For classic movie fans around the world, the combination of Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray is pure movie magic. Their four films together are immensely entertaining and highly memorable. (At least the three that I have seen, since I can’t find Douglas Sirk’s 1956 drama, There’s Always Tomorrow.) Of course Double Indemnity is their greatest achievement, but one shouldn’t overlook their holiday classic, Remember The Night (1940).
In Remember The Night, Barbara plays Lee Leander, a petty thief, who in the opening moments of the film, steals a valuable bracelet and minutes later is arrested while trying to sell it at another jewelry shop. In court, she is forced to fight for her freedom against Assistant D.A. John Sargeant (Fred McMurray). He knows how hard it is to get a conviction just a few days before Christmas, and when he sees an opening in the defense, he finds a way to get a continuance until after the holidays. Furious, Lee gives Sargeant some dirty looks and a not so sincere “Merry Christmas” on her way to jail.
Sargeant feels sorry for Lee and gets her out on bail. The bondsman brings Lee to Sargeant’s home, thinking that he wanted to “spend some time with her”, and the two end up having dinner and dancing. Sargeant is supposed to leave New York tonight because he is spending the holidays at his mother’s farm in Indiana. He learns that Lee is a fellow Hoosier and he offers to drive her to visit her estranged mother. She agrees, but when they get to Lee’s childhood home she is not met with a warm reception, to say the least. After feeling even more sorry for the lack of love Lee has been shown throughout her life, Sargeant takes Lee with him to stay with his mother (the great Beulah Bondi), her sister Aunt Emma (Elizabeth Patterson) and Sargeant’s cousin, Willie (Sterling Holloway, in one of his last substantial roles before becoming a regular voice talent for Walt Disney).
Of course after spending significant time together during Christmas and New Year’s, Lee and Sargeant fall in love and are forced to figure out what they are going to do when they get back onto different sides of the courtroom.
Remember The Night is a marvelous, heart-felt film. Although the story doesn’t focus on the Christmas element, it still embodies the general feeling of the season, and when combined with a warm cup of hot chocolate, it is easy to get swept away in the holiday spirit.
It was directed by Mitchell Leisen and written by Preston Sturges. Sturges was upset about how much of his script Leisen edited, and from this point on he insisted on directing his screenplays himself. (And aren’t we excited about that!) As an interesting note, Sturges, who frequented the set during filming, took an interest in Barbara Stanwyck’s acting and comedy style and promised to write her a screwball comedy; so in many ways Remember The Night is an even better film because it resulted in the making of The Lady Eve (1941).
In addition to the great script, Remember The Night works so well because of the fantastic performances from the entire cast. Stanwyck and McMurray play off of each other so well, and their chemistry is second to none. Stanwyck is extremely funny,and particularly beautiful, while McMurray plays her knight in shinning armor, and does it well. The scene where they are in Lee’s childhood home is especially memorable. McMurray uses his words carefully to make sure that Lee’s mother (Georgia Caine) understands his meaning. He sounds like a real D.A., and between Sturges’s words and McMurray’s acting, this scene comes out as one of the highlights of the film.
Beulah Bondi is again the perfect cast as Sargeant’s mother, but we all know this because she has been the greatest cast mother in Hollywood history. She knows the part well and portrays herself as the always loving, easily forgiving woman in a way in which no other actress will ever be able to duplicate.
Will Remember The Night be making any lists of “Greatest Christmas Movies”? Probably not, but that shouldn’t take away from the overall enjoyment and pleasure that anyone can get out of the romantic story. Filled with laughs and tenderness, Remember The Night is a great way to spend a winter evening.Back to Home for More Reviews