Prominent celebrity playboy Cary Grant and singer Deborah Kerr meet on a luxury liner and despite both being in relationships with other people back home, they find themselves hopelessly drawn to one another. As the ship is about to dock, they make a promise to one another that if after 6 months they still can’t get over one another, they will reunite at the top of the Empire State Building. One of them shows up, but although dearly wanting to, circumstance prevents the other from meeting the deadline, leaving the other heartbroken. Will our protagonists ever reunite? Cathleen Nesbitt plays Grant’s elderly grandmother, who takes a liking to Kerr when the duo make a stop to see her in French, mid-voyage. Richard Denning plays Kerr’s Bill Pullman…er…tedious spouse.
The inspiration for the finale to “Sleepless in Seattle”, this 1957 romance from writer/director Leo McCarey (“Duck Soup”, “The Awful Truth”, “Going My Way”) is founded on a story that frankly isn’t very romantic, and it is far lesser than “Sleepless”. It’s not nearly as bad as “A Touch of Class”, but as you probably know by now, whilst I don’t remotely judge anyone for falling in love with someone else whilst in a relationship, I also don’t find the concept fitting for a romantic film specifically. I just don’t, no not even in “From Here to Eternity” (That beach scene is excellent, but if you watch the film, it’s not nearly as ‘romantic’ as you remember and wasn’t meant to be). “Sleepless in Seattle” (which ultimately is a very different film) pretty much avoided that pitfall, but this film steps right in it.
The opening stretch on the cruise ship is pretty poor, to be honest. Don’t want anyone on board gossiping about your affair, Mr. Grant? Then don’t fucking have one, OK? The heart wants what it wants, but it just isn’t entertaining romantic movie fodder to me. Casting the rather caddish Cary Grant as one half of the romantic duo is at least offset by the casting of the more prim and proper Deborah Kerr as his love match, I’ll give the film that. It also has one thing over “A Touch of Class” and that is the fact that these two are very clearly in love with one another, whereas George Segal and Glenda Jackson spent the whole film yelling at each other, seemingly pointlessly. The fact that they clearly belong together helps a great deal. I also thought Cathleen Nesbitt stole the film right out from underneath the two stars in a wonderful supporting role.
Another asset to the film is the absolutely wonderful, Oscar-nominated colour cinematography by Milton Krasner (“All About Eve”, “Home From the Hill”, “How the West Was Won”). It’s so incredibly beautiful to look at, even if the film itself doesn’t seem to deserve such beauty. There’s one great shot of Kerr on one half of the screen and a reflection of the Empire State Building on a window for the other half of the screen. That was masterfully done. The film’s subplot concerning all the gossip, media attention and Grant’s celebrity status is most unhelpful and clunkily done (it’s too comedic in an otherwise dramatic film), and the whole thing moves at a glacier pace.
And when they finally get ashore, things take a decided turn for the (even) worse as we see Kerr is meant to be an English nightclub singer in Boston singing Irish songs. Fucking what? She has a lovely voice (or was it Marni Nixon?), but it just doesn’t seem like something the refined Ms. Kerr would ever do. **** SPOILER WARNING **** Things completely implode when Kerr goes to meet up with Grant and suddenly seems to lose her mind. We don’t get the transition or set-up to this medical issue, and even if we did it’d be moronic. After this, she somehow gets a job teaching music to kids. Like all lunatics, right? At least she’s more believable as a kids’ music teacher, though. But it’s all so incredibly confusingly done that I had no idea if she had an illness or disability or if she was dying or not. It’s horribly written (NB: I’ve subsequently read that she was struck by a car and paralysed. But A) I don’t recall seeing that, and B) She acts completely insane, not disabled. So even if I missed something, it plays out bizarrely **** END SPOILER **** That said, the final scene itself is actually really, really moving in spite of everything before it, and the best thing in this otherwise forgettable and very, very strange film.
Romantic classic? Hardly, and not a very good film anyway. Terrible, cheesy Vic Damone title song and irritating pink cursive titles deserve a dishonourable mention. A remake of McCarey’s own “Love Affair” from 1939, I’d stick to “Sleepless in Seattle”, or preferably “When Harry Met Sally”.