Suave man-of-the-world Nicky Ferrante meets beautiful nightclub singer Terry McKay on a European tour and, despite both being engaged to another, they inexorably fall in love. Wrestling with their dilemma, they decide to leave things for six months and then meet at the top of the Empire State Building.
Something of a soppy legend, thanks to being heavily referenced by Meg Ryan’s aw-shucks dreamer from Sleepless In Seattle, Leo McCarey’s slight but effective weepy is, in fact, a remake of his own 1939 movie Love Affair. And was to be subsequently remade again, with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, as Love Affair in 1994. Which is a lot of attention for a fairly light piece of mid-Hollywood melodrama.
McCarey’s film rests, effectively, on a single, probing question: when you are in love, can you still fall in love? Well, according to his movie, cruelly and sentimentally, yes, you can. Pristine couple, Grant and Kerr, meet cute on a picturesque cruise of Europe, hold fire on their impulses as they are both attached to another, before recognising the inevitable. The crux is their pact – to meet six months hence atop that famous New York skyscraper — and what exactly is the right thing to do. Loyalty will contend with passion, and the fluffier (and better) romcom elements will drift into sluggish romdram. Hankies at the ready.
This is a film from a definite age; full of unrequited lust that is expressed in tight smiles and distant looks, and is inevitably headed for a righteous but sorrowful conclusion. It was the ‘50s, someone was bound to do the right thing. On that level, while no Brief Encounter, it plays its shallow hand with skill. Yet, Grant, with his crisp delivery and crisper suits, never cuts it as a tragic figure, he’s too in control, ever clad in irony. Kerr, so light and attractive at first, becomes hemmed in by some dreadful songs (dubbed by Marni Nixon) and makes do, in most scenes, with a furrowed brow as if contending with lunch options rather than her emotional future.
It’s most likely the sheer hopeless romance of the finale that keeps the film alight in fans’ hearts, as if Grant is still up there awaiting his unanswered dream. Sob.
One of the most legendary tear-jerkers of the 20th century.