Imagine meeting someone through a porthole, that’s what happens in this film when a gust of wind sends Michel Marnet’s letter flying. The lady who is kind enough to return it is the friendly Terry McKay. The two acquaintances enjoy each others company and strike up a friendship in the few days before they dock in New York. Both of them have fiancees waiting for them. They begin seeing a lot of each other, but they also start to notice that the other passengers are looking on.
One day they make a stop and Michel pays a quick visit to his grandmother. Terry agrees to come along and strikes up a fast friendship with the elderly woman who really likes her. As they get close to New York Michel and Terry agree to meet in 6 months at the top of the Empire State Building. By then he will know if he can carry a job to support her. So it goes.
The 6 months finally passes and the time of the meeting arrives. An excited Terry rushes off to “get married” but tragedy strikes. Michel waits all alone and she never shows. For a long while they lose all contact as Terry recuperates and Michel continues to paint while nursing a broken heart. When he finally tracks her down, they share a slightly awkward introduction. In a marvelous sequence, Michel tells her about how “he” missed the meeting and apologizes for what “she” must have gone through. She knows what happened now, but Terry still will not tell him what happened to her, because she did not want to be a burden. In a eureka moment, Michel figures it out and goes to embrace his love. As she did the whole film, Terry accepts the hardship and meets it with a joyful heart.
Love Affair is just that, but it fails to lower itself to uninhibited passion and romance without any substance of character. Its leads are not that superficial. They are better than that and certainly more complex. In all honesty, I never have been a big fan of Charles Boyer. I see his appeal as a suave, debonair Frenchmen with an accent, but he never did anything for me. Here I saw him as more than a playboy. He filled that expectation at first, but the scenes with his kindly grandmother and then when he thinks Terry have forgotten him, show a softer, more vulnerable side.
I do not quite know why, but Irene Dunne is especially enjoyable to watch. Whether it her skill as a comedienne with comic timing or the expressions on her face, I find her endearing every moment on the screen. She makes me smile just as she smiles. In many ways, she reminds me of another actress of the 1930s, Jean Arthur. However, Arthur I know far better because of films like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. With Dunne, I have seen very little and yet I have been so impressed by her. Love Affair was another film that proved her genial appeal to me.
Furthermore, Leo McCarey does not get enough credit, because he is a great director with some great films to his name like The Awful Truth. He would later remake Love Affair as An Affair to Remember, which was a success in itself.