Saturday, January 22, 2011

AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER: Blu-Ray (20th Century-Fox 1957) Fox Home Video

Director Leo McCarey's remake of his own pre-war romance, Love Affair (1939), An Affair To Remember (1957) is a masterful update of that quintessential weepy for the post-war generation. A lush, if slightly ludicrous mélange of nearly every romantic cliché the movies have ever given us, the strengths in Delmar Daves and McCarey’s screenplay far outweigh the misfires – including several needlessly inserted musical offerings voiced by Marni Nixon that greatly slow down the plot. Regardless of whether you see the original or its remake the net result is ultimately slated to turn out the same - bring Kleenex.

Perennially suave Cary Grant stars as Nicky Ferranti; a congenial enough big 'dame' hunter: a playboy all set to marry rock and gravel heiress, Lois Clark (Neva Patterson) when he accidentally meets and falls - but hard - for Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr); the park avenue play-thing of a wealthy New York financier, Kenneth Bradley (Richard Dennings).

At first McKay regards Ferranti as just a flirtatious fling. She makes it known to Nicky that her intentions are to return to New York and marry Bradley. However, after befriending Ferranti’s grandmother, Janou (Cathleen Nesbitt) Terry begins to realize that perhaps Ferranti isn’t so much a heartless womanizer as he is a lonely man in search of his soul mate.

As in the original, McKay and Ferranti discover that their love affair may not be enough to keep their dreams alive, particularly after one of them suffers a tragic accident that alters the course for both their futures. Terry is struck by a car and crippled on her way to their rendezvous at the Empire State Building, leaving Nicky - who is already on the building's observation deck - to conclude that he has been had for the price of a cheap pulp romance novel. Despondent and bitter, Nicky begins to paint - his one true love.

Courted by a local art dealer, Courbet (Fortunio Bonanova), Nicky paints from life and his inspiration catches Terry's admiration from afar. Courbet gives Terry, Nicky's painting of Janou.

Unable to see that Terry has shielded him from the truth about her paralysis, Nicky arrives at her apartment, all set to humiliate her as he believes she has hurt him. Instead, Nicky discovers the painting of Janou hanging in her bedroom. Remembering from Courbet that the woman who bought it was in a wheel chair, Nicky realizes what a sacrifice Terry has made for true love and vows to become her champion and lover once more.

It is quite simply impossible to watch An Affair to Remember with dry eyes. If the screenplay suffers from too much schmaltz at the beginning and more than a few too many musical distractions along the way, these shortcomings are instantly eradicated by the final moments in the film, so fraught with emotional satisfaction from poignantly rendered performances by Kerr and Grant that one easily forgives McCarey's need to dabble in clichés elsewhere.

By the late 1950s, Fox’s patented Cinemascope had revolutionized the movie-going experience – some continue to argue to its own detriment. Although the big screen spectacle was successful at staving off the onslaught of dwindling audience attendance due to television’s intervention, it also forced film makers to sensationalize stories that were ideally and for the most part, much more intimately suited for the non-anamorphic screen. McCarey’s Love Affair is a perfect case in point; its modest story of two people hopelessly committed to one another despite past indiscretions, slightly off kilter when stretched to Biblical proportions. Still, and to McCarey's credit, the film works on several levels. As McCarey himself once concluded: "The first film was made by an amateur - the second by a master craftsman."

It’s perhaps interesting to recall that An Affair To Remember was something of a forgotten classic until it became part of the subplot in the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romantic comedy, Sleepless In Seattle (1993). Ryan and her co-worker played by Rosie O’Donnell endlessly gush and weep over the film's premise, quoting whole portions of dialogue while indulging in a box of Kleenex. Interestingly, Sleepless in Seattle’s climax mirrors the unrequited moment from Affair to Remember – with Hanks and Ryan actually making it to their rendezvous atop the Empire State Building.

Upon Sleepless in Seattle’s theatrical release, 20th Century Fox began receiving an unusual amount of fan mail requesting that they issue An Affair To Remember on home video.

Unlike other studios that began marketing their classic movies to television as late night filler in the 1950s, Fox had resisted this impulse to exploit catalogue titles. As a result, and with very few exceptions to that rule, Fox films remained hidden from public view for several decades until overwhelming public requests came pouring in for the availability of An Affair to Remember.

Shortly thereafter Fox began a belated marketing campaign for their classic product on home video. The studio’s commitment to revisiting their classic library continues to this day.

And now arrives the Blu-Ray - perhaps not entirely welcomed by direct comparison to the remastered 2 disc DVD from a few years ago. Image quality is wildly different on the Blu-Ray. But is it more true to the original theatrical release? I wonder. Colours seems to be muddier on the Blu-Ray, particularly during some of the luxury liner sequences taking place in the dining room. Terry's dress, that looked orange and flesh tone on the DVD actually appears more brown and taupe on the Blu-Ray.

The image is also decidedly darker on the Blu-Ray. Colours overall are more soft and muted. Nothing seems to pop. But again, Fox's patented 'De-Luxe' colour and the inherent shortcomings of early Cinemascope might have something to do with these anomalies. The image is decidedly sharper and grain is very much more obvious on the Blu-Ray. This is, as it should be.

The soundtrack has been given a 7.1 Dolby Digital upgrade, using the original six track Cinemascope optics. Undeniably, the film's score by Alfred Newman and Vic Damone's vocals on the title track are the big winners here. Otherwise, the audio has some good spatiality, thanks to directionalized dialogue via the original sound mix.

Extras are all direct imports from Fox's DVD include a tribute to Cary Grant, another to Deborah Kerr and a third – and all too brief retrospective on director, Leo McCarey – along with the already available and all too short AMC produced Back-story documentary on the making of the movie that spends its time dishing dirt on Cary Grant (apparently Grant used LSD medicinally to recover from his own tragic affair run dry with Sophia Loren). Honestly, do we really need another tell all debasement of an American icon?

Also included are some stills and a theatrical trailer. Overall, the extras are disappointing. I can't really condemn the alterations in colour fidelity between the Blu-Ray and DVD offerings but I can't say that I love these discrepancies either. I also cannot honestly attest that they are an improvement. That's a personal call - one I usually refrain from but An Affair To Remember just doesn't look as good as I expected it would on Blu-Ray. Regrets.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)






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