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. 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 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; it’s the second hour, when McCarey turns these two courtesans into saints, that nearly sinks it. As matter of fact Grant was beginning his first unplanned therapist-administered LSD treatment in and around the time of Affair, a year earlier than has been reported. (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 have fortified his trademark style—he gives somnambulism a fresh coat of gloss. Grant’s 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 truth: “The best screen actor is the man who can do nothing extremely well.”) We can accept that women bid for his services because his everlasting Coppertone technique gets their juices flowing. But there’s not much if any credibility he’s an artist in search for purposefulness, or act it. If in too many scenes in Affair he’s trapped in maudlin bits no actor could play without gagging, he gets our sympathy for needing a little help from LSD to stomach his character’s “art,” representing less the intended maturity and more the worst of McCarey’s idealism as Left Bank off-season tourist religiosity. Similarly, there’s no way Deborah Kerr can redeem her sap-sucking moments—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.