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?