Posted by: reederwi | August 6, 2010

Maria Ouspenskaya, Love Affair (1939)


In director Leo McCarey’s 1939 tearjerker Love Affair, two strangers meet on a ship and eventually realize their lives are not complete without one another. This story has been told and retold on numerous occasions. It was first remade by McCarey himself as An Affair to Remember in 1957. It was also retold by Nora Ephron in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle. Finally, the film was made a third time (with the original title intact) by Glen Gordon Caron starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening in 1994. Despite it’s many transfigurations, the original Love Affair, which was written by McCarey, Mildred Cram, Delmer Daves, and Donald Ogden Stewart is a sweet, love note of a film that would melt even the most jaded of hearts. The story revolves around French artist playboy Michel Marnet (Charles Boyer). While Michel is on a trans-Atlantic trip from Naples to New York, he meets American nightclub singer Terry McKay (Irene Dunne). The two are set to marry other people, but after their first dinner together, they find themselves irresistably drawn to one another. On a stop over in Madeira, Michel reunites with his sweet grand-mere Janou (Maria Ouspenskaya). Janou is enamored of Terry and tells her she is the one woman who can help her playboy grandson settle down and take life more seriously. With grand-mere Janou’s blessing, Michel and Terry dock in New York and agree, in six months time, to meet again at the top of the Empire State Building to see if their love is still true. On that fateful day, a tragedy befalls Terry and she is unable to meet Michel. Will their love flourish? Only time will tell…

Love Affair was nominated for six Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Best Actress (Dunne),  Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction, and Best Original Song entitled “Wishing”). The film’s second acting nomination went to 63 year old Russian actress Maria Ouspenskaya, nominee, (156), as Michel’s sweet, endearing grand-mere Janou. This was Ouspenskaya’s 2nd Best Supporting Actress nomination and her work as grand-mere Janou provides warmth and charm to the film. While she only appears in one scene in this film, it’s her blessing that she gives which connects the entire plot of the film. Her work here is at a complete counterpoint to the iron-fisted supporting role she played (and was nominated for 3 years earlier) in Dodsworth. Some have accused Ouspenskaya for holding the most Supporting Actress nominations for doing “nothing.” In actuality, both of her characters suggested layered backstories and Ouspenskaya was skilled at providing a hint at the rich subtext behind the women she portrayed. I yearned to see more of the Stanislavski-trained Ouspenskaya in each film. Although her total screen time in BOTH films totals 14 minutes, she certainly made the most of those brief moments. Ouspenskaya lost the Best Supporting Actress Oscar to Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind.


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