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Monday, May 29, 2017

The Affair Audiences Remembered

A 50's Romance That Still Floats

Leo McCarey had done for the 40's boxoffice what Frank Capra achieved in the 30's. As with latter, and historic hit that was Capra's It Happened One Night, McCarey touched patron reflex with two that showed grossing power of movies beyond all norm, Going My Way and The Bells Of St.Mary's. What made these remarkable was both coming fully of McCarey's showman brain, his a divining rod to lure millions that ordinarily had better things to do than sit in theatres. Pull them in and you had a blockbuster. McCarey magic was characters and situations that seemed like real life, letting scenes play for however long his people interacted like friends/neighbors we knew. Who else but McCarey would halt pace for a cute kid chorus in recital, twice in An Affair To Remember. For many then, and more so now, it's a slow-up, but The Bells Of St. Mary's took millions doing a same thing, so who at Fox could say no to an encore? Prestige McCarey earned saved his work from meddle by others, him a truer auteur than most who got, or claimed, the accolade. Trouble was erratic offscreen nature that made success, especially later on, isolated events. Safe harbor of remaking one of his own was insurance for An Affair To Remember in 1957. It would reunite McCarey with Cary Grant, add color/Cinemascope, and be another go at well recalled Love Affair from 1939.

McCarey developed the original story which had entered movie folklore, being of lovers who meet on shipboard, agree to rendezvous later atop the Empire State Building, and then ... Here was a most famous association the skyscraper had outside of King Kong. It would even be remade as recently as 1994. An Affair To Remember is best known of the so-far three versions, despite Love Affair being preferred by many, even as it vanished for decades other than PD dupes, a clean original only lately bowing at TCM. I assume Love Affair's negative reverted to McCarey after general release in 1939, and maybe his estate didn't renew. Anyway, it was a classic gone rogue where denuded picture/sound made status hard to uphold. An Affair To Remember, hobbled also by pan/scan on TV, got authority back via wide laserdisc, then DVD, later Blu-Ray, and now as roving theatrical ambassador for McCarey's legacy at Fathom/TCM events. Here's where new-won fans get benefit of his way with an audience, lines and gags, plus heart-wrench, nicely timed to reaction from a crowd. Wish now I had gone to see/hear how the 60-year old favorite plays, rather than solitary watch via HD Net (question to those who did attend: Were tears audible in the theatre?).

An Affair To Remember is among calcified Top Forty of old films, being one of limited group a general audience will sit willingly through. There are dated aspects, like later Breakfast At Tiffany's, Charade, others of romantic bent, but Affair, thanks to theme and Cary Grant as apex of old star appeal, is probably a most accessible of all 1957 Hollywood releases. I don't know another from that year revived so often, or to such crowd satisfaction. There was recent chat with a Shakespeare historian who complained of same plays done over and over, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, the usuals, while less noted of Bard backlog is never performed. It's that way with movies too, being finite list programmers use that seldom vary off Hit Parade agreed upon by most. Same way with music of course, songs I liked growing up are either in abundance, or nowhere to be heard. Is the Top Forty Film List indeed etched in stone? Fathom and TCM apparently work off it. We pretty much know the titles, as all are ubiquitous enough. Coming up for Fathom is Some Like It Hot. Yes, again. What other Marilyn Monroe is revived a tenth as much? Below summit of Top Forty is a Grand Canyon of obscurity where 99% of oldies dwell. Might the number swell to a Hot One Hundred? Probably not until they expand definition of "classics," though with Ferris Bueller's Day Off and ilk already there, it's unlikely more of older stuff will join the chosen.

If there's one film to sum up Cary Grant appeal, it may be An Affair To Remember. The Hitchcocks have more edge, most might prefer them, but Affair is the one to declaim, Yes, this is Grant as books and documentaries define him. He belongs more and more to a gone age. Women who dreamed of meeting someone like Grant know now that's beyond possibility. This was Mr. Ideal for a past century, better fit frankly to any century but our 21st. Query as to thought, if not expressed, by many watching An Affair To Remember today: Why aren't men like this anymore?, short answer being they never were, but at least in Grant's day, there seemed at least hope that one might turn up in real-life quest for love. His lending humor to the enterprise kept Grant clear of threat that a Clark Gable or others of he-men embodied. Grant indeed ages best of male leads from an era discredited for litany of social/political/cultural gaffes. You can show more of his with less concern of anyone calling Foul for insensitivity. Trouble was CG himself making so many wrong choices in prime, a disadvantage to being free-lance and relying always on your own judgment. For every Affair To Remember, there are three or four Houseboats, Kiss Them For Me ... and why he wouldn't do Sabrina will always baffle me (though I'm glad Bogart did).

