Love Affair (1939) film directed by Leo McCarey was not expected to be a huge success, but it was the surprise hit of the year. McCarey had done a lot of screwball comedies at this point, with The Awful Truth probably the best. He wanted to do something a little more serious, still funny but not a farce. It’s a pretty basic story, but a solid movie—not as good as The Awful Truth, but you also dot have Cary Grant.
There was a big issue around censorship, as the filmmaker had to tone down the fact that the characters Terry McKay (Irene Dunne) and Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer), are essentially committing adultery. It was a little racy for the time, but they worked with the Production Code to just get it through. They meet on a cruise liner during a cross-Atlantic trip. They are both already engaged to other people, but promise to meet again in the new year, in New York. The character of Marnet, a painter, comes off as a gigolo but that isn’t explicitly said, while Terry is a singer (making use of Dunne’s vocal talents).
Both Dunne and Boyer are good in their roles, both very charming. There is also some great cinematography—especially some shots of New York that are employ matte paintings. Edward Dmytryk was one of the editors, and I can’t imagine that he and McCarey got on at all, given their political differences. Incidentally, the champagne industry loved the film, because it brought pink champagne to the masses.
McCarey later remade the film as An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Carr; the Warren Beatty/Anette Bening film Love Affair is yet another remake (it’s also been remade as a Bollywood film a couple of times). The 1939 version fell into public domain, as RKO never renewed the copyright for some reason—which is very unlike them. It ended up being a staple on television and grey-area home video releases. You can still download it legally from the Internet Archive. However, this version is worth buying—in 2020, MOMA did a new 4K restoration from film elements in its archive in conjunction with Lobster Films, which this new Criterion transfer is based on.
The disc also includes new interviews with film critic Farran Smith Nehme and Lobster Films founder Serge Bromberg, and a pair of radio adaptations featuring Irene Dunne and Boyer, and William Powell. Also on the disc are two McCarey shorts starring silent comedian Charley Chase—Looking for Sally (1925) and Mighty Like a Moose (1926)—and a an essay by Irish film author Megan McGurk.