Remember The Night (1940) Mitchell Leisen

Barbara Stanwyck was always at her best when her character came from the wrong side of the tracks. She seemed to have a natural affinity for those who lives have mostly been filled with hard times, scrapping by the best way they can. Maybe it had to do with her sad Brooklyn upbringing, her mother dying when she was four, pushed from a streetcar by a drunk, and her father leaving only weeks later, never heard from again. That kind of pain has to leave an indelible mark on one for life. Yet, beneath the tough exterior would hide a gentle desirous heart longing for acceptance that would eventually show itself.

This double side of Stanwyck’s persona is clearly on display in an early scene in the 1940 holiday comedy/drama, “Remember the Night,” when Fred MacMurray’s prosecuting Assistant District Attorney John Sargent arranges, through a legal technicality, to have Lee Leander’s (Barbara Stanwyck) trial for shoplifting postponed until after the holidays. This results in Lee, unable to post bail, having to spend the long holiday week in a jail cell. Sargent, in a twinge of guilt, or holiday spirit, arranges through a shady bondsman to have Lee’s five thousand dollars bail paid for. When the bondsman delivers Lee to the ADA’s apartment, she is cynical enough to have no doubt her payback to him will be in sexual favors. To her surprise ADA Sargent expects nothing in return. He really just did not want her to spend Christmas in jail. The look of surprise in Lee’s eyes and face is priceless when this realization hits her.

Okay, so the plot of “Remember the Night” is implausible; a young ADA, paying a woman’s bail so she would not have to spend Christmas in the clink. Soon after, finding out she is a Hoosier, like himself, he agrees to take her home to visit her family. When her mother turns a heartless cold shoulder toward her daughter’s return, the ADA brings the woman home to meet his loving homespun family. Over the course of the week the couple falls in love. After the holidays, they return to New York and Lee’s trial. Sargent attempts to throw the case, however Lee pleads guilty when she realizes he may get in trouble for doing so. She is led away in handcuffs to serve her time hoping Sargent will still be in love with her after she is released.  Improbable, oh yes! Also warm, humorous and a great Christmas film, all that too!

The script is sharply written with plenty of witty dialogue, as you would expect, from a Preston Sturges screenplay. Still, Sturges was not happy with the film, mainly due to cuts and changes made to the script by Paramount house director Mitchell Leisen. He thought Leisen put too much “schmaltz” in for the sake of commercialism. Sturges was so unhappy that for his next screenplay, “The Great McGinty,” he sold the script to Paramount for the price of one dollar, with one stipulation, he would get to direct! Sturges also told Barbara Stanwyck during the production of the film he was going to write a screwball comedy for her, and sure enough, the following year they made one of the best, “The Lady Eve.”

Stanwyck lights up the screen. Watch her during the scene in the Sargent family home; John is playing the piano as his mother, aunt and cousin sit by listening. The camera focuses on Stanwyck soaking in the joy and the warmth that fills this loving home, something she has never experienced with her own family. Sentimental yes, but very touching.

Stanwyck gives a wonderful performance, and additionally the woman is very sexy, even in a bathrobe! After the New Year’s Eve barn dance, back at the house Mrs. Sargent (Beulah Bondi) is talking to Lee in her bedroom. Lee had previously changed into a bathrobe when Mrs. Sargent knocks on her door. Her hair is down and part of it fall slightly over her face. The lighting is soft and caressing, and Stanwyck never looked more beautiful. Stanwyck seemed to bring out the best in Fred MacMurray. They made four films together of which this was their first.  In 1944, they made one of the best film noirs, “Double Indemnity” followed by “The Moonlighter” (1953) and “There’s Always Tomorrow “(1956). While Fred MacMurray is fine in the film, this holiday joy belongs to Stanwyck and Preston Sturges. The rest of the cast does well including Beulah Bondi, Sterling Holloway, Elizabeth Patterson (best known as Mrs. Trumbull in “I Love Lucy”) and especially notable is Georgia Caine, in the small though very effective role of Lee’s cold unforgiving mother.

Director Mitchell Leisen was no auteur, but he was a solid craftsman who made some fine films. Generally, he was at his best when he worked with good screenwriters like Sturges or Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett (“Midnight” and “Hold Back the Dawn”). The studios liked Leisen because he worked quickly and was always on time and within budget. According to a TCM article on the film, Leisen brought in “Remember the Night” eight days and $50,000 under budget, however he gave most of the credit to Barbara Stanwyck who he says was the ultimate professional. This included the wearing of a painful old fashion corset for the barn dance sequence which she wore for hours between takes wanting to be prepared just in case he needed her.

The film was well received when it strangely opened after the Christmas holidays in mid January at the Paramount Theater on Broadway in New York. The New York Times film credit Frank S. Nugent called it “the real curtain raiser for 1940……a memorable film in title and in quality, blessed with an honest script and sound direction.”

Note: This is a revised version of an earlier review from 2008 which has been deleted.

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14 comments on “Remember The Night (1940) Mitchell Leisen

  1. Dave Crosby says:

    Dear John, your review is quite surprising, filled with insight into the personalities in our society who’ve suffered in childhood and who’ve grown into kind, gentle adults needing approval and love and acceptance. This is Tennessee Williams’s world, too. I get the feeling that in this horribly commercialized culture we’ve utterly forgotten the downcast, even refused to feel any sympathy whatsoever.