Among gone specimen might be the "international playboy," Cary Grant's role in An Affair To Remember. They were media figures then, and aroused interest, especially where one would pluck a Rita Hayworth off vines, as did Prince Aly Khan. I doubt such roustabouts were so genteel as Cary Grant. Most were slippery as to ethics and not a few dealt contraband in addition to women they grazed on (see: friends of Errol Flynn). A still-enforced Code wouldn't let Grant's "Nicky Ferrari" be an outright seducer, which takes much of play out of his playboy, but Grant's image and appeal was always more about the run-up than consummation, so money's worth was had even for his "affair" bridled by censorship. Director McCarey was more invested in the humor plus tip to spiritual concern, as where Grant and Deborah Kerr break from romancing to pray in a chapel built by his grandmother, a scene from which I was distracted by wonder at any man Cary's age having a grandmother still above ground. Who knows but what the faith break was best received aspect of An Affair To Remember in 1957, or now. Later rom-coms would have single gal characters mooning over Affair clips and dreaming of perfect love for their own. Sleepless In Seattle in 1993 was built entirely around recall of An Affair To Remember. This may be the most venerable title Fox has in its 50's kit. Beyond expected DVD and Blu-Ray, there is the Fathom sit (some of theirs have widened out to 700 venues), and TCM current-plays An Affair To Remember in true HD, a long-awaited advantage for fans.


Blogger Jerry Kovar said...

My mom dabbed her tears silently on her hankie. The audible tears were mine, sitting through it waiting for the Audie Murphy co-feature. This turned out to be a poor WWll comedy, "Joe Butterfly". More crying.

8:01 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

What is the big deal or pseudo "special event" to go to a movie theater in order to see an HD broadcast, not real 35mm, 16mm, 8mm, or at least 9.5mm stock film, just to watch something that is played over and over again on TV, cable, etc. And in the case of this particular title it can actually found for free if you look for it.

I remember seeing the restored LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in a movie theater in authentic stock film after years of television, first, and VHS later. That was really the only time I felt that I was actually getting a far better presentation than previously.

But, guess what? The movie theater, on of the old movie palaces going back to the silent days (even though it was turned into a multiplex a few years later), was NOT crowded.

I'm tired of this "classic film" presentations, in quotation marks. The movies I would actually like to see restored and exhibited in this venues are systematically ignored and never given a chance.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Even Cary Grant knew he wasn't the Cary Grant from the movies. Women who pined for someone like him are like guys waiting for whoever guys go for these days.They exist only in the screenwriter's imagination. That's a danger in taking romantic movies too seriously: if you're waiting for something similar to happen to you, you're in for a lifetime of disappointment.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Grant shied from Billy Wilder his whole career.Maybe due to BW's total adherence to script?

9:46 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

Radiotelephonia: For me, the main reason to see a classic on the big screen is to experience a genuine audience reaction. That means comedies, mainly, although I remember a revival house audience actually screaming during "Wait Until Dark" -- and then nervously chuckling when they realized that they'd screamed. A playful Hitchcock may not get screams, but there are a lot of gasps mixed with the mordent laughs.

As for the reality of romcoms, The Onion once had an incisively funny mock news article about a guy getting arrested for doing all the things that always work in the movies. I think screen romances are, as a rule, taken as seriously as Popeye cartoons where a can of spinach enables you to beat up everybody and win the girl.

12:55 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

You mean spinach won't help you. Always works for me. Seriously, the chance to see any movie in a theater transforms the experience from one we can control (pause for a snack or a bathroom break) into a genuine experience (one we can't control). That is one of the main things about my public screenings. Once people walk in and sit down it becomes a real movie.

6:33 AM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Donald: The few times I did see classics on the big screen I actually liked the experience. I remember in particular a presentation of NOSFERATU from a rather worn out print in English and with no musical accompaniment. The first twenty minutes or so the audience was constantly laughing but as the movie advanced the laughter begun to recede and everybody were following the action with seriousness and an intensity.

This was a presentation of the Filmoteca Buenos Aires from around 30 years ago and I never forget it. Fernando Martín Peña still screens, usually for free, classic and other films almost always on film. This year, on his TV show, presented two rare Russian silents that, here in Boston, I managed to capture from the Internet stream from Argentina even though I don't follow it so much (this week is devoted to director Edward Dmytryk).

7:06 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

To Reg's comment about films in a theatre as opposed to an experience "we can control," which resonates with me, as I've always been jumpy at crowded shows, especially where I was exhibiting and nervous that something might go wrong. The only time I can truly relax with a film is when I watch alone. Even an old film seen recently with Ann can come a cropper, like "The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo," where she said, fifteen minutes in, "This is rather tepid ..."

9:12 AM  
Blogger Nick Patterson said...

Saw the Fathom event back in Feb for Valentine's Day. Cannot remember any sniffles but yours truly got a bit chocked up during the last 10 or so minutes. One would have to be made of stone not to be affected. Having said that I cannot recall being particularly affected by the movie in any emotional way. I was enjoyed the first half best. I love shipboard romances!

6:45 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

Hard to believe that the studios were still hand-coloring B&W stills well into the 50s.

7:00 PM  

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