Remember the Night (1940): A Movie Too Good to Show Only at Christmas


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in November of 2009.

In Remember the Night (1940), times were different from today, in many ways. For one, people who got caught shoplifting, male or female, did jail time, plain and simple. This is a movie about such simpler times and is such a good film, it ranks right up there at the top with the best of the non-Dickens Christmas movies.

Family treats like Miracle on 34th Street with little Natalie Wood from 1947, the perennial 1945 favorites Christmas in Connecticut, another gem starring Barbara Stanwyck (1945), and It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) with Gale Storm and Don Defore, are all great for holiday viewing; however this movie, for some reason is not as well-known, but should be.

Mitchell Leisen, famous for a long list of enduring Paramount classic films (Swing High, Swing Low, also with MacMurray, and the Jean Arthur vehicle Easy Living, both from 1937; Midnight (1939) and No Time for Love (1943), both starring Claudette Colbert; and so many more) really stands out directing the smooth proceedings, and with the help of a screenplay written by Hollywood legend Preston Sturges, you’ll know right from the beginning that you’re in for a treat.

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray are perfect together. No one knew it at the time but they would create the same kind of movie magic four years later when they appeared together again in Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. The difference between the two is Remember The Night is for all family members; the kind of movie that requires no explanation to the little ones and the type of movie you will be proud to share with anyone.

REMEMBER THE NIGHT 5Barbara Stanwyck has a problem. She likes nice things she can’t afford and in a maybe not-so-weak moment, she snatches a diamond bracelet from a store and is jailed for shoplifting. The audience learns she’s a tough cookie and has been in this position before, and one can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable with Barbara’s low moral character. That’s where Fred MacMurray enters the picture.  As the no-nonsense prosecuting district attorney who realizes he’ll never get a conviction at Christmastime; he arranges for bail and convinces the presiding judge to let her go until after the holidays.

After being released from the clink, when Barbara is “delivered” to Fred’s apartment, she gets the wrong idea and thinks he’s on the make. But Fred tries to explain to her that he didn’t ask to have her brought there and when she asks “then, why did that gorilla bring me up here?,” he tells her that the cop “has a mind like a… sewer!” Her hard-boiled attitude goes right past good-guy Fred and after discovering that they are both from the Midwest–Indiana, to be precise–he suggests she go with him back home for the holidays. He figures he will drop her off at her family’s place and he’ll move on to his and then, after Christmas, she’ll return to the big city to await sentencing. What he doesn’t realize is that not only does Barbara have a tough exterior, but her mother can trump her in spades.

Turned away by her family, the story is moved along when Fred insists she comes to stay with his family since they are so close by. Enter Fred’s sweet little old mother, beautifully played by Beulah Bondi, who probably was a sweet little old lady in real life, and Fred’s old-fashioned aunt played by Elizabeth Patterson, who we all remember as Lucy and Desi’s babysitting neighbor, Mrs. Trumbull.

Barbara is starting to feel a little uncomfortable around all these sweet, honest and totally loveable down-home folks and realizes she could really get into this kind of wholesome life, given the chance. At one point, she really catches the “holiday spirit” when she plays piano while Sterling Holloway sings a sentimental favorite, “A Perfect Day.” Viewers will happily recognize Holloway’s familiar sound as the voice of Winnie the Pooh and so many other performances in Walt Disney animated films as well as having appeared in countless classic movies of the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s.

REMEMBER THE NIGHTAlthough this excellent movie is sweet and funny, the director is smart enough to know it’s time to remind the audience of Barbara’s criminal past. There are moments when Barbara thinks she can escape but realizes before long, she and Fred are making good chemistry together and needs to find a solution to her problem. The holiday season has never been presented in a more promising note and you’ll realize quickly, this movie is too good to be shown only at Christmas time.

Jerry Frebowitz, president of Movies Unlimited, started selling movies for home use in 1975. First, as a hobby, then by 1978, through a small direct mail catalog, which eventually grew into the big 800-page version seen today. Jerry is an avid movie fan and collector and particularly enjoys classic films from the 30s, 40s and 50s.

  • Gerry

    The mivie that does it for me is “Its A Wonderful Life”

    does it everytime

    And White Christmas.

