Remember the Night (1940)

This is one of our favorite Christmas movies, for a whole string of reasons. First, it stars Barbara Stanwyck in the first of her three appearances on our Christmas cinema watchlist: the others are Meet John Doe and Christmas in Connecticut. Remember the Night was also the first of several films in which she co-starred with Fred MacMurray: Double Indemnity (1944), The Moonlighter (1953), and There’s Always Tomorrow (1956). Remember the Night is the film that brought Barbara Stanwyck to the attention of Preston Sturges. During the filming he promised her that he would write a screwball comedy script for her, which turned out to be The Lady Eve. Remember the Night is also the film that persuaded Sturges he needed to start directing his own screenplays. He was dissatisfied with changes that Mitchell Leisen had made to his script and resolved to insist that Paramount allow him to direct. The result was The Great McGinty, the first of a string of the best comedies in Hollywood


Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) is arrested for shoplifting and goes to trial a few days before Christmas. Assistant district attorney John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) is preparing to drive home for the holidays, when he is assigned to prosecute the case. He maneuvers to have the trial postponed until after the holidays, but then feels remorseful when he realizes Stanwyck will be stuck in jail for Christmas. He arranges to bail her out, but when she shows up at his apartment and he realizes her hometown is near his in Wabash, Indiana, he agrees to drop her off on his way home. Leander’s mother refuses to let her stay and when MacMurray learn how sad her upbringing was he invites her home with him. Stanwyck’s hard edges soften when she sees the warm family in which MacMurray was raised, so different from her own. Romance blossoms, but how can a strait-laced attorney be involved with a repeat offender?


The film opens and closes in New York, with street scenes on Fifth Avenue, several establishing shots of the Manhattan skyline.


The film begins a few days before Christmas, includes an old-fashioned Christmas Eve tree decorating party, and a New Year’s Eve barn dance.


Among the several reliable character actors are Beulah Bondi (James Stewart’s mother in It’s a Wonderful Life), Sterling Holloway (the diner clerk in Meet John Doe), and Georgia Caine, who frequently appeared in Preston Sturges’s films, but usually in more sympathetic roles.


Georgia Caine appeared on Broadway with Fred and Adele Astaire in Smiles, which was produced by Florenz Ziegfeld. She had attended the same New York dancing school as the Astaires.


Barbara Stanwyck is gorgeous and engaging, and we see her hard edge melting away when she meets someone who is genuine and honest. The scene where Beulah Bondi begs her not to become involved with Fred MacMurrary is heart-breaking but so wonderfully done.