An Affair To Remember: Limited Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (26th May 2011).
The Film

A story so nice, they remade it – twice. In the late 1950's director Leo McCarey needed a hit. Coming off of a disastrous anti-communist film that he made in a bit of rash overcompensation to please HUAC and the more conservative members of the Hollywood elite (“My Son John” (1952)), McCarey looked to the past – his past, to be exact – for a film that would turn his sagging career upside down. He need look no further than his own 1939 box office hit “Love Affair” (1939), starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer, which was nominated for no less than six Academy Awards. So sure this was his recipe for success that McCarey straight up copied the original film, about a pair of strangers who meet aboard ship and fall in love (the conflict being that both are engaged to be married, but not to each other), almost word-for-word, and sometimes shot-for-shot, with his 1957 update titled “An Affair to Remember”. The big difference with the remake, in the ultimate bid to outdo himself, was that McCarey pulled together a pair of perfect stars. He tasked Deborah Kerr – hot off an Oscar nomination for her role as Anna in the “King and I” (1956) – with the part of Terry McKay and rejuvenated old friend Cary Grant’s somewhat stalled career by casting him as playboy-extraordinaire Nickie Ferrante. The result of McCarey’s calculated concoction, at least according to the American Film Institute, is the fifth most romantic movie ever made. “An Affair to Remember” was nominated for 4 Oscars – it won none – and proved so successful that it in turn was remade in the mid-90's (“Love Affair” (1994)) and even served as a major plot point in Nora Ephron’s “Sleepless in Seattle” (1993), the latter of which is coincidentally also on the AFI list of top romantic films.

The story goes like this: Nickie Ferrante, a world-renowned ladies man, is about to settle down and marry Lois Clark (Neva Patterson), a stylish heiress worth a cool $600 million. As the film begins, after a short comedic prologue involving news reporters from around the globe doing their best to set the scene, Ferrante is aboard the SS Constitution, a luxury liner bound for New York City – with a short stop over in the south of France first, of course. While aboard, Nickie meets the beautiful Terry McKay, a woman who rebuffs his advances because she too is engaged – to a rich Texan (Richard Denning). But Terry’s elusive attributes only make her more enticing to the soon-to-be-retired playboy, and eventually, amidst controversy and gossip, the two take up a friendship, much to the chagrin of the other passengers (and the delight of a shipboard photographer turned paparazzo). “Affair” asks for certain dated liberties when being viewed by modern audience; it comes from a more romanticized, simpler time when people would choose the weeklong trans-Atlantic voyage over an hours-long flight because, well, it was easier, less expensive, and, dare I say, classier. So, that the two begin to feel as through they’ve fallen in love is less shocking because of the nature of their trip. These aren’t a couple of seatmates who find their soul mates in section G6 during the fourth hour of a twelve hour flight; Terry and Nickie grow to sort of possibly love each other over a still ridiculous, but less absurd week. A week that includes a few dinners, lengthy strolls on the ship deck every day, and a scandalous – for the 50's anyway – pool scene play-date.

When the ship stops off in France, early on after their burgeoning friendship begins to spark, Nickie asks to Terry to accompany him ashore to see his aging Grandmother Janou (Cathleen Nesbitt). She agrees and is swept up in both the beauty of the countryside and the picturesque Ferrante family estate – a gorgeous villa with its own Church – and Nickie’s delightfully joyous grandmother who, somewhat surprisingly, approves of their coupling. In the afterglow of the experience, and given Janou’s blessing, the two dive head first into what has previously only been a flirtatious friendship. But, with the New York skyline approaching, and not wanting to leave their respective fiancés abandoned for what might be a stupid fling, both Terry and Nickie decide it might be best to wait six months before making any life-altering decisions. They agree to meet again in half a year atop the Empire State building, and if they really wish, their new life together can start then. Fate, it seems, has other plans.