  • carol

    “Remember the Night” and another Beulah Bondi vehicle “It’s A Wonderful Life” are my all time favorite Christmas films. The performances are grand.
    The best showcase in this film is for Sterling Holloway, known mainly for Disney features,where he’s in a scene singing “The End OF A Perfect Day” with Stanwyck’s accompaniment.
    In this film, Preston Sturges gives us his usual brand of cynicism wrapped up with sentiment and gentle humor Great for the whole family.
    Very subtle and expert performances by all.
    It will not disappoint!

  • Frances Moroney

    Will you ever have the movie: Miracle on 34th street made for TV in 1976 starring Sebastian Cabot as Santa? There are a lot of people out here looking to purchase that version.

  • Jerry Frebowitz

    Good question… the 1973 remake of Miracle on 34th Street is also from 20th Century Fox however they haven’t yet made it available for home use but we always have hope. Please watch our website for updates.

  • Renee

    I loved this movie and looked for it, for the longest, I didn’t know the name of the movie, for the longest I thought it was Christmas in Connecticut and just lucked-up on it one evening. Thank you. By the way, the old Miracle on 34th Street is the best, with Maureen O’Hara, John Payne & Natalie Wood and don’t forget Edmund Gwen (as Santa Claus), is the best one made.

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  • Mary

    Where has this movie been? I just saw it for the first time several months ago and loved it. You can’t miss when wonderful leading actors are paired with unforgetable character actors in a charming story.

  • Lisa C

    I saw this on TCM a while ago and just loved it. Barbara Stanwyck is one of my favorite actresses and she is glorious in this. The stand out for me though is Sterling Holloway. What a sweet, genuine character he portrays. I love it when he steals a kiss from that Amazon woman at the dance. He is so endearing!

    Does anyone sit around with the family and sing? This is Christmas the way we wish it were.

  • Roberta Irvin

    Remember the Night has been a favorite of mine for many years it wasnt on very often but it is so homey you can feel and smell the holiday while watching it when it was offered on DVD last year I immediately ordered it and watch it many times a year

  • Movie Maniac

    I consider “Remember the Night” as the number one underrated Christmas classic. Many people do not know it all and that’s a shame. Great script and performances and the film has a wnderful “Norman Rockwell” feel to it. It usually shows up on TCM every year but is not repeated multiple times like White Christmas or Miracle on 34th Street.

  • Judy

    Two Christmas film favorites of mine each year are “The Bishop’s Wife” with Loretta Young, Cary Grant, David Niven, and its surprises/special effects courtesy of Sam Goldwyn. I also like “Come to the Stable” with Loretta Young and Celeste Holm — another under-appreciated film that’s so pleasant and leaves you with the spirit of the season, though perhaps it’s not a true Christmastime-themed film. But it sure has the spirit.

  • Kyle

    So nice to see how “Remember the Night” is rising in popularity thanks to being featured annually on TCM and plugged by Robert Osborne. And at last it’s on DVD, so I can retire my VHS copy.
    One observation to add to the admiration here: I have a hunch that “Remember the Night” — at least the first two-thirds of it — inspired Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild,” with Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith. The plot similarities are really pronounced.

  • Marie Lazzari

    I loved this movie; very touching.

  • Paul Sprenger

    I do hope that TCM will in the future show this wonderful movie a few more times in the year. I did catch it on Christmas Eve,but that may have been the only showing,this past year. This film certainly does deserve to be seen by many more,who appeared had never even heard of this warm family classic 1940’s Christmas story. Its a good one. Hopefully with the DVD release just recently that will all change.

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  • luvlindab

    Remember The Night is a wonderful film. Try and see it!

  • Jack Jones

    A long time favorite of mine I’ve had “Remember the Night” on video cassette for many years. I’ve put off getting the DVD for fear the picture quality won’t be as good. The movie shown on TCM is inferior to the cassette. I’ve run into this before where the DVD is not as good as the tape:
    The Manchurian Candidate, A Letter to Three Wives, The Sun Also Rises, Ball of Fire. Am I being too particular or has anyone else had this problem?

