, we were charmed by its humour and some of its exquisite moments.

One such moment is the shot of Grant and Kerr walking down the stairs on the ship to New York. As they descend, Kerr suddenly stops and pulls Grant towards her. Look at the gif below, at the teasing way director Leo McCarey frames this intimacy:

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A shipboard romance. Image: gifsgallery.com

Grant and Kerr have good chemistry, which is crucial because the film depends on it. They have to make you believe each would turn their world inside out for the other.

Their rapport is so sharp and witty, in fact, it’s almost as delightful as the romance in the original film, starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne.

Irene Dunne's Words to Live By. Image: tumblr
Irene Dunne’s Words to Live By. Image: tumblr

An Affair to Remember is a remake of the Academy Award-winning Love Affair (1939) – and when we say remake, we mean remake. Some of the scenes in the 1957 movie are shot identical with the 1939 film, so a viewer can’t help but make comparisons. However, director McCarey was at the helm of both versions, so you have to respect his pragmatism: If a scene worked well in ’39, why not recycle it in ’57?

We (as in, yours truly) prefer the 1939 movie to the 1957 version. The character of Terry, played by Dunne in the ’39 version, seems to have been written specifically for her. Dunne is especially winsome, and it’s easy to see why Boyer falls for her.

As for Boyer, in the role of the famous playboy, he has an exceptional scene late in the film, where he visits Dunne after a long absence. When he realizes the truth about Dunne’s situation, his performance nearly breaks your heart. You’ll find yourself rewinding this scene, just to study his method.

The themes in these three films are timeless, and they never fail to enchant – even if they are sprinkled with a little schmaltz. They are proof that good casting and witty dialogue make a story feel fresh, even decades later.

This post is part of the They Remade WHAT?! Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. Click HERE to see the other fab entries.

Love Affair-Affair to Remember

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32 thoughts on “A Love Affair, Recycled

  1. Oddly enough, I watched these movies backwards – I started with Sleepless in Seattle, some years later saw An Affair to Remember and then ended with Love Affair. After that, I had to go back and watch Sleepless in Seattle again and suddenly it was way more funny, especially that scene you describe with Rita Wilson! But I think watching in that order messed up my ability to fully appreciate Love Affair, because perversely, it felt like the remake. But they are both so enchanting, as you say, that I can re-watch either of them infinitely.

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    1. Right – I can see how a person would feel that way, watching them in reverse order. Love Affair would likely pale in comparison to An Affair to Remember, but I do think Dunne is better suited to the role than Kerr. (Perhaps it’s because I’m not the biggest Kerr fan…don’t know why.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it was the King and I that made me a Kerr fan as a child, but I do like Dunne, too. I thought Dunne brought more warmth to the role than Kerr and that Kerr and Grant had more electricity.

        When I first saw An Affair to Remember I didn’t realize it was a remake and showed it to my cousin, who recognized it instantly as a remake and told me that I really needed to watch the original, which she prefers.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I may be in the minority here, but I’m not a big Irene Dunne fan so I’ve avoided Love Affair for the longest time. I thought I would enjoy Sleepless in Seattle, but it left me cold. An Affair to Remember, however — if you ever want to get me sobbing, this film is it! I think the acting is so beautifully done, with all these little touches that show what true pros Cary and Deborah were. Someday I may give the 1939 movie a chance, but for now, the 1957 one serves me just fine.

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  3. Fantastic post as always! I too saw Sleepless first (one of my favorite movies) and then one day caught the last half of An Affair to Remember on TV. Then I saw Love Affair, which I greatly enjoyed (the random “Titanic” part was kind of odd though haha). I still haven’t seen An Affair from start to finish.

    Rita Wilson’s scene is one of my favorites. I love it when the guys imitate her and start talking about the Dirty Dozen lol. The special features on this dvd introduced me to Powell and Loy and Flynn and de Havilland.

    Thanks so much for participating!!! I will be setting up the Blogathon page tonight 🙂

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  4. Nice choice for the blogathon. I’m a fan of both films, but maybe like “An Affair To Remember”‘s glossier finish better. I’m a big Irene Dunne fan but I tell ya…I can really live the rest of my life without hearing those darned kids singing. Yeeeesh!

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  5. Good blog! You’re quite right, Rita Wilson’s scene is the funniest in the movie. And BTW, it’s not just men who don’t get the movie. My wife and I saw SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE when it first came out and we loved it. So one night we rented AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER, and both of us rolled our eyes through it. Sorry!

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  6. I saw “An Affair to Remember” first and was not all that impressed. It felt too long to me. On that reaction alone I avoided “Love Affair” for simply ages and when I finally got around to it, it became one of my all-time favourites. Go figure! One of these days I’ll give “An Affair to Remember” another shot (I do like Harry Warren songs).

