The movie turns the idea into a polemic by complicating the simple premise with the reality that, regarding affairs of the heart, somebody usually gets hurt – and it’s not always one of the lovers involved.
Tender, Mature Relationship Between Cotten, Fontaine
What makes this Hollywood romance special is just how maturely it treats the central relationship between stars Joseph Cotten and Joan Fontaine.
Before the mid-1960s, Hollywood too rarely reflected reality in dealing with adult relationships, especially illicit ones.
September Affair doesn’t pretend marriage is, or should be, forever. In fact, it says life is messy and complicated.
Affair actually does something unthinkable for its time: it depicts two people, not married to each other, engaged in a sexual relationship and living together. In this respect, it grafts a European sensibility onto a very American couple.
Pretty radical stuff for 1950.
Creative Team Includes Major Movie Figures Wallis, Dieterle, Solt
The film has a fine pedigree. Prolific producer Hal Wallis packaged the movie, and hired William Dieterle – perhaps best known for his romantic pictures – to direct. The screenwriting credit went to Robert Thoeren, based on his story. But among the uncredited screenwriters were Andrew Solt, who that same year co-wrote the outstanding Bogart vehicle In a Lonely Place, and a superstar screenwriter of old Hollywood, ex-newspaperman Ben Hecht.
The film marks the fifth of six collaborations between Dieterle and leading man Joseph Cotten. They’d worked together just two years earlier on the supernatural romance Portrait of Jennie.
Here, Cotten plays American industrialist David Lawrence, opposite Joan Fontaine in a nicely underplayed performance as the American expatriate concert pianist Manina Stuart.
Future Oscar Winner Jessica Tandy in Featured Role
The cast includes Jessica Tandy as Cotten’s dutiful but uninspiring wife, Katherine. It’s fascinating to see Tandy, smooth skinned and soft-spoken, nearly 40 years before her Oscar-winning role in Driving Miss Daisy.
Jimmy Lydon, now remembered as the movies’ gawkiest teenager in the Henry Aldrich pictures of the forties, plays a young U.S. serviceman who meets the lovers one night in a café. And France’s Francoise Rosay plays Manina’s friend Maria, who constantly reminds the couple of their sinful ways.
The setup is simple
Manina and David Lawrence meet amiably on a flight to New York from Rome. But when engine trouble forces their plane down in Naples for repairs, they decide to kill time by touring the area. At lunch, they listen to the bittersweet standard September Song, written by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson and sung by Walter Huston. It perfectly mirrors their growing May-September relationship.
September Song and another uber-romantic musical theme, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, underscore key scenes throughout this very Hollywood romance.