  • Jerry Frebowitz

    We haven’t experienced complaints on “Remember the Night.” We’ve been offering them for over two years and haven’t heard any negative comments. It is true that many movies on DVD are better quality than others so I do understand what Jack Jones is saying but as far as the other titles commented on above, there hasn’t been any mass backlash on those, that I am aware of. If anyone knows if Universal used a different master for “Remember The Night” than previously used for the VHS print, please comment.

  • Jack Jones

    Unless you compare the DVD with the cassette tape side by side it’s not always easy to tell the difference. If you can’t make the comparison then there’s no difference to see. I’ve spent a lot of time (and money) converting tapes to DVD and it’s disheartening when the latter is not as good as the former. Altho I have to say I’ve been satisfied with the majority of the DVDs I have.

  • Jack Jones

    P.S. The “Remember the Night” print I’ve seen on TCM is not as good as my VHS tape. That’s why I’ve hesitated buying the DVD.

  • outofthepast

    I concur with poster Jack Jones. I, too, have both
    formats of “Remember the Night”. My first impression upon viewing the DVD was that the picture was grainy and not of the same quality as that of the VHS copy. Although it is a rare occurance, some of my DVD copies don’t match the quality of the corresponding VHS copies.

  • Jack Jones

    OUTOFTHEPAST has made up my mind for me. I won’t be buying the “Remember the Night” DVD.

  • Del

    LOVE the film. Barbara Stanwyck is simply wonderful. 

  • debolah

    i always get goosebumps when i hear “a perfect day”…just beautiful!

  • williamsommerwerck

    “A Perfect Day” tore me up quite badly. It’s been a long time since I’ve had one of those.

    There’s a lot to be said for “squareness”. Unfortunately, it too often sits hand-in-hand with parochialism, bigotry, and self-righteousness.

    I can’t comment on DVD-versus-VHS “quality”, but I’ve seen DVDs that were inferior to their LVs (such as “To Be or Not To Be”). I was told this is because the source material continues to deteriorate.

  • Tom

    I only came to this film a few years ago. OH MY GOODNESS! It is wonderful! I cannot compare quality and formats – and that isn’t my point here. Just see it! Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray are amazingly good together – man, what a change from “Double Indemnity!” The whole cast shines – loved “A Perfect Day” scene. Boo hoo hoo…….but then thee are amazing comedic bits – the scene where she sets the wastebasket on fire to escape the small town law! Her mother – perhaps one of the coldest movie bitches I have ever encountered. What does happen to them after the end of the movie????? And WHY is this movie so unknown? You gotta see it!

  • cc

    Thank you very much for featuring this previously unknown classic. I have to watch it every yeay along with Christmas in Connecticut which is many things – screwball comedy, love story, a Christmas story, as well as a chance for Greenstreet to do some comedy for a change where he can be quite loveable. I’m on a quest to see every Barbara Stamwyck film. She could do anything in the world of acting and made otherwise average films memorable to say the least..

  • Deb

    I’ve already watched it once this season but you’ve got me wanting to see it again.

  • sreggie

    I have to agree; this movie is too good to watch only during the Christmas season. Sentimental without being sappy, poignant without being preachy, it’s a joy to watch. The cast is perfect with Stanwyck and Macmurray as standouts.

  • Brian

    Christmas Eve(1947)is a good Christmas film.

  • ReelLadyEve

    Completely agree with your every point on this wonderful gem of a should-be-more-than-a-holiday film. Preston Sturges was not happy with the end result but, for the life of me, I can’t imagine why (other than that he wanted to direct so badly himself). It’s perfect. Stanwyck and MacMurray have serious chemistry and are both well cast in their roles. And Beulah Bondi, what a treasure!

    Another ending might’ve been more sentimentally pleasing, but that last scene, bittersweet as it is, is beautifully done. Also gorgeous is the look of the film (the love scene set at Niagara Falls comes to mind), thanks to Ted Tetzlaff, who was also DP on “Notorious” and went on to direct some noirs, including “The Window.”

    “Remember the Night” is SO underrated, but thankfully it’s becoming better known thanks to reviews like this and annual airings on TCM.

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  • Tommy L.

    My all time favorite Christmas movie is “Stalag 17”!