Beatty believes classic 'Love Affair' needed little retouching

October 21, 1994|By John Hartl | John Hartl,Seattle Times

"It's a good story, a good yarn for a movie," says Warren Beatty. "It's a little like an old standard that is a good tune."

The good story is not a new story. But Mr. Beatty and his real-life wife Annette Bening give it new life in "Love Affair," their movie that opens today.

Leo McCarey's "Love Affair," which starred Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer when it was first produced in 1939, has now been filmed more times than any story written by Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton or William Faulkner.

McCarey's popular 1957 remake, "An Affair to Remember," starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, inspired Nora Ephron to make last year's blockbuster "Sleepless in Seattle," which, like its predecessors, revolves around a star-crossed lovers' rendezvous at the Empire State Building.

The latest version stars Mr. Beatty and Ms. Bening, with Katharine Hepburn in a key supporting role first played by Maria Ouspenskaya. The new "Love Affair" was written by Mr. Beatty and Robert Towne (the co-writers of "Shampoo")and directed by Glenn Gordon Caron (whose credits include TV's "Moonlighting").

When he arrived in Hollywood in the 1960s, Mr. Beatty caught up with the first "Love Affair" and became acquainted with some of the people who had worked on it, including screenwriters Donald Ogden Stewart and Delmer Daves.

"Those people are all credited on the movie," he said by phone from his Los Angeles office. "That's something I insisted on. I didn't feel it was right not to do."

Mr. Beatty still feels a little burned by critics' reactions to his previous remake, "Heaven Can Wait," a 1978 comedy based on the 1941 afterlife fantasy, "Here Comes Mr. Jordan."

"When you do a revival of a play in the theater, you're not sticking your neck out so much," he said.

For every critic who told him "Gee, this is no 'Here Comes Mr. Jordan,'" he said, there would be another who felt the whole idea was too old-fashioned. In a sense, he can't disagree with either statement, but to him these are not justified criticisms.

"With 'Love Affair' it's like singing 'Danny Boy' in the middle of a rap concert -- and 'Danny Boy's' a good song," he said. "I think when you do a remake it's best to understand that you're dealing in a particular form and not try to fight it.

"Having done two of them, there are certain things I've learned. If you like a movie enough to remake it, you should respect it and take as much as you can from the original. There's no point in proving your own originality."

He feels that "Sleepless in Seattle" missed the point:"It's a nice comedy that makes a joke about 'Love Affair.' It makes fun of 'Love Affair.' It's certainly nothing much to do with 'Love Affair.' "

He doesn't buy Ms. Ephron's thesis that men prefer action movies like "The Dirty Dozen," while "Affair to Remember" is strictly a "chicks' movie."

"I think that's a matter of opinion that Nora has. I think the picture is as much a man's movie as a woman's movie. I don't consider myself a woman, nor do I consider all the men I know who are fond of this story to be women.

"I think thematically there is something pleasing to the male, about a man who is cynical, who lives one way in the beginning and is actually able to change. It's the possibility of redemption for bad boys, that things can go from cynical to non-cynical. This is not exclusively female territory."

It was always Mr. Beatty's idea to update "Love Affair," to bring it into the late 20th century yet not make it specific to a certain year. The shipboard romance of the first two films is now preceded by an emergency plane landing in the South Seas, after which the two lovers are forced to take a slow boat back to civilization.

"We knew that transportation really is different now," said Mr. Beatty. "Someone is on an ocean liner because they want to be, which has all kinds of implications."

Mr. Beatty had very strong ideas about casting once the script was in place. He persuaded Katharine Hepburn to make her first big-screen appearance since "On Golden Pond" 13 years ago. Her character was Charles Boyer's grandmother in the first "Love Affair," but she's become Mr. Beatty's aunt in this treatment. In each film, the character is crucial to cementing the lovers' relationship.

"Hepburn was the only person who I had in my head, who had that kind of persona, who could be catalytic at that point in the movie," he said. "And of course I have feelings for Annette that brought the whole thing alive for me."

Although Mr. Beatty often directs the films he writes and produces, he chose not to do so this time.

"I just don't feel that this style of picture is best directed by someone in it," he said. "It's just that I don't think that that's smart. There's something a little disgusting about someone directing himself in a picture like this.

"It's a story that's sort of dependent on things that are ephemeral and reliant upon the two leading characters having a good time doing it. It's distracting to also be the director."

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