“An Affair to Remember” is a good film. It’s sharply directed by a man who could frame and move along classic romance as well as he could a screwball comedy (and McCarey’s claim to fame, aside from both “Affair” pictures, is the Marx Brothers masterpiece “Duck Soup” (1934) so there’s no debating his talent with comedic material). It’s well acted by its two leads too – featuring a Grant at his most debonair, and the six-time Oscar nominated Kerr in a poised and polished performance. Certainly both actors looked internally if they needed inspiration for their roles. Grant was in his 3rd failed marriage at the time, maintaining a torrid affair with Sophia Loren, whom he fell for hard while filming “The Pride and the Passion” (1957) in Spain. And Kerr was on the brink of divorce from her first husband; they would end their marriage in 1960 and she would marry her new husband, Peter Viertel, shockingly quickly less than a month later. The film’s flaws are slight – McCarey unnecessarily throws in a couple of musical numbers for Kerr, who’s character is a retired nightclub singer turned school choir teacher. This might make sense if not for the fact that the numbers only slow down the narrative – they're often painfully long – and that Kerr’s singing voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon. And there’s little point in arguing that the first half of the film, aboard the Constitution, is clearly superior to the latter half. It just is; funnier, lighter, and free of the slogging drama and music.

Still, despite some of its flaws, “An Affair to Remember” is solid, pleasing entertainment that is worthy of plenty of praise. It’s a nice nostalgic slice of old Hollywood romance, and it receives an equally nice deluxe packaging on Blu-ray, which the film certainly deserves. Presented inside a 24-page hardcover Digi-book and sporting a new, restored 1080p transfer, 20th Century Fox’s Limited Edition release of Leo McCarey's “An Affair to Remember” is recommended.

Video

“An Affair to Remember” sails onto Blu-ray via a 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 high definition transfer (2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio) that is sourced from an all-new remaster of the original 35mm camera negative. The film features an advertised bitrate of 38 Mbps; thick black letterbox bars on the top and bottom of the frame preserve the epic widescreen proportions of the production. The new disc looks remarkable and is a considerable step up from the previous DVD, with crisper detail, better color reproduction, and more natural contrast. Personally, I love the way “Affair” looks on Blu-ray, but there will likely be quite a few who don’t, because, due to the limitations of the CinemaScope source, and a couple of other technical niggles, “An Affair to Remember” might not be as sharp or brilliant as some might expect.

The film was shot in CinemaScope, an anamorphic 35mm film process that’s use lasted a couple years shy of a decade. Debuting in 1953, with 20th Century Fox’s widescreen pioneering “The Robe”, and in wide use until about 1959 or 1960 when Panavision came to market with superior anamorphic lenses that quickly became the standard (CinemaScope was used sparingly for the next few years on some productions, but Panavision became the de facto 2.35:1 widescreen namesake, although, coincidentally, many in the industry continue to refer to all films with a 2.35:1 or 2.40:1 aspect ratio as “CinemaScope” or ‘Scope productions). The fact that “An Affair to Remember” is true CinemaScope, and not something shot with superior Panavision glass, is important in understanding the peculiar look of the film, and why it lacks significant close-ups, features exaggerated positioning of actors in the extreme edges of the frame, and occasionally has shots of people and object that suddenly, noticeably become fatter in the face – and genuinely wider in other areas. It also explains the persistent but not necessarily consistent softness that appears throughout much of the film. To be blunt, original ‘Scope was pretty much a step backwards in terms of filmic technology. Although it allowed for more expansive, ultra-panoramic scenes, CinemaScope also suffered from a number of resolution-limiting, softness inducting, grain-spiking, image-distorting issues that resulted in an atypical style of framing and shooting. The Blu-ray deals with these source faults perfectly – and in fact, the disc seems to be basically transparent to the source, appearing so clear and without manipulation that subtle resolution and color changes surrounding optical dissolves and fades stand out like a sore thumb. The problems of early anamorphosis are particularly evident in films like “Affair to Remember”, which used Bausch & Lomb lenses. These lenses had a nasty side effect of applying a squeeze on the image that wasn’t exactly proportional.

