Friday 30 December 2022

Remember The Night (1940)

I am sure that people who are already familiar with Remember The Night already notice when it starts to become a more popular viewing choice towards the end of the year (due to it being set during the Christmas holiday period). I wasn't familiar with the film before now, but I suddenly started noticing it everywhere. I can only imagine that it's a solid choice for some of the classic movie channels, and the recent (typically sublime) UK Blu-ray release from Indicator must have helped it become even more ubiquitous than usual this December.

Written by Preston Sturges and directed by Mitchell Leisen, all you should need to know to get you interested in Remember The Night is that it was the first movie to pair up Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. It's not their best (because four years later they would work together in the classic Double Indemnity), but it's a very enjoyable use of their talents.

Stanwyck plays Lee Leander, a woman who has been arrested on a shoplifting charge. She did it, and she doesn't seem too remorseful about doing it, but MacMurray's prosecuting attorney, John Sargent, knows that a jury can be affected by seasonal goodwill just before Christmas, which is why he is happy to request a continuance of the trial until after the holidays. Unfortunately, with no family or funds available, this means that Miss Leander will spend the holiday season in jail. Sympathetic to her situation, especially as he caused it, Sargent manages to get her out on bail. Dropped off at his apartment, Miss Leander quickly ends up making Mr. Sargent regret his good deed. He is heading home for the holidays, and decides to take Miss Leander to her family, where she can enjoy some time before heading back for her assigned court date, and so begins a blossoming relationship that could cause hurt and happiness in equal measure.

The thing that works best about Remember The Night is that it's a message movie that delivers a message you might not actually expect. Yes, there are the usual enjoyable character interactions, and there's a fun set-piece or two (small in scale, but there throughout the runtime nonetheless), as well as the strengthening connection between the two leads, but this is a film that uses the goodwill of the season to reflect a light of joy/shame on the many supporting characters. Stanwyck's character is not pleading innocence throughout, nor does she ever really make any excuses for her own behaviour, but viewers, and those in the movie who get to know her without their view shaded by her arrest, can easily see that there is much more to define her than a penchant for thievery.

It helps, of course, that Stanwyck's character is played by Stanwyck, an actress who I've never known to disappoint (although I still have so many more of her movies to get around to). It also helps that MacMurray is putting in yet another of those winning turns that he delivered for a good few decades, making him easy to root for even when he might not have been consistently in the right. Beulah Bondi and Elizabeth Patterson are a delight as two members of Sargent's family (his mother and aunt, respectively), Georgia Caine plays a much-less-delightful mother to our female lead, and Willard Robertson, Sterling Holloway, and Charles Waldron all get at least one good moment. It's also worth mentioning the small role for Fred 'Snowflake' Toones, a character actor who may be involved a couple of scenes that disappointingly play to the prevailing attitude of the era, but who deserves to be namechecked nonetheless. (it's the writing/direction that disappoints there, not his performance)

It doesn't overdo the Christmas feeling, but you get it emanating from the screen at key points, making it easy to see why people may choose to keep this one in annual rotation. It delivers familiar good feeling with a satisfyingly unfamiliar sprinkling of realism . . . 1940s cinematic realism, which is still miles away from actual realism though. Determined not to let things turn into a fairytale, nor the characters to transform into a princess or prince, Remember The Night is a great example of how to give audiences what they want without letting them feel as if they have just been served a bland final product from the end of a standardised factory line. 

This may not have the constant snowfall and bell-ringing of other Christmas movie classics from this era, but that just gives you all the more reason to revisit it. I know that I'll be trying to make this a new December tradition in my house.


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