There’s just something about the romantic movies of 1939 (Gone with the Wind, Intermezzo, Wuthering Heights, etc) that just seems to be, well, more romantic than films made in any other year. And Love Affair is a particularly fine example of romance done very romantically, holding an appeal that has lasted more than 70 years.
Director Leo McCarey was known for high comedy (Duck Soup) and light romance (The Awful Truth) but not love stories when he set about writing Love Affair for two of the period’s most engaging stars, Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. Boyer, however, though well known as the dark and sophisticated lover, had yet to conquer comedy of any type, where as Dunne’s personae was that of the playful and charismatic lady, equally capable at musicals as she was in light comedy. So, it was an interesting prospect, to say the least, when the three came together to create an iconic love story for the ages, full of enduring passion and the hearts deepest desires.
On the surface, Love Affair’s story is somewhat basic in the sense that two people meet and fall in love and must overcome obstacles in order to be together. The difference here is that the people involved are spoiled by the wealth of their current attachments, but when they find a chance at true love, they willingly give up their access to riches in order to be with each other instead. Initially, Boyer’s debonair playboy and Dunne’s small-town-girl-made-good are merely flirty, habitually bantering about sexual innuendos almost as a form of exercise.
But as their mutual attraction grows, their masks are lowered, revealing to each other their true nature and exposing these two opportunists for what they really are: soul mates. The undeniable attraction generated by the two magnetic stars simply oozes from the screen and creates a palpable chemistry. It is simply a matter of time before the characters fall into a deep and lasting love, the type of which neither has ever experienced, nor wants to give up. Plans are made to meet again after each has proven worthy of the other. But fate has other plans, as a chance accident and a series of misunderstandings intervene. It is not until the very last moments that the destined lovers are brought together again in one of the most tear jerking scenes ever to grace the silver screen.
A personal favorite of both Boyer and Dunne, Love Affair was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actress. And although McCarey remade the film nearly twenty years later with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in the much more popular and better-remembered An Affair to Remember (something more to do with Grant’s unequalled star appeal than the quality of the film), the director preferred the first version. McCarey deemed Love Affair as being the one he most perfectly executed, coming closer than any of his other films to being exactly what he had hoped it to be - certainly a remarkable achievement that most Hollywood veterans never come close to realizing.