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.
Barbara 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.
Although 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.