To quote an excerpt from the Widescreen Museum (which features an exaggerated but nice illustrative comparison image for reference), “The problem was called “CinemaScope Mumps”, in which the center of the image received less horizontal squeeze when the lenses were focused at short distances. When projected, the center of the image was expanded more than its original compression. In the early days of anamorphic photography close-ups were avoided. When they were deemed necessary, the actor was placed either to the right or left of center where the inconsistent squeeze would pose no problem. It is easy to see what Gottschalk and his team at Panavision was able to accomplish; the upper image is a close up taken with an early Bausch and Lomb CinemaScope lens and the lower image is a 35mm reduction print taken from the newly developed M-G-M/Panavision process.”

Despite it’s issues with spatial geometry, “An Affair to Remember” looks wonderful. The lush Deluxe colors pop off the screen with a luxurious radiance, while the opulent costumes and wondrous on-location photography provide plenty of visual flair. The downsides to the image – on top of the odd peculiarities of Cinemascope – which include a heavy use of overlit studio interiors, and the occasional flicker and heavy grain surrounding the film’s extensive rear-projection and matte work, are charming in their quaint, datedness. They don’t look terrible on Blu-ray, but become noticeable at times and a bit distracting at others (particularly, many of the shipboard exteriors appear overly false). One the plus side the print is perfect, with no damage to speak off even with the extensive opticals. Compression is also terrific, with well-rendered grain and no instances of banding, blocking or noise. “An Affair to Remember” isn’t without its flaws, but I don’t imagine that it will ever look much better than it does here – and make no mistake it does look good.

Audio

The default lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (48kHz/24-bit/3.1 Mbps) remix sounds great – it just doesn’t sound like a surround track, which isn’t as big of a knock as you’d think. To differentiate movies from television Fox’s CinemaScope process obviously offered an upgrade via a much wider picture, but also fuller, multi-channel sound. Certain films employed a rudimentary 4-track surround sound experience – left, center, right, back – while others were simply released in stereo, which was still more dynamic than monophonic TV of the 1950's. “An Affair to Remember” is of the latter variety; it was shot for and released in stereo. The Blu-ray replicates this arrangement almost eerily well, so although your receiver will note six-channels, sound is basically limited to the front three speakers. Not a single second – not even any of the musical numbers – runs through the rears. And, really, that’s okay with me as it’s in tune with the original sound design. Aside from the front heavy nature, the track is excellent. The score, by one of old Hollywood’s most prolific composers, Hugo Friedhofer, is warm and inviting. Music and lyrics for the various songs written by McCarey feature a nice richness; dialogue is crisp and free of hiss or crackle. The lossless track does a great job replicating the stereo origins, but a redundant lossy mix is encoded in actual stereo via English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224 kbps) for the curious – not that it really does any good. The DTS-HD MA mix is just altogether clearer with better fidelity. Foreign dubs are offered in French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (224 kbps) and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 dual mono (224 kbps). Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

All of the extras from the Fox Studio Classics DVD, and most from the 2-disc 50th Anniversary re-issue, have been ported over to Blu-ray. An audio commentary is supplemented by 5 featurettes, an episode from the AMC “Backstory” documentary series, a vintage newsreel, and the original theatrical trailer. A majority of the video-based content is encoded in painfully mediocre looking anamorphic widescreen 480i standard definition – most of which is awfully interlaced. Curiously, the photo galleries from the 50th Anniversary DVD were lost in the transition to high-def. Fox’s typical bookmarks and resume playback functions appear on the disc. The deluxe limited edition packaging includes a 24-page booklet containing essays, photos, trivia and cast and crew bios.

The menu lists the audio commentary as “with singer Marni Nixon and film historian Joseph McBride”, but someone at Fox got that reversed. McBride headlines the track and talks about the production of this classic Hollywood romance in a thoughtful and informative manner. Nixon occasionally pipes up to offer an infrequent thought; her comments are edited in from another recording session, separate from McBride, and she focuses on the musical numbers that she dubbed for Kerr.

