October 02, 2015

Love Affair (1939)

  • Release Dates: March 16, 1939 (New York City) and April 7, 1939
  • Production Date: October 6, 1938 - November 29, 1938; and December 13 to late December 1938 Duration (in minutes): 87 or 89
  • Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
  • Production Text: A Leo McCarey Production
  • Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
  • Directors: Leo McCarey and James Anderson (assistant)
  • Writers: Delmer Daves (screenplay), Donald Ogden Stewart (screenplay), Mildred Cram (story), Leo McCarey (story) and S. N. Behrman (contributed to screenplay)
  • Photography: Rudolph Maté
  • Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase and Al Herman (associate)
  • Film Editors: Edward Dmytryk and George Hively
  • Set Decoration: Darrell Silvera
  • Costumes: Howard Greer (gowns) and Edward Stevenson (gowns)
  • Special Effects: Vernon L. Walker (special effects), Douglas Travers (montage)
  • Makeup: Mel Berns (makeup artist)
  • Sound: John L. Cass (recordist)
  • Music: Roy Webb (musical score), Robert Russell Bennett (orchestrator), David Buttolph (orchestrator), George Parrish (orchestrator) and David Raksin (orchestrator)
  • Songs: "Wishing," music and lyrics by B. G. DeSylva; "Sing My Heart," music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler.


  • Irene Dunne (Terry McKay)
  • Charles Boyer (Michel Marnet)
  • Maria Ouspenskaya (Grandmother - Mme. Marnet - Janou or Manou)
  • Lee Bowman (Kenneth Bradley)
  • Astrid Allwyn (Lois Clarke)
  • Maurice Moscovich (Maurice Cobert)
  • Scotty Beckett (Boy on ship)
  • Bess Flowers (Couple on deck)
  • Harold Miller (Couple on deck)
  • Fred Malatesta (Shipboard photographer)
  • Bert Moorhouse (Shipboard passenger)
  • Henry Norton (Shipboard passenger)
  • Gerald Mohr (Man)
  • Joan Brodel (Joan Leslie) (Autograph seeker)
  • Mary Bovard (Autograph seeker)
  • Phyllis Kennedy (Annie, Terry's maid)
  • Dell Henderson (Cafe manager)
  • Carol Hughes (Nightclub patron)
  • Leyland Hodgson (Doctor)
  • Lloyd Ingraham (Doctor)
  • Frank McGlynn Sr. (Superintendent of the orphanage)
  • Oscar O'Shea (Priest)
  • Ferike Boros (Terry's landlady)
  • Tom Dugan (Drunk with Christmas tree)
  • Robert Mitchell Boys Choir (Choir)

The film received Academy Award nominations in the following categories: Best Picture; Best Original Story (Mildred Cram and Leo McCarey); Best Actress (Irene Dunne); Best Supporting Actress (Maria Ouspenskaya); Best Interior Decoration (Van Nest Polglase and Al Herman); and Best Song ("Wishing").

Love Affair was remade by Leo McCarey for 20th Century-Fox in 1957 as An Affair to Remember, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. It was also remade by Glenn Gordon Caron in 1994 as Love Affair, starring Warren Beatty, Annette Bening and, in her last feature film appearance, Katharine Hepburn. A 1999 Bollywood movie, Mann, was made based on the same storyline.

Did You Know?

The working title for this film was Love Match.

Terry McKay was based on a woman Delmer Daves met on a ship returning from Europe. The woman was reportedly wisked off to Europe to stave off a scandal resulting from her affair with a government official in a small town.

Of all the films they made, Love Affair was the favorite of both Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne.

"Wishing" became one of the most popular songs of 1939.

After this movie was released restaurants were suddenly bombarded with requests for pink champagne.

Astrid Allwyn, who plays Boyer's heiress fiancé, also appeared in the unrelated film Love Affair (1932), starring a young and relatively-unknown Humphrey Bogart.

Opening credits are on pages of a book, through which someone is paging.

In 1967, the film entered the public domain (in the United States) due to the claimants' failure to renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication. Because of this, the film is widely available on home video and online.


Terry McKay: The things we like best are either illegal, immoral or fattening.

Terry McKay: How's your fiancee?
Michel Marnet: She's got a cold.
Terry McKay: Oh, that's too bad. Got it at Lake Como?
Michel Marnet: No, she wasn't there.
Terry McKay: Uhh... , Uh, you mean the Lady of the Lake was not...
Michel Marnet: [Shakes head] That was her best friend.
Terry McKay: Oh.
Michel Marnet: [Another shake, and grimace]
Terry McKay: Chummy bunch.

Terry McKay: What are you trying to say, Michel?
Michel Marnet: I'm trying to say that it would take me six months to find out if I'm worthy to say what's in my heart.
Terry McKay: Oh, that's just about the nicest thing...

