"An Affair to Remember" is an almost perfect film. It is as deep and rich as it is stylish and romantic.
And if someone tells you it is just a soap opera -- that person would be very, very wrong.
Yes, the film has style to burn. Deborah Kerr was never more beautiful. Her skin looks like cream; her pert, pinched nose like a blossom. She's never been more appealing than she is here. The scene where she smiles from a boat at her fiancé on shore alone is worth the price of admission.
Cary Grant seems to sleep in tuxedos. He is a walking model of male perfection.
Less observant viewers come away from this movie thinking that nothing happened, that nothing was ever at stake, that nothing was risked or gained. How wrong they are.
Kerr's amazing dresses -- how about the one with the pumpkin colored ribbons woven through the front? -- Grant's suavity, and the south of France settings are not just there to pose for the camera.
All of the beauty of this film is there to do very hard work -- to tell a less than beautiful story.
And, no, this is not a movie where nothing happens. Something is happening in every scene -- you just have to be paying attention, and you just have to be mature enough, or have your antenna up high enough, to catch the subtle messages the film is sending, and to feel in your own solar plexus, the resonances of loves, dreams, and selves risked and gained, or lost.
Nicki and Terry are both gambling much here. They are wounded people in a world of high glamor; they speak in arch codes, even as their hearts are bleeding, or their breath is caught against the cage of dreams.
Grant's character, Nicki Ferrante, is a lazy gigolo. "Gigolo" is a pretty word for an ugly situation. Ferrante is a talented artist, but he knows that he can market something else he does -- seduce women -- far more easily, and for a higher price, than he can get for his paintings.
Kerr's character, Terry McKay, as she says, had to grow up very fast, and fight off a boss who -- well -- she faced some bad stuff in her life. When a steady, but less than thrilling, man offered to set her up, she, no fool, took the offer.
These are two beautiful people swanning through life over some very ugly circumstances. They have both sold their best selves for easy money.
And, then, completely by chance, on shipboard, they meet their soul mates. This meeting doesn't just present them with an opportunity for a one night stand. It demands that they face their own fears, and become their best selves.
I'm one of those cynical people who doesn't believe in love, never mind soul mates, but this movie carries it all off so well, it makes me believe.
Grant and Kerr begin with the lightest, and subtlest, of exchanges. they say things to each other -- example: "I'd be surprised if you were surprised" -- that, if you are not paying attention and that if you don't know a lot about life -- would just go over your head.
Slowly but surely their effervescent, and yet irresistible, attraction becomes truly heavy. The scene with Grandmere Janou (Cathleen Nesbit) is amazing for all it says, without actually saying anything.
I could see a naive film-goer taking in that scene and then asking, "What was the point of that scene?" You really have to have your eyes on the screen, and have a sensitivity to human interactions. Who is looking at whom; whose face is suddenly hidden and why; who is saying what without actually saying it; and why does the sound of that boat whistle bring tears -- you have to be willing to pay attention, and to have a sense of life and human relationships, and, yes, an openness to the possibility of there being a God to understand that scene.
Here you have a man and a woman who have, basically, sold themselves to the highest bidder, and who, at that point, are perilously close to cheating. What happens? Their love is blessed by the Virgin Mary. Heavy stuff.
"We changed our course today." Truer words were never spoken.
I've got to hand it to Leo McCarey, who wrote and directed this film as well as the Academy Award winning "Going My Way." He so wonderfully brings the best, and most complex, aspects of Catholicism to the screen here. Catholicism is associated with the romance languages -- French, Italian -- and it also is friendly to this kind of romance -- a romance where fallen beauties are blindsided by the kind of tortuous, redemptive, overwhelming, fated love that demands, and gets, everything, after which, you are never the same.
If you haven't seen the movie, or "Sleepless in Seattle," I won't reveal the ending to you. I'll just say that merely thinking about the ending can make me cry such tears as, really, very few films I've ever seen can make me cry. These tears are their own species.