Director Leo McCarey with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne take a tea break on the set of ”Love Affair.”
Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne: If I could have studied this kind of chemistry in school, I would have majored in science. And what’s great is, they spend the first couple of scenes teasing and ragging on each other, even though they know what’s coming as surely as we do. But there’s nothing gooey about them. They’re warm and witty and grown-up and kind of surprised at how completely besotted they are. They’re fully aware of the hurdles they face, and the potential for great pain. And they plunge in anyway because really, what choice do they have?
Then there’s Maria Ouspenskaya, as Charles’s nanou. Could this really be the gypsy woman from “The Wolfman” and the scary battleaxe from “Dodsworth”? Yup. Here, she’s wise and wonderful. She sees right away what this somewhat bewildered couple are in for, even before they’ve admitted it to themselves. The scene where they’re saying goodbye to her, for what they all know will be the last time, and Irene runs back up the steps for a final embrace — I’m actually welling up just typing this. And the final scene, well. Don’t make me type that.
Another thing I loved about this movie: The people that Charles and Irene throw over — Astrid Allwyn and Lee Bowman — are actually nice and likeable, and you feel sorry for them. Too many screenwriters — and I think this happens even more in modern films — stack the deck so wildly in favor of the lead actors, and make the people they were with before so unappealing, that you wonder why they would ever have been with them in the first place.
A few years after “Love Affair,” Leo McCarey directed Bing Crosby to an Oscar in “Going My Way” — beating out Charles Boyer in “Gaslight.” Which was pretty much criminal. I mean, Bing gave a lovely, touching performance, and bless my Irish heart, I loves me some “Toora Loora Loora,” but really?!? I mean, did the Academy voters see Charles Boyer in “Gaslight”? Is it too late to send them the DVD?