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  7. I love An Affair to Remember, I plead guilty to pulling a Rita Wilson thinking about it!
    I started Love Affair, but the I kept wanting it to be An Affair to Remember.
    I never made it past the boat, you have inspired me, I will have to give it another shot.

    PS I adore Sleepless in Seattle, I think it has one of the best soundtracks of all time. Lovely post.

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    1. I love Sleepless in Seattle too. Really a great script & perfect casting. It’s one I watch every year.

      As for Love Affair/Affair to Remember, I can see why folks think the 1957 film is an improvement over the 1939 film. The latter film is gorgeous in every way.

      Thanks for dropping by!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I watched An Affair to Remember one afternoon when I skipped chemistry class due to the flu. It was worthwhile, although my grandma spoiled the end to me, leaving poor sick me chocked. I know Love Affair is on YouTube, but I never really sat to see it. Knowing it is as good as the 1957 movie, I’ll give it a try… and keep my eyes on Boyer’s acting.
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
    Kisses!
    Le
    http://www.criticaretro.blogspot.com

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    1. What a great way to spend chemistry class – watching An Affair to Remember! Although it is too bad about the ending being spoiled. 😦

      Yes, Boyer is ultra fab in Love Affair. Of course, I think he’s great in everything.

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    1. Ha ha – no need to hang head in shame. It seems Love Affair might be a bit disappointing if a person is more familiar with An Affair to Remember. I wonder if people favour the version they’ve seen first? At any rate, thanks for dropping by. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, no. Now I’ve got to watch it. I’ll let you know. (Hubbie is so excited I found your site. He freaked over Basil Rathbone. Did you know he’s related to the guy who played Jasper in the Twilight movies?!) O_o

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  9. OK. First off. Sleepless was filmed in ’93???? Oh, no, Ruth!
    Now that my head is clearing. “An Affair to Remember” was a bit too schmaltzy for me. Maybe Rosie was right after all. I would like to see “Love Affair”, though, if only to see Boyer. To me, this is the type of role he was meant to play. I’ll put it on my ‘must watch’ list.

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  10. I loved your post, Ruth! It was really interesting reading the comparisons to all 3 movies. I have loved An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle for a long time, and own both of those. That scene with Rita Wilson has always cracked me up. I started laughing reading your post just thinking about it. It was really interesting reading everyone’s opinions about which movies they liked better. I think you are probably right that you end up liking which ever one you’ve seen first better. I saw An Affair to Remember first so that tells you what my favorite is. I love Cary Grant, though, so that probably has something to do with it, too. I didn’t realize the same director did both movies. That was really interesting to learn. Thanks so much for your review!

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    1. Isn’t Rita Wilson utterly fab in Sleepless in Seattle? She nearly steals the whole film with that scene.

      As for our pal, Cary Grant: He’s a tough act to follow, and maybe I’d prefer that film if I saw it first.

      Yes, at first I didn’t realize the same director did both versions, and he did an exceptional job both times. He treated the script with respect and, as a result, both films are fan faves all these decades later.

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  11. I have a lot of love for this post Ruth! Sleepless in Seattle isn’t exactly my kind of film, but I just adore Nora Ephron and everything she does, and that’s always endeared it to me. I didn’t pick up the Affair to Remember connection the first time as i was busy trying not to get annoyed by Tom Hanks (probably just me), but as far a re-makes go, I think it’s on the right side of imitation. I’ve never actually seen the 1939 version so can’t compare the compare – look forward to rectifying that pronto!

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    1. You know, I’d be really interested to see what you think of the 1939 version. Cary Grant in gorgeous Technicolor is hard to beat, but I think the 1939 film has a lot of wit and charm.

      As for Nora Ephron, I completely agree. She didn’t hit a home run every time, but she didn’t have to. She’s left us wonder body of work, including her writings…

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  12. I must confess that I prefer AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER and it’s not really close. It’s helps that I saw it first, but I also prefer Cary and Deborah (well, they are two of my favorite performers). Their final scene is a whopper! I think there was a third version with Mr. and Mrs. Warren Beatty. I recall it being all right.

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    1. It’s hard to beat a well-written, well-directed film with two favourite actors. I agree – that final scene really is a whopper!

      I had heard about the Beatty version, and I think other countries have re-made this film too. And why not! It’s a timeless story, no?

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  13. Sleepless in Seattle is one of my favourite movie theater memories! I worked backward on seeing these too, and now I’d say Love Affair is my fave version. I love seeing how remakes reflect the times. Great choice!

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