My Morning With An Affair To Remember
The Perfect Romantic Movie
To get into the Valentine’s Day spirit, I watched An Affair To Remember for the millionth time. As with many people, this movie holds a special place in my heart. The very thought of this movie makes me tear up. I would consider myself to be a fan of both Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Bringing them together, makes for a perfect movie. The story line isn’t half bad either.
We begin with a shot of New York City in the winter. Through the snow covered trees, we can see the Empire State Building. Vic Damone, with that gorgeous voice, is singing the title song. Talk about setting the mood!
The next shot is of a cruise ship on its voyage from Europe to New York City. We are introduced to Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant), a playboy who dabbles in painting. He is traveling to NYC to meet up with his fiancé. Though he is contacted by a lady in Paris who he had an affair with, we are lead to believe that his engagement is the real deal. Suddenly, Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) comes into the picture. She too is traveling to NYC to meet up with her fiancée. However, she is the perfect English lady. She quickly cuts Nickie down to size. She discourages his pickup lines and behavior, mocking them. He’ll have to do better to woo her. Even through their protective exteriors, their chemistry is unbelievable.
Immediately seeing something similar in the other, they relate their stories. Both are seen as objects to their lovers. Her fiancee believes her to be too dim to understand his work. His fiance doesn’t believe he should paint. They both want to be seen as more well-rounded people. Only with each other, can they truly be the version of themselves that they believe they are.
When they begin to feel close, they receive reminders (letters, etc.) from their partners that they aren’t free to love each other. The audience can see the water moving behind these characters, though they turn their backs on it, reminding us that their voyage will end soon. Nickie and Terry have met the person they’ve always dreaded they’d meet, the only person who could make them realize they shouldn’t be engaged. They are in love, but are fighting it.
As with everyone, Nickie has a soft spot, his grandmother. You can see his playboy exterior melt away when he’s near her. Nickie and Terry are brought closer together at the grandmother’s villa. In the chapel, you can see that Terry is praying with all of her might for something. Is she praying to be able to fight the urge to love Nickie? Though having just told his grandmother that he doesn’t pray, he clearly is praying for something. Could it be he is asking for God to not grant Terry’s wish?
Terry seems to fit right in and immediately forms a bond with the grandmother. Along with the grandmother, we wonder why the protagonists aren’t together. She confesses that she doesn’t worry about Nicky when she sees him with Terry. She is a true grandmother, seeing only the best in him and building him up to Terry. With her piano playing, she sets the mood for them, urging them to fall in love. Were they not hooked on each other already, they are now. We grow more appreciative of our grandmothers by watching this one work her magic.
Nickie and Terry’s first kiss is filmed just off camera. This has always bothered me. Why was it filmed like this? Did the director (Leo McCarey) do this to show the audience that the first kiss isn’t really the most important moment in a relationship? Was this kiss just too risqué in 1957? I will continue to wonder about this kiss every time I see it.
Because affairs were still taboo back then, Nickie and Terry must hide their feelings for each other from the other passengers. However, even when they feel they have done their best, it becomes clear that all of their work was for naught. The passengers have photos. There are no secrets on a cruise ship. They wasted the entire trip sneaking around when they could’ve been together.
Their last night together is extremely bittersweet. They are finally public, but they must say goodbye the following morning. They can’t enjoy the night together and retire to bed early. Before they do, Nickie proposes a plan. Realizing that to have a life together they must forgo the niceties of life, they need to decide what matters more, love or money. In order for them to be together, he must get a job to support her. After a sleepless night, they meet on deck to finalize their plan. In six months, after making money, they will meet at the top of the Empire State Building where he will ask her to marry him. They will finally have a life together then. It is so sad that their respective partners think that their return home means a wedding and the start of a new, joint life. Though a hopeless romantic, I’ve felt bad for rooting for Nicky and Terry when I know how sad it’s going to make their lovers. How can love so beautiful be so destructive?
My favorite moment in the film happens on the dock. Each in the grasp of their lover, Nickie secretly kisses Terry’s gloved hand and she places it to her lips. I always burst into tears at this part. Without the right direction, perfect timing and skilled actors, that action could’ve gone unnoticed. However, it’s the first thing I think of when someone mentions this movie. Small actions mean the most especially when you aren’t in the position to make large ones.
We check in on Nickie and Terry three months later. They are making good on their promises. Nickie is painting again, living the life of starving artist. Terry is singing in a nightclub in Boston. Feeling that he isn’t making enough money as an artist, he takes a less glamorous job as a billboard painter. It is a definite compromise for him. You would think with such dedication and willingness to do what needs to be done their happy ending is soon to come, but there’s a delay. Can you get the scream Terry lets out when she gets hit out of your head? I can’t. And to think he is up there, waiting for her, hearing the sirens, thinking she has stood him up. It’s almost too much to take! If only Terry’s ex had gone to tell him what had happened. It makes for a better, more dramatic film if Nickie is left out in the rain. If he had come for her in the hospital, would we have met the adorable Catholic singing children? Probably not. Everything happens for a reason, even in movies, I guess.
Months later, meeting up unexpectedly at the ballet, Nickie and Terry are at a loss for words. They want to say so much, but are too hurt to say more than a greeting. Naturally, each thinks something different of the other. He still thinks she stood him up and is bitter. She knows she can’t make up for the pain she’s caused him. Both think the other has returned to their ex. This movie is full of moments that you wish you could step in and work as a go between for them.
There is happy ending though. Piecing together all of the clues that Terry inadvertently dropped, Nickie goes to confront Terry at her apartment. She confesses that while she’s currently unable to walk, she’ll walk again, someday, for him. They will be together after all. The film ends with the same shot it began with, coming full circle.
This movie means so much too so many people because it touches upon so many things. To some degree, we have all experienced forbidden love. Did you date someone at an age that your parents felt you were too young? Did you love a friend who was just coming out of a bad relationship and felt it was wrong to pursue something with them? We have all made a commitment to something that we regretted committing to. Have you lost sleep over a promotion you took when you didn’t want the job in the first place? Have you gone on a diet the week before Christmas? We have all feared that we won’t be accepted. Can someone as attractive as them love me in spite of our height difference? Am I really cool enough to hang out with the cool kids? Every artistic person struggles with the love of their craft versus the need for money. This movie is as much about love of another as it about love of yourself. How often do we keep ourselves from happiness due to fear and insecurities? How often do you hide behind a façade?
Over fifty years later, An Affair To Remember remains the movie we compare all other romantic movies too. Referenced in far too many movies to list, its popularity hasn’t dwindled. I know that today and tomorrow, many a person will watch this movie, tissues in hand. May they know they are not alone in their tears.
To everyone, I wish you happiness and love on Valentine’s Day and always. Remember. Love is something to celebrate every day of the year.
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