February is An Affair to Remember month. This makes perfect sense to me and other women of my generation who shed buckets of tears over this movie. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. A beautiful theme song that also makes me cry. So romantic. So tragic. Spoiler alert: Such a happy ending.
What was it about this 1957 movie that still makes my female friends sigh when I mention it? Why do we joke about watching it again someday at a senior pajama party?
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, he falls in love with a plucky and pretty-but-not-too-sexy singer played by Deborah Kerr. Grant wants to be a painter but doesn't feel he is good enough. Of course, there is an obstacle to their romance. They are both engaged to other people.
They come to what I thought, as a teen watching the movie, was a perfectly romantic way to resolve their dilemma. In six months, if they still wanted to be together and had ended their engagements, 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 wheelchair and thus no longer worthy of Grant. How could he possibly still love her? Grant 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 wheelchair 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 month that celebrates love, 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?
Actually, as much as I love the movie, it probably taught women who came of age in the late '50s and early '60s some questionable lessons.
- If you have a chance to be with Cary Grant, it's fine to dump your fiancé.
- If you are disabled, there is no way you are worthy of his love.
- Don't communicate or tell a guy the truth. It's much better to suffer alone in silence.
- Be patient, take no initiative, and wait for good things to come to you.
- Love and romance will always triumph.
I have definitely renounced lessons one through four, but there is a part of me that can't let go of number five.
Recently, I binge-watched The Affair. Sounds similar, right? Well, it couldn't be more different. How times have changed in the 57 years between my beloved An Affair to Remember and this Showtime series that debuted in 2014. First of all, Dominic West is no Cary Grant. He's basically a cheating, egomaniacal skunk. And then there's Ruth Wilson as his lover and Maura Tierney as his wife. Both are pretty depressed. Neither is a perky or virtuous woman like Deborah Kerr. And that theme song by Fiona Apple -- "a woman who died, screaming into a canyon," and having to "sink back into the ocean." I have to mute it at the beginning of every episode because it grates on my nerves as much as chalk on a blackboard.
Of course, many readers have never actually heard how my last metaphor actually sounds. Folks don't write on blackboards anymore, and I guess romance is also pretty much passé. I watch The Affair the same way I might watch a video of a train derailment, with detached morbid curiosity and horror. I don't like any of the people in the story. I don't even care what happens to them. I know the acting is good and I am curious to see how it all ends. But I will never shed a tear of happiness or sorrow over the fate these characters.
I know. 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. In
honor of Valentine's Day, I vote for romance, beauty, innocence, and An Affair to Remember.