REMEMBER THE NIGHT (Paramount, 1940), directed by Mitchell Leisen, is a sentimental drama with doses of comedy, compliments of screenwriter, Preston Sturges, shortly before winning fame as top 1940s comedy director with such madcap classics as THE LADY EVE (1941), THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942) and MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK (1944), among others. It also marked the first of four movies to pair Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, with their most famous being DOUBLE INDEMNITY (Paramount, 1944), but REMEMBER THE NIGHT is certainly a movie to remember.
Set in New York City during the Christmas shopping rush, Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck), a classy lady wearing fur coat and gloves, manages to purposely walk out of the store with a diamond bracelet. After heading to another store to possibly do some more lifting, she is recognized by the store-owner and kept there until the police arrive. Lee goes on trial defended by O'Leary (Willard Robertson), with John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) as an assistant district attorney whose job is to send this third time offender to prison. Because it is Christmas Eve, the case gets postponed until January 3rd. Feeling sorry for Lee for having to spend Christmas in jail until her case comes up again, John arranges to have her bailed out. Because she has no place to go, John, learning that Lee is originally from Indiana, his home state, and since he is planning to drive home there to spend Christmas with his family, agrees to take Lee with him and leave her at her mother's home, and pick up her again on his way back to New York. After John witnesses Lee's mother's (Georgia Caine) cold-hearted reception towards her daughter, who has never forgiven her for her past misdeeds, he decides to take her with him to spend the holidays with his family. Upon meeting John's mother, Sarah (Beulah Bondi), his aunt, Emma (Elizabeth Patterson), and their farmhand, Willie Sims (Sterling Holloway), Lee is greeted like one of the family, which changes this hard-boiled dame after being given a real Christmas she never had, and learning a lesson of humility. On top of that, she starts to fall in love with John, in spite of a trial awaiting her upon her return to New York.
REMEMBER THE NIGHT is a well-written comedy-drama that is unjustly ignored as one of the Christmas packages of annual holiday delights, not as well known as the most famous treasures of revivals, such as Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDEERFUL LIFE (1946) for example. Like IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, REMEMBER THE NIGHT blends comedy with sentimentality. It also has its moments of darkness, such as the scene where Lee (Stanwyck) is reunited with her cold-hearted mother, now remarried. After leaving the home where she was raised, she goes outside on the front porch to cry with John by her side. At the same time, the camera, which focuses on the central character, also picks up Lee's mother looking sternly through the curtain of the glass door, shutting off the lights and going about her business, as Lee tells John that she wishes that she had broken her neck upon falling from a tree at the front of the house when she was a child. On the humorous side, the street-wise Lee succeeds in outsmarting a yokel farmer (John Wray) and a small town judge (Thomas W. Ross), which avoids her and John from spending time in jail for unwittingly trespassing on the farmer's property and taking milk from his cow. Then on the lighter side in the Sargent household, there is Willie (Holloway) taking time to sing a nice song, "The End of a Perfect Day."
In the supporting cast are Charles Waldron as the New York Judge; Paul Guilfoyle as John, the district attorney; Frederick "Snowflake" Toone as John's valet, Rufus; and Tom Kennedy as "Fat Mike." Barbara Stanwyck, who gives an excellent performance, as usual, is presented with charm and beauty, especially the scene on Christmas day where she sits by the Christmas tree looking at John's baby picture while John is playing the piano singing "Swanee River." It's a beauty and glitter in Stanwyck that is more noticeable here than any of her other movies. Look for it. Other songs heard in the movie include: "Nothing in Life But You" and "My Indiana Home."
REMEMBER THE NIGHT, which was formerly presented on cable TV's American Movie Classics from 1993 to 1994, and part of the the Disney Channel's former "Best of Hollywood" in the early to mid 1990s, and distributed on video cassette about the same time through MCA (and Turner Classic Movies where it premiered December 17, 2006). Anyone tired of the overplaying of the same Christmas movies presented on TV year after year, and looking for something new and different from Hollywood's golden age, and worthy of rewatchability, REMEMBER THE NIGHT is the one worth seeing. (***1/2)