“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories.” – Terry McKay
An Affair to Remember (1957) celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. It first debuted in theaters July 11, 1957 and has been capturing the hearts of moviegoers and inspiring filmmakers ever since. Back in February of this year, for Valentine’s Day, I was delighted to go see the film again when it was screened in theaters for a special 2-day event. Sure, I could have watched it at home since I own it on DVD, but it was a romantic experience to take it in on the big screen. The cinematography in its original wide aspect ratio, glamorous mid-century sets and beautiful film score were a touch grander in the scale of the theater.
Named the fifth most romantic movie ever by the American Film Institute, An Affair to Remember was actually a remake of an earlier film success by director Leo McCarey called Love Affair (1939). The rights to the title Love Affair were still owned by Columbia Pictures at the time, so 20th Century Fox changed the name to the one we all know and love.
Incidentally, the story was retold a third time in Love Affair (1994) starring Warren Beatty, Annette Bening and Katharine Hepburn. The 1994 remake was not well-received by audiences nor critics, but it’s notable because it was Katharine Hepburn’s last appearance on the big screen at age 86.
An Affair to Remember, the love story of Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant) and Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr), was one of three films Grant and Kerr made together. The others are the lesser-known Dream Wife (1953) and The Grass is Greener (1960).
This beloved Grant-Kerr film was revived in the 90s to a new generation of movie audiences thanks to the significant part it played in the storyline of Sleepless in Seattle (1993), written and directed by Nora Ephron (one of my favorite writers and directors, RIP).
An Affair to Remember is first introduced into the plot of Sleepless in Seattle in this scene where Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) watches the movie with her best friend Becky (Rosie O’Donnell). “Men never get this movie.” – Becky
But that’s not all. The movie-within-a-movie makes its third appearance in the film later in this hilarious clip. Watch Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) talk about “this one woman” (Meg Ryan) who wrote him a letter, which leads his friend Suzy (Rita Wilson) into a tearful retelling of a scene in An Affair to Remember. “That’s a chick’s movie. […] But I cried at The Dirty Dozen.” – Sam Baldwin
There’s something delightful and relatable about fictional characters enjoying a flick that we know and love. I’m not talking about fake movies seen inside of movies, like the made-up gangster film “Angels With Filthy Souls” watched by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone (1990). And I’m not talking about movies about movies like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and Hail, Caesar! (2016). I mean cinematic gems tucked away inside a feature film.
Another Nora Ephron hit When Harry Met Sally (1989), starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as Harry and Sally, is a prime example of movie-within-a-movie magic. One scene features the two friends watching Casablanca (1942) (starring the stunning duo Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman), in split-screen fashion, talking to one another on the phone while in bed together. “Oooo, Ingrid Bergman. Now she’s low maintenance.” – Harry Burns
The most recent, movie-within-a-movie example I’ve seen is Rebel Without a Cause (1955) being featured in a pivotal scene from La La Land (2016) when Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) invites Mia (Emma Stone) to see it at The Rialto in Pasadena. Later, the two take a trip to the Griffith Observatory which is an homage to Rebel Without a Cause since some of it was filmed there. And speaking of making an homage to other films, La La Land does it far more than once. Mia has movie posters on the wall of her room. She admires actress Ingrid Bergman so much that she wrote her one-woman play about her (which was cut from the theatrical release according to insiders). In addition, there are references to Casablanca within the script and a few scenes within La La Land give a wink or nod to the Bogart-Bergman classic along with echoes of many other films like Singin’ in the Rain (1952), An American in Paris (1951) and Funny Face (1957).
The classic romantic comedy It Happened One Night (1934), directed by Frank Capra, was seen in Sex and the City 2 (2010). Mr. Big (Chris Noth) and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) watch the movie at their hotel, where we see clips of the hitchhiking scene. Later, Carrie hails a cab by exposing her leg like she saw in the film.
The iconic film Gilda (1946), starring Rita Hayworth, was screened for the prison inmates Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman), among others, in The Shawshank Redemption (1994). The film was adapted to screenplay from the short story called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King. Spoiler: The pin-up star Rita Hayworth plays an important role in Andy’s escape.
Next time you watch Hugo (2011) based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik, take note of the clips of the short film A Trip to the Moon (1902) shown throughout the movie. Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) says it was the first film his father ever saw.
Twister (1996) is a disaster movie about a series of tornadoes and the storm-chasers who survive it all. A tornado drops in the middle of a drive-in movie theater where moviegoers are watching the classic horror film The Shining (1980) starring Jack Nicholson, based on the novel by Stephen King. The marquee at the drive-in displays “A Night of Horrors / The Shining / Psycho.”
500 Days of Summer (2009) is an offbeat comedy starring the adorable duo Joseph Gordon –Levitt and Zooey Deschanel. In one date-night scene, they’re in a movie theater watching The Graduate (1967) starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. Spoiler: Their disparate opinions about the film are a catalyst for the couple’s breakup.
There’s so much cinematic history tucked away inside of contemporary movies. Dive into this list next time you’re craving a flick. Watch a film and the film it pays tribute to in a back-to-back matinee.
What films will you watch? Let’s toast a glass of pink champagne and sit back and enjoy the show!