September Affair (1950)

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Industrialist David Lawrence (Joseph Cotten) is taking a trip to Italy when he meets Manina Stuart (Joan Fontaine), a pianist on the verge of finding success.

Though David has a wife (Jessica Tandy) and son (Robert Arthur) back in America, he and Manina begin to fall for each other. They feel no guilt because his marriage is unhappy, and apparently only exists because his stubborn wife won’t divorce him.

Through an odd twist of fate, David and Manina find themselves faced with the chance to start a life together without David having to get divorced. Both of them have been reported dead as passengers involved in a plane crash, though neither of them actually made the flight.

Faced with the choice to either correct the mistake or start a new life together, they decide to stay in Italy and make a life together with the help of Manina’s friend and fellow pianist Maria (Francoise Rosay).

But things don’t stay peachy forever. The secrecy of their arrangement causes stress, and things get even more complicated when David’s wife comes to Italy.

William Dieterle directs Paramount’s 1950 romantic drama, September Affair. The film is based on a story by Fritz Rotter.

The premise of September Affair seems far-fetched, especially to modern viewers who are accustomed to up-to-the-minute updates (including accurate lists of victims) on tragedies such as plane crashes. It would have seemed a bit less improbable in 1950, when information wasn’t so readily available and investigative techniques weren’t as advanced, but it still wouldn’t seem completely realistic.

However, the two wonderful leads, Cotten and Fontaine, make it work. Both actors are very charming in their roles. The early scenes in which the characters are falling in love are believable and cute.

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Cotten and Fontaine’s characters are likable despite their flawed decision-making, made even more endearing by these actors and their chemistry. Their decision was a bit of a cop-out: faking their deaths rather than facing David’s wife and dealing with what would probably be a messy divorce. They aren’t exactly an honorable or upstanding pair and they shouldn’t be likable for this reason, but they are! Though David and Manina are willing to leave his wife and son heartbroken, believing that David is dead, the audience still roots for them because they have such chemistry.

As a result of these performances in combination with the script itself, the film is gripping from the get-go, and it gets even better as it moves along. Problems continue to arise and the tension is heightened. The music also draws the viewer in, with the beautiful title song being repeated throughout the film and increasing the emotional impact of the scenes in which it is featured.

The film’s ending is a bit of a letdown since it’s an expected outcome, but it’s still full of emotion. Fontaine shines in this portion of the film. [MILD SPOILER TIME.] Her character has been building up toward leaving David for quite a large portion of the film, with her guilt over the situation growing, so the audience sees it coming, but her performance saves it from death by predictability. [END SPOILER.]

September Affair is a riveting romantic drama that will stick with you well after watching. The score: 4/5

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