Watching 1939: Love Affair (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film:  Love Affair (1939)

Release date:  March 16, 1939

Cast:  Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer, Maria Ouspenskaya, Lee Bowman, Astrid Allwyn, Maurice Moscovitch, Scotty Beckett (uncredited), Frank McGlynn Sr. (uncredited)

Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures

Director:  Leo McCarey

French playboy Michel Marnay (Boyer) and American singer Terry McKay (Dunne) meet on cruise ship heading from Europe to America. Michel is engaged to be married and Terry is dating her boss, Kenneth Bradley (Bowman). Michel and Terry fall in love, but when they arrive in New York, they decide to separate for six months and tie up loose ends and meet six months later on top of the Empire State Building.

1939 Notes:
• Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer were both in three films released in 1939, and two co-starred in two of the three. They co-starred in “Love Affair,” and “When Tomorrow Comes” was made in response to the film’s success. Dunne’s other film was “Invitation to Happiness” and Boyer’s was “Le corsaire.”
• Lee Bowman was in six films released in 1939.
• Maria Ouspenskaya was in only three films released in 1939.

Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer in “Love Affair.”

Other trivia: 
• Remade as “Affair to Remember” (1957) and then “Love Affair” (1994)
• Leo McCarey directed both this version and the 1957 version of “Love Affair.”
• The film went into public domain in 1967.
• The film popularized pink champagne
• Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne said “Love Affair” was their favorite film
• The original title was “Love Match”

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
When people think of a couple waiting six months to meet atop the Empire State Building, many people think of Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in “Affair to Remember” (1957).

But before this Technicolor romantic drama directed by Leo McCarey was released in 1957, Leo McCarey directed the same story in 1939 as “Love Affair” with Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. And while the Grant and Kerr film may be better known, I feel that the 1939 film is better. Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer both called this their favorite film.

“Love Affair” (1939) may be a sentimental story that is a bit of a weeper, but it’s more than just that. “Love Affair” is charming and warm, and Dunne and Boyer play likable and believable characters. It’s hard to describe just how lovely this film is.

One highlight is Rudolph Maté’s gorgeous cinematography. The film just seems to glow.

Another highlight is that Irene Dunne is able to sing in this film. In the early 1930s, Dunne sang in her films but she later was not cast in musicals. Dunne sings “Sing My Heart” and “Wishing.”

The success of “Love Affair” caused RKO to cast them together again the same year in “When Tomorrow Comes” (1939). Though “When Tomorrow Comes” isn’t as good, but it’s delightful to see these two together again.

While “An Affair to Remember” (1957) may be more mainstream, be sure to make an effort to see this superior film.

Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer in a scene from LOVE AFFAIR, 1939.

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1 thought on “Watching 1939: Love Affair (1939)

  1. I love the beautiful scene when Nicky visits Terry and suddenly realizes what has happened to her; Boyer doesn’t say a word, and doesn’t need to. You see it all in his face.

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