Beautiful and Bubbling Like Pink Champagne: LOVE AFFAIR (1939)

…And wishes are the dreams we dream when we’re awake…

Seven or eight-ish years ago, I discovered a film called Love Affair, a delightful romantic drama starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. It was directed by Leo McCarey, who also directed An Affair to Remember (1957), the first remake of Love Affair, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The latter is more well-known today than the original movie is, likely because because it stars the always-popular Grant and possibly because of how much it’s referenced in pop culture (for instance, Sleepless in Seattle and Gossip Girl).

Love Affair was nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role (Irene Dunne), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Maria Ouspenskaya), Best Writing (Original Story), Best Art Direction, and Best Original Song – “Wishing (Will Make It So)”

It’s not officially considered to be a holiday film, but Love Affair is one, in my book. Some of the film’s most pivotal moments take place around Christmas and the New Year and its message and story is full of warmth – the kind of atmosphere most people want to surround themselves with during the holidays.

Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne in Love Affair (1939)

Famous French artist/playboy Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer) is aboard a ship which is headed for New York City, to meet his fiancée, an heiress named Lois Clarke (Astrid Allwyn). After boarding, Michel meets a former nightclub singer named Terry McKay (Irene Dunne), who also happens to be engaged. Michel is attracted to her and flirts with her, waiting to see how she’ll respond.

Although Terry calls Michel out for heavily flirting with her as an engaged man, they become fond of each other quickly. Michel begins to show a more mature and thoughtful side to Terry….. They eat dinner together every night and spend almost every waking minute together. This goes on until they realize that Michel’s fame will probably draw attention to them, because it’s known that he is engaged.

One of the sweetest moments of the film occurs when the ship makes a stop in Madeira, Portugal, Michel tells Terry that his grandmother (Maria Ouspenskaya) lives on the island and that he would love to bring Terry to along to meet her.

Ouspenskaya’s performance as Janou is one of the standouts of the film. Michel’s sweet grandmother lives in what looks to be a little piece of peaceful paradise. Janou and Terry hit if off. Before leaving, Terry sings a song for Janou. (This is the first of several songs we get to hear Irene Dunne sing in the film.)

After Michel and Terry return to their cruise, they both come to terms with their situation: they’re in love, but they’re both engaged to other people. What now?

The night before the end of the cruise, Michel and Terry make a pact: to meet at the top of the Empire State Building (the tallest building in the world at the time) in exactly six months if they’re able to. Michel will go if he can make enough money to support Terry and Terry will go as long as she hasn’t changed her mind. (It’s implied that this plan also includes Terry and Michel breaking up with their partners.)

Image result for love affair 1939 irene dunne

As usual, I don’t want to go too far into the plot, just in case I’d be spoiling the rest of the story for someone who hasn’t seen any versions of this movie.

However, I want to highlight Irene Dunne’s performance in this film for a moment. As I mentioned a bit earlier, she sings several times in the film.

One of the scenes in which Irene sings “Wishing (Will Make It So)” features a sister act called The Brian Sisters. You can hear all three of the sisters’ vocals but only one of them made it to the screen – Gwen (she is the girl on the right side of the photo below).

Irene Dunne in Love Affair (1939)

Here is the scene:

Okay, I know I said I wouldn’t venture off to any spoiler territory, but I can’t not talk about Love Affair and leave out the best scene (and one of the most romantic scenes of all time). If you haven’t seen the film and plan on seeing it and don’t want to hear how it ends, then stop here.

My favorite part, of course, is the final scene in which Michel unexpectedly visits Terry on Christmas Eve and learns that she couldn’t make it to the top of the Empire State Building because of her accident. I love how Terry tries to distract him while he’s trying to see if she has the painting he did of her and Michel’s reaction when he sees that she has the painting hung up in her bedroom. The acting he does with his facial expressions gets me every time.

This post is a part of the annual Summer Under the Stars blogathon, hosted by Kristen of Journeys in Classic Film and her Ticklish Business podcast co-host Samantha.

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