What are we to make of the 1950 melodrama, September Affair?
Joan Fontaine and Joseph Cotten star as two Americans vacationing in Italy who meet on a return flight from Rome to New York. The pair disembark in Naples, where the plane makes an emergency stop for repairs.
While the plane is grounded, Fontaine and Cotten (A) decide to go for lunch; (B) enjoy each other’s company a little too much; (C) overestimate the amount of time it takes to repair the plane; and (D) surprise! They miss the flight to NYC.
Alas, the repairs didn’t quite do the trick. After taking off from Naples, the plane crashes, killing everyone on board.
Now this presents an interesting scenario: Fontaine and Cotten have already fallen in love. If everyone they know thinks they died in a plane crash, could they not live an incognito life in a romantic Italian villa? Who would ever find out?
After all, Cotten’s got buckets of cash, and Fontaine speaks fluent Italian. Nothing can interfere with their Love.
Not only must they cope with the news of his death, they must learn to run Cotten’s manufacturing empire without him.
Here’s the thing about Tandy-as-Wife: She’s not glam and beautiful, like Fontaine. She’s plain in appearance and manner, and seems thoroughly unremarkable.
But she ain’t. After Cotten’s supposed demise, she takes over the managing of the manufacturing company, and she’s good at it. Not only that, she’s able to preserve her loving relationship with her son.
Additionally, she wants Answers about a sizeable cheque that Cotten had written to a woman in Florence around the time of his “death”. So she Goes to Florence – not out of anger, but to gain Closure – bracing herself for what she might discover.
This is where things get Interesting. Tandy pays a surprise visit to Fontaine’s friend and mentor (Françoise Rosay), the woman to whom Cotten had written the cheque. However, Fontaine happens to be in the apartment when Tandy arrives, and she refuses to be ushered out. She’s Very Curious about Cotten’s wife.
Besides, as Fontaine rightly points out, Tandy wouldn’t know who she is. Fontaine is safely anonymous.
To put it another way, Fontaine wants to gawk at her lover’s wife, a woman whose last communication with her husband was in regards to a divorce, and who’s now trying to piece together his final days when he went to Italy Without Her.
It’s kind of twisted, the way Fontaine wants to wedge herself inside this woman’s private grief.
Almost as twisted as Cotten allowing his teenage son to believe his father is dead.
September Affair is notable for a few reasons. First, it’s not a horrible movie. In fact, it’s quite engrossing, and the ambiguous ending is both surprising and satisfactory.
Secondly, this was shot entirely in Italy, and looks it. The scenery is gorgeous. (So is the wardrobe, designed by the fab Edith Head.)
During filming, says IMDb, Cotten and Fontaine had lunch with filmmaker Orson Welles, who was in Italy to convince businessmen to invest in his new film, Othello. Welles hoped the presence of the Hollywood stars would impress the men, which it did, but better than that, Winston Churchill happened to be lunching in the same restaurant. Welles made a point of passing Churchill’s table and greeting him enthusiastically, even though the two hadn’t previously met.
Welles’s gamble paid off. He secured funding, and Cotten and Fontaine agreed to make uncredited appearances in Othello, while working on September Affair.
This film is definitely a morality tale, but it’s not one of those overwrought filmed-in-a-foreign country affairs that became popular in the 1950s.
We encourage you to see September Affair. We think you’ll like it.
September Affair: starring Joan Fontaine, Joseph Cotten, Françoise Rosay. Directed by William Dieterle. Written by Robert Thoeren. Paramount Pictures, 1950, B&W, 105 mins.