If you haven’t seen it:
Remember the Night is a comedy drama starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. Stanwyck plays a young woman who is caught shoplifting just before Christmas. MacMurray plays the prosecutor who, feeling sorry for her, arranges her bail, and offers her a ride back home to see her family over the festive season.
This forgotten gem has a great cast, plenty of charm, lots of sentiment, and more than a few laughs. The idea of a prosecutor spending Christmas with the defendant might not be the most believable storyline ever, but if you are prepared to go with it, Remember the Night is a sweet blend of pathos, drama, and screwball comedy.
If you have seen it:
Scroll down past the trailer for more.
SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.
A young woman, Lee, is caught stealing a bracelet, and arrested. Her trial takes place a few days before Christmas. At the trial, the defence lawyer comes up with an elaborate explanation, involving hypnotism, as to why she took the watch. The prosecuting lawyer, John, responds by requesting that the trial should be delayed until after Christmas, so that he can call an expert witness (who happens to be on holiday over the Christmas period) to refute hypnotism argument. John’s real motivation in getting the trial delayed though, is that he believes juries tend to be more lenient just before Christmas, so delaying the verdict until after the holiday period would increase his chances of winning the case. When the judge agrees to delay the trial, John realizes that this will mean that Lee has to spend Christmas in jail, as she cannot afford to pay the bail money. Feeling guilty, he decides to bail her out himself.
John and Lee get talking, and they discover that they both come from Indiana. John is planning on going back there to see his family for Christmas, and he offers Lee a ride so that she can see her mother, who she has not seen for years. Lee accepts. The journey to Indiana is eventful. In Pennsylvania they crash the car, spend the night in a farmer’s field, milk a cow, get arrested, and become fugitives.
Eventually, they reach Lee’s family home in Indiana. There they find Lee’s mother to be cold and unwelcoming. She has not forgiven Lee for stealing from her as a young girl. Lee is very upset by this, so John invites her to spend Christmas with his family instead.
John’s family are much more welcoming. They take a liking to Lee, even after John tells them of her criminal past. The simple pleasures of a family Christmas have an effect on both John and Lee too, and they kiss at the New Year’s Eve party.
After the holiday, they go back to New York. Because of their problems with the law in Pennsylvania they travel via Canada, and have a romantic time at Niagara Falls. While there, John tries to persuade Lee to jump bail and stay in Canada, but Lee is determined to return and face trial.
Back in New York, the trial restarts. When John begins to cross-examine Lee, it becomes obvious that he is attempting to deliberately lose the case. Lee, not wanting Jack to wreck his career for her, dramatically changes her plea to guilty. She is taken to jail to await sentencing. There, John tells her that he loves her and wants to marry her. Lee says that if he still wants her to marry him after she has served her time, she will.
Trivia Trish Says:
- Remember the Night was the first time that MacMurray and Stanwyck had appeared together. They would go on to make 3 more films together, including the film noir classic Double Indemnity
- The script was written by Preston Sturgess, who went on to make the very successful comedies The Lady Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.
- The young man playing Willie, Jack’s cousin, would go on to become the voice of Winnie the Pooh in the Disney cartoons
Steve Sunday Says:
Why is it called Remember the Night? I am starting to think that Hollywood used to name their movies using some sort of primitive random word generator – perhaps a trained chimpanzee throwing darts at the front page of the New York Times? Seriously, why “Remember the Night”? Which night? Why do we have to remember it? What has it got to do with anything? The trailer has Barbara Stanwyck saying “I remember the night I first met John” but it’s a filthy lie – they met in the courtroom. I’ll bet that I could easily come up with ten better titles than the one they used, just give me a few minutes…
Perhaps the rubbish name is, ironically, the reason this movie is largely forgotten now, whereas It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street have gone on to become classics. Another possibility though, is “Song of the South syndrome” – the studios today are so embarrassed by the shameful stereotyping of the Rufus character, that they would rather just pretend the whole movie never existed.
Ridiculous racial caricatures aside, I enjoyed this movie a lot. It was nice to see Fred MacMurray as a good guy for a change – in all the other movies I have seen him in he has been a sleazy, sinister character, but in Remember the Night he was convincing as a decent and honest country boy made good. Barbara Stanwyck also played her part well, she certainly had a lot of screen presence. I liked the way, as they fell in love, Fred’s character became more dishonest, and Barbara’s character became more honorable, until they met in the middle.
I thought some of the supporting characters were a little too broad; I wasn’t wild about cousin Willie – I could not understand half the things he said, and I could not understand why that hat compelled him to yodel. The other thing I couldn’t understand was how the bondsman got the nickname “Fat Mike”. Anyone who has been to Disneyworld in recent years will agree that he was not really very fat at all. If he was around today he would be known as “Average Build Mike”, maybe.
Some reviewers of Remember the Night have said they did not like the ending – that it was not a happy ending. I disagree; I think it was a happy ending, and in fact it was the only possible happy ending. If John had allowed Lee to escape or if he had deliberately thrown the case, then their relationship would have been doomed as it would always have had the shadow over it that Lee had allowed John to betray his principles and/or destroy his career. The shadow would have been even worse if Jon had actually prosecuted her successfully and send her to jail. As it is, both Lee and John have clear consciences, and they can start afresh when she is released after her short (and let’s not forget, deserved) prison stay.
Anyway, back to those ten movie titles I promised you. How about these: Christmas Recess, Look Hoosier’s Talking, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Adjournment, The Crook The Thief The ADA and His Mother, It’s a Wonderful Life (this was still available in 1940), .. er, is that ten yet? I think it must be.
Main Cast and Crew:
Barbara Stanwyck – Lee Leander
Fred MacMurray – John Sargent
Beulah Bondi – Mrs. Sargent
Elizabeth Patterson – Aunt Emma
Willard Robertson – Francis X. O’Leary
Sterling Holloway – Willie Simms
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Writer: Preston Sturges