If you're a romance fan, have you ever asked yourself why you love this genre? Were you born a romantic, or can you pinpoint influences in your life that have nudged you in this direction?
I’ve often thought that my love of romance started early, shaped by my imaginative and dreamy nature… and the very feminine world in which I grew up. I was the eldest of three girls, and my mother was one of four girls, and her sisters (my aunts) gave me all those wonderful girly books for birthdays and Christmas… the Anne Books, Little Women, Pollyanna, Seven Little Australians… all of these stories had romance at their heart.
And then there were the movies… Our family never had a television and I saw very few movies, so the movies I did see had a huge impact on me. One of these, viewed when I was very young, was An Affair to Remember…
I saw this on a Christmas visit to Sydney, and I was only seven, turning eight. My aunt took me to see it, and I always found going out with her quite fascinating. Our excursions invariably included going to a café for afternoon tea, and she would have a cigarette afterwards, and then, while sitting at the table, she’d reapply her lipstick and powder her nose. My mum would never have done this in public. And it was in this fascinating context that An Affair to Remember wrapped itself around my tender, young heart and sent down very strong roots.
For those of you too young to know, this is the movie that is referred to in Sleepless in Seattle. Apparently there was an even earlier version and there has been a more modern remake called Love Affair, but in my opinion this isn’t anywhere near as good as the version with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.
Of course, when I became a romance author I had to watch this movie again (you can buy it in supermarkets and I reckon it’s a worthwhile investment). I wanted to work out why the movie left such a deep impression on me. I’m always trying to examine exactly how romance stories work their magic.
(BTW, there are spoilers here, but this movie is so well known, I’m guessing it doesn’t matter. You could know every line by heart and still cry.)
So why do I love An Affair to Remember? Let me tell you ten reasons…
1. There’s an excellent cute meet. Two urbane and beautiful people (both engaged to someone else ) – international playboy, Nicky Ferranti, and night club singer-cum-kept woman, Terry McKay – meet on a luxury liner and exchange witty retorts shimmering with thinly veiled flirtation. I love the fact that she has the upper hand.
"My mother told me never to enter a man's room in months ending in ‘r’."
2. Right from the very start the sexual tension between this couple jumps off the screen.
3. The characters have just enough depth. We learn through deftly handled dialogue over several scenes, about Terry’s difficult family background. We also discover a completely new side to Nicky when their ship calls into port in the south of France. He and Terry visit his grandmother. (I do love a bad boy who’s lovely to his grandmother.) In this scene there’s also a warning about a test for Nicky’s character that will come in the future.
His grandmother says: "Sometimes I'm frightened that life will present a bill to Nicolo one day, that he will find hard to pay." We in the audience know this is an omen of bad things to come, that will almost certainly involve Terry.
4.The setting of this pivotal scene is visually stunning and super romantic. All my life, I’ve remembered Deborah Kerr kneeling in the grandmother’s private chapel… as well as her gorgeous home and garden beside the sea, and that hauntingly beautiful music… and the moment with the shawl…
5. The turning points are clearly signalled. OK, this might sound corny to you, but I love it when Terry says to Nicky: "We're heading into a rough sea, Nicky."And he replies: "I know. We changed our course today."
These lines are said back on the ship, after the beautiful interlude at the grandmother’s, during which the movie’s lovely and famously haunting theme song is played and sung. We know Terry and Nicky have fallen in love and that their pre-existing relationships are now in jeopardy.
6. The characters have well motivated goals. Inspired by his new love, the hero wants to turn his life around. Not only will he extract himself from his loveless engagement to a wealthy heiress, Nicky now has new goals to earn money as a painter and to prove to Terry that he loves her and is worthy of her.
7. The movie proves my editor is right. My editor never wants me to have too many pages in which the hero and heroine aren’t together, taking centre stage. And the next part of this movie demonstrates why. You actually feel quite deflated once the couple are parted. The dazzle leaves the screen. Luckily this is saved by…
8. A ticking clock! We know that Nicky and Terry plan to meet in six months’ time at the top of the Empire State building, and we get glimpses of how both characters are working towards their goals during this time. We’re desperate for them to get together again.
9. A really big black moment. Tragedy strikes when Terry is knocked down by a taxi on her way to keep this important appointment. Nicky never knows why she doesn’t turn up. He waits for her till midnight. (sigh)
10. A tear jerker ending. I believe everything about this movie’s ending works to bring a lump to the throat.
* The drawn out tension in which we will Nicky to find out that Terry’s in a wheelchair. Or for her to make contact and tell him.
* The fact that it’s Christmas.
* More tension!!!!!!!!!!!! During his arrival at her flat, still not knowing the truth about her accident.
* The gift of the grandmother’s shawl, sent for Terry after the grandmother’s death. … ‘So that’s why my letters came back unanswered.’
* The pain in Nicky’s face when he learns the truth. (Cary Grant does this moment perfectly, and this is where the modern remake falls down completely.)
* And then that line: ‘If it had to be one of us, why did it have to be you?’