The New York Times Film Review of Love Affair

'Love Affair,' a Bitter-Sweet Romance, Opens at the Music Hall
By Franks S. Nugent
Published: March 17, 1939

Leo McCarey, who directs so well it is almost anti-social of him not to direct more often, has created another extraordinarily fine film in "Love Affair," which the Music Hall brought in yesterday. Like other McCarey pictures, this one has the surface appearance of a comedy and the inner strength and poignance of a hauntingly sorrowful romance. It is a technique or a mood-creation developed, we suspect, out of Mr. McCarey's past experiments, ranging from "Ruggles of Red Gap" through "Make Way for Tomorrow" to "The Awful Truth." The formula would be comedy plus sentiment plus X (which is Mr. McCarey himself) equal such things as "Love Affair."

As co-author, director and producer, he must be credited primarily for the film's success, but almost as large a measure of acknowledgment belongs to Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer for the facility with which they have matched the changes of their script—playing it lightly now, soberly next, but always credibly, always in character, always with a superb utilization of the material at hand. Scarcely less effective has been the contribution of the small supporting cast: Maria Ouspenskaya, Lee Bowman, Astrid Allwyn, Maurice Moscovich and the few bit players who have added their priceless touches of humor and pathos.

The love affair Mr. McCarey and his company are considering is the unexpectedly idyllic romance between the jaded man of the world, Michel Marnay, and the younger, but almost equally skeptical, Terry Mackay. Both of them were affianced elsewhere, not exactly for money (although that was part of the picture), but because they reasoned they might as well marry money if they had to marry at all. Then, suddenly, they met on shipboard, flirted since it amused them, parted unheroically when it occurred to them that news of an indiscretion might reach the ears of their respective future mates, and discovered, almost as surprisingly, that they were in love.

It is a discovery apt to alter the behavior of a couple of people who had been playing with life. Subtly, Mr. McCarey alters his style to meet the emergency. He finds it amusing that Michel should become a sign-painter, Terry a night club singer as they put themselves on probation for six months to determine whether they are worthy of marriage. But he finds it touching, too. And, although he keeps reminding himself (and his audience) that life is a comedian, he finds tragedy in the accident that overtakes Terry on her way to the marriage rendezvous and pity in the misunderstanding that keeps his lovers apart so long.

In a sense, his film is a triumph of indirection, for it does one thing while seeming to do another. Its immediate effect is comedy; its after-glow is that of a bitter-sweet romance. A less capable director, with a less competent cast, must have erred one way or the other—either on the side of treacle or on that of whimsy. Mr. McCarey has balanced his ingredients skillfully and has merged them, as is clear in retrospect, into a glowing and memorable picture.

LOVE AFFAIR, from a story by Mildred Cram and Leo McCarey; screen play by Delmer Daves and Donald Ogden Stewart; music and lyrics by B. G. DeSylva, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler; directed and produced by Mr. McCarey for RKO Radio. At the Radio City Music Hall.
Terry Mackay . . . . . Irene Dunne
Michel Marnay . . . . . Charles Boyer
Mme. Marnay . . . . . Maria Ouspenskaya
Kenneth . . . . . Lee Bowman
Lois . . . . . Astrid Allwyn
Cobert . . . . . Maurice Moscovich
(Please note: The names of the characters are misspelled in the review. Mackay is actually spelled McKay. Marnay is actually spelled Marnet.)

Leo McCarey, Charles Boyer, Irene Dunne

Variety Film Review of Love Affair

Variety Staff - December 31, 1938

Leo McCarey’s initial production for RKO as a producer-director offers an entirely new approach to accepted technique. Basically, it’s the regulation formula of boy-meets-girl (story by McCarey and Mildred Cram). But first half is best described as romantic comedy, while second portion switches to drama with comedy.

Aboard boat sailing from Naples to New York, Charles Boyer starts a flirtation with Irene Dunne. He is engaged to heiress Astrid Allwyn, and she to Lee Bowman. They separate on docking with pact to meet six months later atop the Empire State building.

Dunne slips to Philadelphia to sing in a night club, while Boyer applies himself to painting. While on her way to keep tryst on appointed day, Dunne is injured in a traffic accident. Faced with life of a cripple, girl refuses to contact Boyer to explain.

Dunne is excellent in a role that requires both comedy and dramatic ability. Boyer is particularly effective as the modern Casanova. Maria Ouspenskaya provides a warmly sympathetic portrayal as Boyer’s grandmother in Madeira.

