The film is considered one of the most romantic of all time, according to the American Film Institute. It was directed by Leo McCarey and was a remake of McCarey's 1939 film Love Affair, starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. An Affair to Remember was almost identical to Love Affair on a scene-to-scene basis. McCarey used the same screenplay as the original film, which was penned by Delmer Daves and Donald Ogden Stewart.
Nickie Ferrante (Grant), a well-known playboy and painter, meets Terry McKay (Kerr) on an ocean liner. They fall in love with each other despite the fact they are both engaged to other people. They agree to reunite on top of the Empire State Building in six months' time if they still feel the same.
On the day of their rendezvous, Terry is struck by a car and crippled. Nickie waits for her all the day long, even in the rain. Terry wakes up in the hospital and asks to be taken into the Empire State Building. She realizes that she is crippled, and decides to become a teacher. Nickie returns to his old job. His former fiancee asks him to go to an opera. Terry is also attending the same opera. Nickie sees Terry there and can only bring himself to say hello to her. He is too proud to ask her why she didn't show up, and she is too proud to tell him that she is crippled.
Not wanting to burden him, Terry doesn't contact him, leading him to believe she has changed her mind about their love. The couple remains separated until fate again intervenes. Nickie decides to visit Terry to tell her he wanted to apologize for not keeping their appointment at the Empire State Building, even though he had been there. Their conversation eventually comes around as to why Terry wasn't there and she asks that there be no more questions. He gives her the shawl that his grandmother had promised to give her when they had visited on the Riviera at one of the ocean liner's port of call. He told her that he had painted a picture of her wearing the shawl. All that he knows is that a crippled woman had picked it up but he did not know her identity. After he tells her that a crippled woman had picked up the painting, he realizes that Terry has not once gotten up from her place on the couch, not even to greet him when he first came in. He also sees that her legs are covered by a blanket. He starts talking just to keep her from saying anything and goes into her bedroom where he finds his painting. He realizes at last her true reason for not meeting him on that fateful day and they are finally re-united.
Life Response in An Affair to Remember
The title mentions “an affair” which gives a moral twist to the whole story that is really not reflected by the final emotions of the characters. It is certainly not an affair. It is a lived emotion or moment of truth in human emotions. The fine emotions of the characters imperfectly grasped by the writer of the story give an angularity and twist to the course of events, rendering soft moments into sharp exchanges. The theme is a fine one. The author has not realized the fineness of the theme. For him it is a story. It is a story where the characters and emotions they have outgrow the dimensions of the writer. As Nickie Ferrante was so popular and known all over the world, he is out of the romantic picture. As he is a philanderer, his love affair is doomed from the beginning because he has already attained fame worldwide. The energies for accomplishment in his life were over and he had no more energy for a serious accomplishment like marriage. That is why they could not meet at the Empire State building as planned.
If a partnership contains a weak and a strong person, any deficiency on the part of one will be paid for by the weaker member. Terry pays for his weakness. He has betrayed his Parisian girlfriend, Gabriela, and when she calls him, she says she wants to stick a knife in his back. This anger of hers falls on Terry. He tries to put off Gabriela by a ploy of saying the phone is disconnected. Life plays a ploy on him. He tries to give Terry genuine love. That love carries his past which descends on her as a crippled body. Women want to adore him in spite of his unfaithfulness. He won’t be able to be faithful to anyone and even when he offers faithfulness, life will prevent it. He tells Mr. Hathaway on the ship that he cheats at cards, as an excuse to avoid the man’s invitation to play. He is a self-aware, dishonest man. Terry finds his cigarette case, which he left on a chair. As a joke, on first meeting with Nickie, she says, “I am a jewel thief.” Out of an informal joke, they have sealed their course of action. She refuses to immediately give it to him, saying “How do I know it is yours?” This shows she does not want to part with it, she wants to relate to him. When she mocks the man at the first meeting, it is one of the important landmarks of their relationship. He follows her to her room. Six months later, he waits for her at the Empire State Building and she doesn’t come. If she had been chasing him in the beginning and not he chasing her, she would have come to the Empire State Building and not he. When she was young, she fell and broke her leg. Her crippled legs have a history.
Both come at the same time to the bar to order drinks. This is a life response. Each has the other in their mind. He had originally proposed that if he had an affair with her aboard ship, life would be like “pink champagne”. At the bar, both order “pink” champagne separately. It is not only on emotions that they meet, but on a particular point of correspondence. Again it is a life response when they are sitting back to back in the restaurant, unaware of each other behind. Earlier, they separated at the bar when some ladies tried to eavesdrop on their conversation. The unfinished energy of the previous meeting brings them together again in the restaurant.
When he takes her to his grandmother’s house in France, she feels peace there. That is the sanction for their coming together. The grandmother is a faithful woman. To meet her and be liked by her is further sanction for their coming together later. Terry says, “I think I could stay here forever.” This means she is responding to her emotions for him, not the place. Both pray in the Grandmother’s chapel. His life is so full of falsehood and shallowness. There is his negative behavior and evil past, which rise to the surface and blast him. The consequence is he has to devote his life to a crippled woman. His grandmother remarks, “ I am afraid Nickie will have to pay the price someday…” She knows he will definitely pay a price. It is through the grandmother that Terry comes to him. She sees the genuine affection between Nickie and his grandmother, the positive side of the man. She has to overcome his negative side by her belief in his positive potentialities. They return to the ship after spending 5 hours with his grandmother. She has been very moved by the grandmother. Nickie meets Terry on deck later and finds her in tears. She says, “Beauty always makes me cry.” Beauty is of the mind and does not have the power of consummation which is at the level of the physical. Her mind does not have the power to accomplish in life. She is not able to meet him at the Empire State building after six months. On their last day aboard ship, he says, “This is probably my last chance.” He talks of marriage, not of love. Marriage is a social arrangement for which he is not qualified and she is not either, having no income. That is why they cannot meet as planned after six months.
It is a shallow emotion, not romance, not passion. They don’t talk of positive consummation, they talk of not missing it – “We’d be fools to let happiness pass us by.” She says, “Marriage is a very serious step for a girl like me.” She means she is poor and he doesn’t have any money either. She comments, “If things don’t work out…” After having said that, she later has an accident. When she is on the way to meet him at the Empire State Building, she meets Ken at the dress shop. She tells him excitedly that she is going to get married. Instead of congratulating her, he says that if she ever needs anything, if she ever needs love, he will be there for her. He says this unconsciously, but it comes true. (He later takes care of her after her accident.) She is rushing off to her marriage and Ken is losing her permanently. His inner reaction contributes to her accident. She has also betrayed him after five years of taking his money and preparing herself to be his wife. Her betrayal is also another reason for her accident. After meeting Ken, she turns and runs in the wrong direction, away from the Empire State Building. Her decision to marry is momentarily reversed because of meeting Ken. She tells the taxi driver that she is getting married and that he should congratulate her. In reply, the driver says something negative about marriage -- “Marriage is something to rush to?” This is a sign of what is coming. Within a minute, she has the accident.
During the six-month interval, his grandmother had died. Because she died, they could not come together. In the last scene when he visits her in her apartment, he is trying to be good to her, to be extremely generous by lying (that he did not come to the Empire State Building). But being extremely formal with each other creates an awkwardness and angularity. They are not frank with each other. This formality expresses both the occasion and the American culture. For this last visit, he comes to her only to hand over the grandmother’s shawl. It is because of the painting of her wearing the grandmother’s shawl that the truth finally comes out about her accident. So they can finally come together ONLY because of the grandmother.