The 1939 movie, “Love Affair,” starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne can be called a classic because of the supposed chemistry between Boyer and Dunne, but I think it’s remembered mostly because of a gimmicky plot. Boyer plays a French playboy and artist named Michel Marnet, who stirs up quite a commotion when he sails on an ocean liner from France to New York City. The other passengers watch his every move, and he begins to feel claustrophobic on the ship. Dunne, playing nightclub singer Terry McKay, shows up on the other side of the porthole after Michel drops a letter through it. This begins the love affair. They spend the rest of the voyage flitting around the ship and drinking pink champagne. Unfortunately, the pair go their separate ways after landing in New York and they don’t spend much screen time together for the rest of the movie.
What seems to seal their fate comes in the form of Michel’s grandmother, who lives on the island of Madeira (about 500 kilometers east of Morocco). The ship stops there and Michel invites Terry to his grandmother’s villa. The two women bond instantly, although the old lady, played by Maria Ouspenskaya, would probably be glad to see anybody visiting her. The grandmother tells Michel that Terry is the right woman for him, but he’s already engaged to be married to American heiress named Lois Clarke (Astrid Allwyn). An engagement to her manager also blocks Terry, who is set to marry when she returns to New York.
Despite these complications, Terry and Michel agree to meet 6 months later at the top of the Empire State Building in New York City. In the meantime, the couple dump their engagement partners and decide to “find” themselves. Michel continues to paint while Terry moves to Philadelphia to sing in nightclubs. I think she’d be better off singing in New York, but she wants to avoid running into Michel until the big rendez-vous. When the time comes for Terry to go to the Empire State Building, she gets into an accident that cripples her. The film lingers on Michel pacing and looking at his watch as he waits nervously on the building’s viewing platform, but Terry never shows up.
Although the plot makes it clear that Terry could possible recover from her injuries, it doesn’t make much sense for Terry to keep Michel in the dark about her failure to arrive for the rendez-vous. Terry and Michel meet once at a theater performance, but he doesn’t notice her condition. Then Michel goes back to Madeira and learns that his grandmother has died, which also seems odd because meeting her again would reinforce the fate of Michel and Terry being together. The predictable ending provides a satisfactory emotional impact because of the subtle acting styles of both Dunne and Boyer.