Reading Eagle Film Review of Love Affair

Dramatic Love Story at Park
Published: April 8, 1939

A romance moratorium at six months, designed to prove that two people are worthy of each other's love, is the basis for much of the drama in "Love Affair," co-starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer, at the Park. The story traces the lives of a sophisticated young lady and a Continental heart-breaker who fall in love on board a liner bound for New York, where a fiancé and a fiancée are waiting. Reluctant to forsake their chance at happiness with this one great love, the two break off the prior betrothals and embark on a six-month trial during which they give up their lives of ease for worthy careers, agreeing to meet on a given day to learn if their love has weathered the mutual sacrifice. A minute before the eventful meeting, however, destiny intervenes, making the young lady the victim of an auto accident. Believing she is permanently injured, she disappoints her lover, feeling her disabled condition may be an insuperable obstacle to their happiness. The evolution of this intriguing situation mounts to a touching, heart-tugging finish. Directed for RKO Radio by Leo McCarey, "Love Affair" features Maria Ouspenskaya, Lee Bowman, Astrid Allwyn and Maurice Moscovich in Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer's support.

Leonard Maltin Review

D: Leo McCarey. Irene Dunne, Charles Boyer, Maria Ouspenskaya, Lee Bowman, Astrid Allwyn, Maurice Moscovich, Joan Brodel (Leslie). Superior comedy-drama about shipboard romance whose continuation on-shore is interrupted by unforseen circumstances. Dunne and Boyer are a marvelous match. Screenplay by Delmer Daves and Donald Ogden Stewart, from story by Mildred Cram and Leo McCarey. Remade by McCarey as An Affair to Remember, and a second time (by Warren Beatty). Beware public domain copy with entirely new music score.

Meredy's Thoughts

My mother hooked me on classic films when I was a kid. She introduced me to An Affair to Remember when I was six or seven. By the time I was grown, I had seen it so often that I practically knew the script by heart.

I learned as a teen from one of my tons of film books that An Affair to Remember was a remake of Love Affair. In those days, there weren't any VCRs or DVRs. In fact, cable wasn't available in my area until I was 13 or so. We had a rooftop antenna and only received our local ABC station clearly. We also received CBS and NBC with snow. My choices for viewing classic films (weekends only) were the Late Show, the Late, Late Show, Million Dollar Movie and Sunday Afternoon at the Movies.

Thank goodness Love Affair was shown one Saturday night on the Late Show. When I saw the listing in TV Guide, I did a happy dance. It was an event. Mom and I baked a Chef Boyardee pizza (a must-try once in your life) and made super buttery popcorn (electric popcorn popper with oil and kernels, add the butter and salt after popping). We didn't have microwaves back then. Dad bought us Sun Drop soda pop as a treat. Yes, Sun Drop was a treat in the Stone Age.

My father, a John Wayne film buff, was definitely not into love stories. He ate a couple slices of pizza, a little popcorn and fell asleep in his chair.

Mom and I settled comfortably on the couch, munched, slurped and watched the flick. During commercials we discussed the portion of the film we had just viewed and became silent when the movie came back on.

I was surprised that she preferred Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr to Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne because we usually agreed on our film likes and dislikes.

The one thing we did agree on was our preference of Cathleen Nesbitt over Maria Ouspenskaya as the grandmother. Maria Ouspenskaya is too "gremlin-ish-looking" (my own word) to be Charles Boyer's grandmother. On the other hand, Cathleen Nesbitt is a classy-looking dame that could have been grandmère to Cary Grant.

When 1994's Love Affair came out, Mom and I were not excited. We both detest Warren Beatty. We saw it when it went to video and disliked it immensely. Even the great Katharine Hepburn couldn't save it.

Music from Love Affair

"Plaisir d'amour" (literally "the pleasure of love") is a classical French love song written in 1784 by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini (1741–1816); it took its text from a poem by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian (1755–1794), which appears in his novel Célestine. Performed by Irene Dunne with Maria Ouspenskaya playing piano. Played often in the score.

"Sing My Heart" is a song composed by Harold Arlen, with lyrics written by Ted Koehler. It was written in 1939 for the movie Love Affair and first sung by Irene Dunne.

"Wishing (Will Make It So)" is a song written by George Gard "Buddy" DeSylva. It was written in 1939 for the movie Love Affair and first sung by Irene Dunne and the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir.

Love Affair on the Radio

Lux Radio Theatre
(April 1, 1940) :59:49
Irene Dunne and William Powell

Lux Radio Theatre
(July 6, 1942) :58:03
Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer

The Screen Guild Theater
(January 5, 1941) :30:25
Madeleine Carroll and Melvyn Douglas

The Screen Guild Theater
(October 11, 1943) :29:38
Herbert Marshall, Virginia Bruce, Luis Alberni

Theater of Romance
(December 11, 1945) :25:10
Van Johnson, Susan Peters, Lou Merrill

Watch Love Affair

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