The first two featurettes on the disc are titled “Affairs to Remember…” and are could easily be grouped together as one piece. Each offers the spouse of the two stars a chance to reflect on their partner’s careers, role in this particular film, and even their personality and relationship off screen. The first featurette is called “Affairs to Remember: Deborah Kerr” (16x9 480i, 5 minutes 32 seconds), and it gives Kerr’s husband Peter Viertel a chance to discuss his relationship with his late wife in a nice, if brief, piece.

Next, “Affairs to Remember: Cary Grant” (16x9 480i, 9 minutes 47 seconds) is a featurette covering more of the same, but with Grant’s fifth wife Barbara Harris discussing Grant’s life, work, and their marriage.

For once the writer/director of a film gets more attention than the stars. A lengthy featurette dubbed “Directed by Leo McCarey” (16x9 480i, 22 minutes 33 seconds) is an excellent portrait of director, writer, and producer Leo McCarey. Film critics, professors and actor/fellow director Peter Bogdanovich offer a look at the should-be-better-known helmer of “An Affair to Remember”. Tracing McCarey’s roots from law school to director of top-shelf screwball comedy, the participants discuss his eventual Academy Award win and his hand in shaping Cary Grant’s on-screen persona. This is a solid featurette that provides a nice overview of the director and his career.

With detailed featurettes focused on the film’s actors, and the writer/director, it only seems fair that “An Affair to Remember” producer Jerry Wald – who was also a writer and a director – get his own profile titled “A Producer to Remember: Jerry Wald” (16x9 480i, 15 minutes 59 seconds). The short retrospective offers an overview of his career, the pinnacle of which can be considered his collaboration with Leo McCarey on this film.

“The Look of ‘An Affair to Remember’” (16x9 480i, 8 minutes 53 seconds) is a featurette that looks at the “classic” elements of a traditional 50's Hollywood production. Many of the same participants found elsewhere on the disc pop up here to discuss the costumes, production design, coloring, and widescreen photography of the film – all which are typical of a late 1950's Hollywood romance picture.

“AMC Backstory: ‘An Affair to Remember’” (4x3 480i, 24 minutes 27 seconds) is an episode from the now-defunct American Movie Classics television documentary series. The piece is a bit obvious in its TV origins: bumpers teasing upcoming discussion points appear before a lengthy fade-to-black and “recaps” sum up the events discussed so far immediately following the return from what would have been a commercial. But, this is a solid piece for newcomers, and those not wishing to devote an hour to an audio commentary. “Backstory” proves to be a worthwhile making of for “An Affair to Remember”, even if it’s a little dated now and could easily be improved upon by a proper documentary.

“Fox Movietone Newsreel: Shipboard Premiere” (4x3 480i, 56 seconds) is, as if the title didn’t give it away, an old newsreel of the “An Affair to Remember” premiere.

A theatrical trailer (16x9 480i, 2 minutes 53 seconds) for the film is also included.

Packaging

Leo McCarey’s “An Affair to Remember” arrives on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox in another one of their Limited Edition Digi-book packages. The 24-page hardcover booklet contains photos, bios and trivia pertaining to the film, and is quite similar to the concurrent high def debut of another Fox classic, “All About Eve”. The Blu-ray is a region free, dual layered BD-50. The “book” packing is handsome, although my thoughts stated in this section of the “All About Eve” review apply here as well: the “sleeve” in the back that houses the actual disc is less than ideal; the paper tech specs sheet will be bothersome for a few collectors.

Overall

Another gorgeous digi-book from Fox earns another solid recommendation from me. “An Affair to Remember” will mostly charm those who appreciate classic Hollywood romance, but it’s also quite a funny film during the first half (and some of the second), is expertly directed, and features fine performances from both Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. The Blu-ray has faithful, often excellent video and audio, and some worthwhile extras. Recommended.

The Film: B Video: B Audio: B Extras: B Overall: B

 


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