An Affair to Remember isn’t much more than a shipboard comedy turned gooey Catholic morality lesson about the dangers of love at first tourist spot during the Eisenhower era. Cary Grant’s a failed artist as “big dame hunter” gigolo engaged to an equally purposeless rich bitch; Deborah Kerr pretends to be a swanky nightclub chanteuse but, given that her furs, jewelry and Park Avenue penthouse are paid for by her betrothed, she’s really just a gigolette. They meet on a luxury liner and oh but of course they’re smitten by each other’s beauty, charm, the temptation of unavailability. Yet nothing Grant does convinces Kerr that he’s worth dumping her billpayer for—until he takes her to visit his grandmother, the incomparably nauseous Cathleen Nesbitt. Suddenly Grant possesses everything Kerr wants, even though he’s got zilch. And he’s overwhelmed too—Kerr’s the dream girl with a singing voice like Marni Nixon’s. Why, she even sings in French and gives old granny an impromptu heart-wrenching hug! Though Nesbitt’s moments tax to the max, and the engineered schmaltz later on is like a super soaked Depend, it’s the Kerr & Grants on-ship “affair” that begins to burden our tolerances. While never quite denied, it’s never quite confirmed; McCarey’s Catholicism navigates around the bedroom issue. (He also avoids how Grant manages to replenish his bank account; where did the big money come from to book two additional trips on the S.S. Constitution?) For the first hour, despite ignored SOSs, this movie sails on cultured debauchee seduction; it’s the second hour, when McCarey turns these two courtesans into saints, that nearly sinks it. As matter of fact Grant was undergoing psychiatrist-administered LSD treatments during the making of Affair. No way to detect anything druggy about his performance, there is a quietly palpable element of an exhaustion about him here that seems to have fortified his trademark style in his last screen roles—he gives somnambulism a fresh coat of gloss. It was Grant’s intent in Affair to bring out something more personal, to be less the fake he felt inside, never more apparent than in The Pride and the Passion. (Despite his perfectionism on set, he said more than once, “I was an utter fake, a know-it-all who knew very little.” Reinforcing the positive, Hitchcock would tell him, “The best screen actor is the man who can do nothing extremely well.”) If we accept that women bid for his services because his everlasting Coppertone technique gets their juices flowing, there’s not much if any credibility he’s some kind of artist here in search of spiritual renewal, which was another reason he gave for experimenting with LSD. In too many scenes he’s trapped in maudlin bits no actor could play without gagging; his character’s “art” represents less the intended maturity and more the worst of McCarey’s idealism as Left Bank off-season tourist religiosity. Deborah Kerr never looked more toothsome: decked out in designer clothes, draped in stoles, capped by soft red hair, she’s almost a set; she exudes an amusing theatricality. Like Grant, there’s no way she can redeem the sap-sucking moments—especially the pre-Sound of Music ones with those rainbow coalition kids singing such scratching-against-the-blackboard stuff like “He Knows You Inside” and “Tomorrow Land.” But all she’s really there for is to be Grant’s Xmas present. And ours. With Richard Denning as Kerr’s credit dispenser, and Neva Patterson who, as Grant’s check book, does skillful dumbfounded reactions during Robert Q. Lewis’s TV interview.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2008 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.