Remember The Night

(USA - 1940)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Beulah Bondi, & Elizabeth Patterson
Genre: Drama/Comedy/Romance
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Screenplay: Preston Sturges
Cinematography: Ted Tetzlaff
Composer: Frederick Hollander
Runtime: 94 minutes

Right before he got the opportunity to direct his own scripts, and give the world some of the greatest comedies, Preston Sturges penned this should be Yuletide classic that’s, not surprisingly, considerably better than the known Barbara Stanwyck holiday vehicle Christmas in Connecticut. As usual, Sturges gives us a mismatched pair together through the most unbelievable circumstances. More of a romantic drama than you’d expect from Sturges, gentler and tamer than his directorial efforts, and though there are a number of funny moments it’s not a madcap comedy and there aren’t any pratfalls. What’s interesting is the way the film alternates between Americana and film noir. It’s leans toward the pleasant end with the darkness lying just beneath the surface, but that any darkness is present in a 1940’s Christmas film makes you kind of think it’ll surface.

Environment has a great ability to change people. As shoplifter Stanwyck winds up at her prosecutor MacMurray’s for the holiday he can pull her up, but she can just as easily drag him down, especially since the more he likes her the better chance he’ll go easy on her or out and out throw the case. Though there’s some sentimentality, the film is very mature for it’s time. Rather than expecting only the woman to sacrifice, it understands both parties must sacrifice and change for their love to work.

Remember the Night shows the importance of family in the way the characters turn out as adults. Hardened street wise Stanwyck was taught by her mother to be ashamed of herself, and thus she can’t allow herself to open up to or be accepted by others, nor can she value herself. Fred MacMurray’s mom Beulah Bondi and Aunt Elizabeth Patterson might not see eye to eye on much, but both offer warmth and kindness, leading him to become Assistant District Attorney through lots of hard work. The loving family atmosphere of their home quickly begins to smooth Stanwyck’s rough edges and soften her up, but Bondi is capable of being tough to protect her family.

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The first of four pairings between Stanwyck and MacMurray shows them to not only have great chemistry, but acting styles that balance each other off. Stanwyck’s characters tend to be emotional and vulnerable but toughened by a hard life and thus suppressing their feelings until they can’t help but give in to them. MacMurray is at once a smart, witty, and cynical sap, convincing himself he has far more control and power than his willpower and hormones allow. Stanwyck is the better and more dominant performer, but MacMurray can mix intelligence and goofiness in a way that allows you to believe he’s simultaneously in control and way out of his depth. Basically he believes in himself so much that he can convince us, even in films like Double Indemnity where he know he doesn’t have a chance.

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Leisen altered the characters to fit the personalities of his cast, and though Sturges didn’t like it, it’s hard for anyone else to argue when Stanwyck, MacMurray, Bondi, Patterson, and Georgia Caine as Stanwyck’s heartless mom are all close to top form. During the filming Sturges hung out with Stanwyck most of the time, the duo getting along so well that she agreed to do the film he decided to write for her, which turned out to be no less than The Lady Eve.

The one disappointing performer is cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff, who shows none of the virtue of his work with Rene Clair on I Married a Witch or Alfred Hitchcock on Notorious, much less his own underrated film The Window. Even a film like this where the studio system seems to be a well oiled machine shows the problem of the system, that people were usually just there because they were on salary rather than working on something that suited their abilities. But now that the workers have a far greater choice of their projects, they often go a lot longer between doing anything worthwhile because they are paid far more to squander their ability than the utilize it.

The early court scene where Stanwyck’s blowhard wannabe theater star lawyer claims the diamond bracelet hypnotized her into stealing it is a lot funnier on paper than in actuality because it’s staged so ineffectively. It’s certainly the brand of so outrageous it’s hilarious silliness that one could see coming from the man who gave us “THE SPOTS!” But for the most part everyone is working at half of their capability or more, making Remember the Night a good studio effort that’s well worth seeking out for fans of Stanwyck, MacMurray, Sturges, or anyone who wants to see a holiday movie that’s actually watchable.



* Copyright 2007 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *