Spotlight on Remember the Night
If you were to ask me who my favorite actress is I would immediately state Barbara Stanwyck. The woman could do it all – comedy, drama, noir, westerns…nothing was beyond her immeasurable talent. So when I heard about the Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood I knew I had to take part AND I knew exactly what I wanted to write about.
Remember the Night is not only one of my favorite Barbara Stanwyck films but one of my favorite films of all time. This lovely little film has often been overlooked for more flashier fare but it deserves status as a true cinema classic.
Released in 1940 it was written by the fantastic Preston Sturges and directed by Mitchell Leisen. The duo had previously collaborated on another personal favorite, 1937’s Easy Living and their skills shine in both films though the former is a light comedy while Remember the Night has a more serious tone.
The plot takes place at Christmastime and centers around seasoned thief Lee Leander (Stanwyck) and the DA trying to put her in jail (Fred MacMurray). MacMurray’s John Sargent is a expert at prosecuting female criminals and delays Lee’s trial until after the new year to avoid a sympathetic jury. That doesn’t sit well with Lee who is loathe to spend the holidays behind bars. Suffering a guilty conscience Sargent bails her out. Unfortunately, she has no place to go and ends up on his doorstep. The pair soon discover they both hail from Indiana and end up taking a road trip to their home state.
The road trip sequence is a real highlight of the film and shows off both Stanwyck and MacMurray’s comedic skills. There’s a particularly funny scene involving a stolen thermos of milk, a local justice of the peace and a trash can fire that’s a true slapstick gem.
The duo eventually end up at Sargent’s childhood home and we’re introduced to his goodhearted mother (Beulah Bondi), sweet aunt (Elizabeth Patterson) and dimwitted farmhand (Sterling Holloway). There’s much holiday cheer and family togetherness and soon sparks begin to fly between John and Lee. But how could a romance ever succeed between a small time criminal and the man trying to put her away?
I can’t emphasize enough how much I love this movie. The acting is top notch. Stanwyck effortlessly portrays a range of emotions (from anger to heartache to humor to love) with ease and MacMurray exudes a kind strength that would make anyone fall for him. The supporting cast is absolutely wonderful with Bondi portraying a mother who wants what’s best for her son but can’t help but love the girl who may take that all away, Patterson portraying a maiden aunt who decides to play matchmaker and give the young couple a chance at the love she lost and Holloway as the farm hand who’s always there with a good dose of comic relief.
In addition to the acting the story is filled with laughter, tears and a large amount of heart. It embraces the holiday setting and makes one long for a period that once or perhaps never was. I was lucky enough to attend an Academy screening of Remember the Night just before Christmas.
Happily, the screening was sold out and it was wonderful to see the events unfold on the big screen while surrounded by an enthusiastic audience. Upon leaving the theater I overheard a number of people commenting about the film. It appeared to be the first screening for many and the response was overwhelmingly positive. To know that 75 years after its release Remember the Night is still gaining fans makes me so very happy.