Saturday, December 15, 2007

Remember The Night

Remember the Night
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Screenplay: Preston Sturges
Screening: Sunday December 16, 2007 7:00 pm at the Lynwood Theatre on Bainbridge Island

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck debate morality and their future.

Mitchell Leisen's Remember the Night is a great alternative to the usual Christmas movie suspects. The film starts out in the usual brash fashion of screen writer Preston Sturges, as the audience is thrown right into the thick of the action: Barbara Stanwyck's Lee steals a bracelet and promptly gets busted when she tries to pawn it. Luckily for her she gets a good lawyer, who comes up with an amusingly potty defense, and it is Christmas time, with the jury in a forgiving mood. Unfortunately, the prosecutor is John, played by Fred MacMurray, who angles for a continuance until after Christmas when presumably the jury will be over their holiday"nduced magnanimity. He gets his continuance, but feelings of guilt prompt him to bail Lee out of jail. The bail bondsman, misconstruing John's motives, deposits the attractive girl on his doorstep. When John finds out that her hometown neighbors his, he offers to drop her there on the way home to his mother's house, where he plans to spend Christmas.

The couple faces a series of comedic misadventures typical of Sturges' madcap style and then the story takes a sudden turn in both plot and genre. When John takes Lee "home" to her mother, he witnesses a devastating confrontation between the pair, which makes him reconsider who Lee is and how she became a thief. Stanwyck's portrayal of her character's emotional pain and vulnerability again proves her brilliance as an actress and her amazing ability to shift from comedy and drama within the same role. Sturges screenplay and Leisen's direction also successfully meet the challenge of this transition from screwball comedy to heartfelt romantic drama. John invites Lee to spend Christmas with his family where she experiences, for the first time, a loving home. The film explores how Lee finds her moral center and provides a thoughtful meditation on the nature of love and redemption without falling into the simplistic sentimentality present in so many Christmas yarns.
Is this film worth the trip to Bainbridge Island? Absolutely! Primarily, you should go because it is an entertaining and well made film with a first rate cast. Plus, it is a holiday movie that the whole family can watch together without the parents slipping into a sugar coma. In addition, this film has never been released on DVD. Universal released it on VHS along with three other Sturges scripted films, If I Were King; Never Say Die, Easy Living, and Imitation of Life (1934). Hopefully Universal will release this set on DVD, but as they have been slow to release their classic films on DVD with the exception of their monster movie classics, I wouldn't hold your breath. The VHS looks ok, provided you can find it for rental. I did get a chance to see this film in a theater several years ago and the print I saw looked great. But most of all, you get to see Barbara Stanwyck make popovers on the big screen; isn't that reason enough?


  1. Dear Santa,
    I want a tough cookie with a yummy warm center for Christmas.
    This film is a network television Christmas tradition waiting to happen. Remember The Night is an overlooked gem that deserves to be seen, in theaters and on video as well. What a treat to indulge in this immaculate print (I just don't know how she does it!), and the charming ambience of the Lynwood. TJ consistently offers programs unavailable anywhere else in the area, and this is yet another splendid example. The live classical guitar prior to the film (courtesy of Alan Simcoe) was a wonderful touch!
    As far as the film is concerned:
    Barbara Stanwyck plays a softhearted badgirl, who musses up Fred MacMurray's hair, while drawing him into a minor corruption and endearing herself to everyone.
    The visual one-two punch of a love scene with the actors silhouetted against a floodlit Niagara Falls on a winter night, and the courtroom/jailhouse ending, is extraordinary!
    Great writing, superbly cast supporting characters who hit every mark perfectly, and a sweet, hysterically funny, beautifully balanced story, make Remember The Night a Christmas treasure waiting to be discovered.
    Thank You:
    To Annie for this thoughtful preview, peter Simpson for his shout-out that tipped the scales in favor of seeing this show and a huge thanks to TJ and everyone at the Lynwood.

  2. Great Xmas movie. Sturges adds just enough sex and irreverence to take it over the top into the "Neglected Classics" pantheon. And Mitch Leisen was a great director: just watch "Midnight" sometime.

  3. Thanks so much for your comment. I agree Midnight is terrific- I love the friendship between Colbert and Barrymore in that one. Leien also directed Dietrich in my favorite performance of hers- as the love struck gypsy in Golden Earrings.