Remembering An Affair to Remember by
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Prompted By Rewatchable Movies

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My younger brother claims to have seen the 1978 movie Animal House 100 times. I have no reason to dispute his claim as I’m pretty sure he lived a version of this National Lampoon classic during his years at college. I, on the other hand, have watched An Affair to Remember more times than I care to admit. What is it about this 1957 movie that still makes my female friends sigh when I mention it? Why do we joke about watching it someday at a pajama party in our senior housing?

Amazingly, An Affair to Remember, the movie women of my generation shed pools of tears over, just turned sixty-four.

Amazingly, An Affair to Remember, the movie women of my generation shed pools of tears over, just turned sixty-four. When my BFF and I went to a 60th anniversary showing of the film, we came armed with tissues. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The beautiful theme song that made us cry through the opening credits. The romance and (spoiler alert) happy ending following a great tragedy. Perfect.

Of course, we all had crushes on Cary Grant. He was so dashing, elegant, and handsome. Playing his usual role as a debonair playboy with a heart of gold, even though he was actually 53 when the movie came out, he falls in love with a plucky and pretty-but-not-too-sexy singer played by Deborah Kerr. Of course, there is an obstacle to their romance. They are both committed to other people.

They come to what I thought as a pre-teen was a perfectly romantic way to resolve their dilemma. In six months, if they still wanted to be together and had ended their relationships, they would meet at the top of the Empire State Building. But, alas, a car hits Kerr’s character as she rushes to the site, leaving poor Grant to believe she no longer loves him. Sob.

Well, life moves on and Kerr is now in a wheel chair and thus believes she is no longer worthy of Grant’s love. Grant stops his playboy lifestyle and becomes a painter, and Kerr works as a music teacher. Grant sees Kerr at a concert and decides to visit her on Christmas Eve (for extra sentimental value – cue the violins). He almost leaves her apartment without knowing what happened to her when, major corny irony, he mentions that a woman in a wheel chair was given the painting he had been working on when they were in love.

Are you ready for this? He sees the painting hanging next to her wheel chair in her bedroom. Cue up the music again. They embrace. I cry. And Kerr says, “If you can paint, I can walk; anything can happen, don’t you think?”

Well maybe. Lots of folks who are paraplegics wish it were that simple. But never mind that. In honor of the film’s 64th birthday, I am remembering how that movie made me feel. And now I can’t get the theme song out of my mind.

But the larger question is why was that movie such a big deal for my friends and me? What lessons was it teaching us about love and romance? Did we really think there was a Cary Grant lurking in our futures? And more importantly, what did this film teach a generation of women?

Actually, as much as I love the movie, it probably taught women who came of age in the late fifties and early sixties some questionable lessons.

  1. If you have a chance to be with Cary Grant, it’s fine to dump a man who loves you.
  2. If you are disabled, there is no way you are worthy of Grant’s love.
  3. Don’t communicate or tell a guy the truth. It’s much better to suffer alone in silence.
  4. Be patient, take no initiative, and wait for good things to come to you.
  5. Kids are kind of annoying and creepy. And it’s OK for the black kids to stand in back and apparently be the only ones who can tap dance.
  6. Love and romance will always triumph.

I have definitely renounced lessons one through five, but there is a part of me that can’t let go of number six. I guess romance is also pretty much passé in these pandemic times that favor dark, crime-filled flicks. In An Affair to Remember, the vivacious, virtuous Deborah Kerr gets the guy. Grant and Kerr don’t even really kiss on screen. And yet, the movie is incredibly romantic.

I grew up in simpler times. But who wouldn’t favor theme song lyrics extolling a love affair as a wondrous thing, something born in a first embrace, and a flame burning through eternity? With violins playing in the background, no less.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real, join my Facebook community, and visit my website.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    I watched the movie after seeing Sleepless in Seattle, so sort of knew the premise, but oh my, did I love it too. Definitely worthy of all those tears and rewatching, Laurie. Cary Grant managed to look great way longer than he should have and the story tugs at the heart, no matter what is correct these days. I totally agree with your assessment.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Just a great story/review, Laurie, of a great movie. Though definitely a “chick flick” — and of a very different era — even we guys could appreciate it. And, of course, would have wanted to be Cary Grant.

    That said, I did particularly enjoy your entirely accurate analysis at the end of your story about how many of the “lessons” from that movie are sexist, ablist, racist, etc. Even timeless movies can become untimely.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      John, you are so right about the “chick flick” label for that movie. Says a lot that you could also appreciate, although I dou bt any men have a fantasy about rewatching it with their friends at an old lady’s pajama party.

  3. I agree about # 6 Laurie!

    Here’s to a little less violence and war, and much more love and romance on all those screens we’re always watching!

  4. Marian says:

    For so many of us, this movie hits home because it’s how we wish things could be (and Cary Grant doesn’t hurt the premise). Realist though I am, it is very satisfying to watch a movie when love triumphs, which is why I love your fantasy about the pajama party, Laurie. We will keep Kleenex in business!

  5. Khati Hendry says:

    The plot had a bit of the O’Henry touch, the bittersweet sacrifices given in love, with a twist. Somehow I missed this, though I saw my share of Cary Grant movies. Thanks for the recap and the link to the film’s conclusion. You are right that not everything ages well, and it can be cringe-worthy what we now see that we missed before.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Yes, there were many bad lessons in that movie for a young, impressionable lass like me. Nevertheless, my friends and I still cry when we watch it. If you like Cary Grant and old time romance, check it out.

  6. Aww, thanks for the clip, Laurie…actually made me a little teary! But why didn’t they kiss?!?

  7. Suzy says:

    Believe it or not, I have never seen it. I knew about the plot point of meeting at the top of the Empire State Building because it is used so often in homage to this movie (including in The Mindy Project), but I didn’t realize that their meeting didn’t happen. Now that you’ve shown me the ending, I don’t know whether I will watch it or not. Maybe I’ll wait for an old ladies’ pajama party, that sounds like fun!

  8. I absolutely hate the term chick flick. While AATR is not on my repeat list I have seen, many years ago. Entirely voluntarily. And I love your Letterman-like list (abbreviated though it may be.). I also think that you have a soft spot for Sleepless in Seattle, yes?

  9. I am now realizing that I saw very few movies before I went to college. There was a drive-in a couple of miles from my childhood home (Dublin, Ohio), but I saw maybe two movies there. Otherwise it was a minimum half-hour drive into Columbus to a real movie theater. So I barely knew who Cary Grant was until the late 1060s.

  10. What’s 900 years here or there?

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