Remember the Night (1940): Mitchell Leisen’s Christmas Romantic Comedy Starring Stanwyck and MacMurray in their First Teaming

Mitchell Leisen directed Remember the Night, a Christmas romantic comedy, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in their first teaming together; their second, and more memorable, would be in Billy Wilder’s noir classic, Double Indemnity.

Remember the Night
Remember the Night poster.jpg

Theatrical poster

This was the last script written by Preston Sturges, helmed by another director; Leisen also directed the Sturges written script, Easy Living. That very year, Sturges embarked on a very successful directing career with The Great McGinty.

Impressed with Stanwyck’s skills and professionalism, Sturges directed her the following year in one of the best screwball comedies ever made, The Lady Eve (1941), opposite Henry Fonda.

The tale begins when Lee Leander is arrested for stealing a bracelet from a jewelry store, and Assistant District Attorney John “Jack” Sargeant, is assigned to prosecute her.

The trial begins just before Christmas, and Jack, fearing the impact of the holidays, postpones the trial on a technicality.

Hearing Lee complaining to her lawyer about spending Christmas in jail, Jack feels guilty and asks bondsman Fat Mike to post bail. Fat Mike assumes that Jack wants to have an affair, and after freeing her, he brings Lee to Jack’s flat.

Realizing that Lee Hoosier (native of Indiana) has nowhere to go, Jack offers to drop her off at her mother’s on his way to visit his own family.

During the journey, Jack gets lost in Pennsylvania and the couple spends the night in a field. The next morning, they are arrested by the landowner for trespassing and destruction of property, and taken to an unfriendly justice of the peace.

Lee then starts a fire in his wastebasket as a distraction, and the pair flees. A malevolent embittered woman, Lee’s mom has remarried, and now feels her daughter is a lost cause.

Jack takes Lee home to his family, where she is warmly received by cousin Willie, aunt Emma, and his mother–even after Jack reveals Lee’s criminal past.

On New Year’s Eve, Jack’s mother reveals that the family was poor during his childhood, and that he worked hard to put himself through college. She asks Lee to give Jack up, rather than jeopardize his career.

Jack declares loves, and suggests that she jumps bail, but she refuses. Back in New York, Jack tries to throw Lee’s case by acting harsh and aggressive to her and the jury.

Realizing that she might damage his career, Lee insists on changing her plea to guilty.

For her par, she wants to see whether he still feels the same way about marriage after serving her sentence.

Leisen’s changes and trims of the script shifted the film’s focus from the MacMurray’s character to Stanwyck’s (the role was originally offered to Bette Davis, who turned it down).

The movie is not one of Leisen’s best, and nor is it a gem in the short but brilliant career of Preston Sturges, who once described it as a combination of “schmaltz, schmertz, and schmutz.”

Stanwyck and MacMurray made two more films together, the aforementioned Double Indemnity (1944) and There’s Always Tomorrow (1956).

 

Cast

Barbara Stanwyck as Lee Leander

Fred MacMurray as John Sargent

Beulah Bondi as Mrs. Sargent

Elizabeth Patterson as Aunt Emma

Willard Robertson s Francis X. O’Leary

Sterling Holloway as “Chilly” Willie Simms

Credits:

Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Produced by Mitchell Leisen and Albert Lewis
Screenplay by Preston Sturges, based on his story

Music by Frederick Hollander
Cinematography Ted Tetzlaff
Edited by Doane Harrison
Production and Distribution: Paramount Pictures

Release date: January 19, 1940

Running time: 94 minutes

Note:

TCM shows this movie every December around Christmas time.