An Affair to Remember isn’t much more than a shipboard comedy turned gooey Catholic morality lesson about the dangers of love at first port of call during the Eisenhower era. Cary Grant’s a failed artist as “big dame hunter” gigolo engaged to a 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. 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 as initial SOS. 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 & Grant on-ship “affair” that begins to burden our tolerances. While never quite denied, it’s never quite confirmed; McCarey’s Catholicism navigates around the cabin issue. (He also avoids how Grant replenishes his bank account; where did the big money come from to book two additional trips on the S.S. Constitution?) When McCarey turns these two courtesans into saints during the second half, the ship nearly sinks at home port. As matter of fact Grant was beginning his first unplanned therapist-administered LSD treatment around the time of Affair, initiated by his then-wife Betsy Drake who was worried the marriage was in trouble when he fell for Sophia Loren while making The Pride and the Passion. No way to detect anything druggy about his performance, there is a palpable enervation about him here that seems to fortify his trademark style—he gives somnambulism a fresh coat of gloss. His intent in Affair was to bring out something personal, to be more than the nothing he felt inside, never so apparent than in The Pride and the Passion. More than once he would say, “I was an utter fake, a know-it-all who knew very little.” (Hitchcock would tell him the awful truth: “The best screen actor is the man who can do nothing extremely well.”) We accept that ladies of the screen bid for his services because his everlasting Coppertone image gets their juices flowing but we don’t buy that there’s any newfound credibility that he’s an artist in search for purposefulness; in too many scenes he’s trapped in maudlin bits no actor could play without gagging, so he gets some sympathy for needing a little help from some trips to get through his character’s “art,” representing less the intended maturity and more the worst of McCarey’s Left Bank off-season tourist religiosity. Kerr can’t redeem her sap-sucking moments, either—especially the pre-Sound of Music ones with those rainbow coalition kids singing scratching-against-the-blackboard stuff like “He Knows You Inside” and “Tomorrow Land.” Yet she’s never looked more toothsome: decked out in designer clothes, draped in stoles, capped by soft red hair, she exudes amusing theatricality. 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.