Leo McCarey

Sog.: Mildred Cram, Leo McCarey. Scen.: Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart. F.: Rudolph Maté. M.: Edward Dmytryk, George Hively. Scgf.: Van Nest Polglase. Mus.: Roy Webb. Int.: Irene Dunne (Terry), Charles Boyer (Michel), Maria Ouspenskaya (la nonna), Lee Bowman (Kenneth Bradley), Maurice Moscovitch (Maurice Cobert), Del Henderson (il direttore della caffetteria), Lloyd Ingraham (il dottore), Tom Dugan (l’ubriaco), Joan Leslie (il cacciatore di autografi). Prod.: RKO Radio Pictures · 35mm. Bn. D.: 88’.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

A pivotal film in McCarey’s career, Love Affair both completes the trilogy on marriage begun by Make Way for Tomorrow and The Awful Truth, and introduces the spiritual themes that will shape McCarey’s great religious trilogy of the 1940s, Going My Way, The Bells of St. Mary’s and Good Sam. God, so conspicuously absent from Make Way (how could any benign deity allow this loving, fully committed couple to suffer so mightily and finally be destroyed?), is everywhere present in Love Affair, though in various disguises, from the saintly old woman (Maria Ouspenskaya) who gives her blessings to the unlikely couple formed by her playboy grandson (Charles Boyer) and the American nightclub singer (Irene Dunne) whom he has met aboard an ocean liner, to the drunk wrestling with a Christmas tree (Tom Dugan) who rouses Boyer from a fog of despondency at a crucial moment in the plot. Above all (literally) towers the immense figure of the Empire State Building, “the nearest thing to Heaven we have in New York”, where the two lovers, having separated for six months to test the validity of their union), are to be reunited. With a visual flair more akin to the work of Frank Borzage than McCarey’s usual, straightforwardly realist style, the film makes of the building a recurring image of remoteness and inaccessibility (it appears out of a cloud, or reflected in a window pane) at the same time it is a promise of ultimate order and serenity, of a higher power watching over the characters and guiding them to fulfillment.
It is hard to imagine that this perfectly constructed film, with its balance of comedy and melodrama, its casual progression toward spiritual grandeur through a series of seemingly trivial incidents, had to be hastily rewritten (by Delmer Daves and Donald Ogden Stewart) shortly after shooting began, when the French government objected to Boyer’s ‘loose’ character on the grounds that it would endanger French-American friendship on the eve of the war. Unlike Cary Grant, Boyer enthusiastically participated in McCarey’s improvisational methods, and Love Affair remained Boyer’s favorite among his Hollywood films.

Dave Kehr

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Preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with support from The Film Foundation