The first part of the film - the cruise- is filled with humorous dialogue and fun. It's a comedy. On dry land, the movie is a tragedy filled with misunderstandings and unfulfilled dreams.
It's amazing how two people who have never met before a cruise, people who are not in the same social circles, suddenly keep bumping into each other afterwards. It's the kind of plot where if one character would just talk -"Say, I couldn't make it to the meeting because..."- the whole thing would be over in about an hour.
Also during this latter hour, there is a cloying Christmastime scene where Kerr directs children who sing, hearkening back to similar scenes in the actress' musical triumph in The King and I. The latter part of the film is a bit too saccharine at times.
They stretch the tragic bits a little too long. However, the end scene - which I won't spoil for you- makes up for it. You are so choked up, you forget about the interminable last hour of the two hour film.
Leo McCarey directs this remake of his earlier film Love Affair (1939). This was a comeback for the director after a 5-year absence. According to Michelangelo Capua (author of Deborah Kerr: A Biography), a car accident, physical pain, and time out of the limelight might have ruined his career. Nevertheless, he charged ahead with a revamped classic with two charming stars.
Kerr and Grant co-starred before in an odd, feminist, geopolitical comedy called Dream Wife (1953). Their chemistry in both films is unmistakable. The two always seem to be having fun.
Even The New York Times' Bosley Crowther enjoyed some parts of the romance, saying,
"... the attraction of this fable is in the velvety way in which two apparently blasée people treat the experience of actually finding themselves in love. This is an immature emotion that is loaded with surprise. And the old script of "Love Affair," worked over by Mr. McCarey and Delmer Daves, provides plenty of humorous conversation that is handled crisply in the early reels by Mr. Grant and Miss Kerr. "
According to Geoffrey Wansell (author of Cary Grant: Dark Angel), McCarey compares the film and its remake,
"The difference between Love Affair and An Affair to Remember is very simply the difference between Charles Boyer [star of Love Affair] and Cary Grant. Grant could never really mask his sense of humor -which is extraordinary- and that's why the second version is funnier."
The film was extremely popular, grossing more than its predecessor and garnering 4 Academy Award nominations. Crooner Vic Damone sings the title song; people rushed to buy the album.
In 1993, Sleepless in Seattle (starring box office stars Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) made several references to An Affair to Remember, resurrecting the older film in the public eye. The next year saw another remake of the film -Love Affair with Warren Beatty (and Katharine Hepburn in one of her last cameos. Read about her performance here.).
You've watched An Affair to Remember before. Watch it again for the sheer pleasure of the dialogue and humor of the first part. Then fast forward to the end and weep like a baby.