The History of Leo McCarey’s Love Affair

by Megan Bianco

As we all know, there are a few stories that become so embraced and beloved by both Hollywood and the general public, it becomes practically a tradition to occasionally produce multiple screen interpretations of said stories. The most famous examples of this are the four remakes of William Wellman’s “A Star is Born” (1937); originally filmed as George Cukor’s “What Price Hollywood?” (1932). Other examples are the three popular Hollywood movie adaptations of Miklos Laszlo’s 1937 play “Parfumerie” as Ernst Lubitsch’s “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940), Robert Z. Leonard’s “In the Good Old Summertime” (1949) and Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail” (1998). And of course, some of the most iconic love stories in film history are the various remakes of Leo McCarey’s romantic melodrama “Love Affair” (1939). Originally a box-office hit with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne as two unavailable people who fall in love while traveling on the same cruise ship, the film industry struck gold again in the future. The most famous and successful version of this classic tale is “An Affair to Remember” (1957) starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr as the leads with McCarey returning as director.

The backstory behind the original “Love Affair” is that supposedly McCarey, one of the biggest screwball comedy and romantic comedy directors in the business, felt in need of a new genre for creative inspiration. The result was impressive, to say the least. A second remake was produced in 1994 with the original title directed by Glen Gordon Caron, and co-lead by real-life couple Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. This movie had a moderate reception, but didn’t sustain the same pop culture impact as the first two efforts. Interestingly, only a year earlier, another popular Ephron romantic comedy, “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993) included many references and callbacks to “An Affair to Remember”.

While viewers have always enjoyed this set of films, critics were usually divided on the schmaltzy plotline of two grown, professional adults making a pact to meet in NYC a whole year later if both were still unmarried. Revisiting “An Affair to Remember” this past week, I did find the plot a bit farfetched as well as the few musical sequences shoed in as an excuse to have Marni Nixon sing for another Kerr character following Walter Lang’s “The King and I” (1956). If I were to rank and compare all the various screen attempts since 1939, I think my favorite is actually “Sleepless in Seattle”. But as is usual in times lacking new, original entertainment content, these films all work as an excuse to check out and analyze already existing classics for our own enjoyment.

Megan Bianco

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