    You’re right about Stanwyck. In “Double Indemnity” we get her deeply felt portrayal of a woman who must have been harmed and damaged early in life but who grew into a cruel and manipulating adult. She could just as easily have become a good person, but the damage was too great to overthrow. Stanwyck registers so truly onscreen as one of these fetid personalities who’ve never known anything but coldness and rejection and who’ve never learned how to go about loving someone or how to become decent. All they’ve ever known is darkness.

    I don’t care for overt sentimentality in films, but sometimes it can evoke deep emotional responses. I liked “The Bishop’s Wife” because of its underlying humanity. Yes, there were sentimental elements, but the overall compassion gave the film power. I didn’t mind being brought to tears at all.

    Thanks for alerting us to what sounds like a marvelous film. You are doing a great service for those who love movies. I can’t really thank you in a way that would seem adequate.

    • John Greco says:

      Dave,

      I just watched THE BISHOP’S WIFE for the first time last week and yes it is sentimental (shades of the TV series TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL) but David Niven’s character does find the true meaning of compassion in the end.

      I also liked the fact that Grant’s angel had some “impure thoughts” toward Niven’s wife, Loretta Young. They were at least impure for an angel (LOL). It added a bit of humanity to his character. Not that I blame him, Young was just gorgeous!

      I am a sucker for Stanwyck. A great combination of toughness and street smarts.

      Thanks again for you input!

    • famousdames says:

      Stany had all the cards stacked against her, from the get. She worked hard and took her career, seriously. That’s how she became the highest paid actress of 1944, when Ava and Lana and Davis and Crawford (I won’t go on..lol) were in the game. I don’t believe she ever got the recognition she deserved, but I’m so happy there’s a whole crop of new young people, discovering her work. She played such dynamic, characters. I’m part of a 100+ group of women that are fans.. We are the Stany Sisters! All in our 20’s & 30’s!
      Thank you for your wonderful posts and links and for allowing me to share, my love for The Boss Lady! :)

      • John Greco says:

        famousdames,

        thanks for the kind words and I am glad you liked the Stanwyck postings. Glad to hear there are so many young women who admire this very talented lady. I think many of her strong film characters and her own real life are good examples for today’s young females. I was in my teens when I myself when first discovered Stanwyck (on TV in The Big Valley), I soon after saw DOUBLE INDEMNITY for the first time and like Walter Neff himself (Fred MacMurray) I was hooked on the dame. Thanks again!

  2. Excellent point about Stanwyck and her affinity for characters on “the wrong side of the tracks” (though, as she showed in ‘The Lady Eve,’ she could also do a pretty good aristocrat!). ‘Remember the Night’ is a lovely film; the lighting in the evening Christmas scenes is particularly well done, evoking a kind of dream-like world of happiness. I love Elizabeth Patterson and Beulah Bondi in their parts, they bring such warmth to them. Thanks for your wonderful post.

    • John Greco says:

      GOM,

      The Christmas scenes with MacMurray’s family are the kind of warm and loving scene everyone would like to have, a loving family, a fantastic tree, snow outside, the warmth of a good home inside and pleasant music. Pass the eggnog, please!

      Thanks again for your thoughts!

  3. R. D. Finch says:

    John, a very nicely written post on a film that has gotten quite a lot of attention in the last couple of years as an underappreciated holiday movie. The opening paragraphs were especially fine. I have to admit that I was disappointed when I saw this a year or two ago. The first half seems to me on the dull side, and the pacing seems off–rather flat and lethargic. But I liked the second half, when they get to Indiana, much more. I’ve just started reading Preston Sturges’s autobiography, and he doesn’t have a lot to say about this film. But he does say, “The trouble was in finding some way to put some pizazz into the story,” and adds that he relied on the second part of the film to do this. That sums up my reaction too. Beulah Bondi is always good, but what pleased me was what a showcase this was for Elizabeth Patterson, a favorite of mine since “I Love Lucy.” I’d say she makes an even stronger impression here than the always-reliable Bondi. I think you were right to emphasize Stanwyck’s part in putting the movie over, because she definitely makes it worth watching. Your opening helped explain why her sense of wonder as she learns the joys of such a homespun life seems so convincing. Sturges also implies that he intended MacMurray to be a lecher and not the virtuous man he is in the film. If this and the hominess of the Indiana scenes is what Sturges meant by “schmaltz,” maybe Leisen was right after all.

    • John Greco says:

      R.D.

      I have not read Sturges bio but those scenes you mention could very well be what upset him, and MacMurray as a lecher would have certainly changed the feel of the film quite a bit. Admittedly, he could play a lecher or creep very well as he proved some years later in THE APARTMENT.

      I can pretty much watch Stanwyck in anything. She has the dual ability to be both a wonderfully talented actress and a star with a great presence on screen.

      Elizabeth Patterson is terrific here as is Georgia Caine (Stanwyck’s nasty mother).

  4. The Lady Eve says:

    Much as I love Mr. Sturges, I think he was off the mark in dissing Leisen’s direction of REMEMBER THE NIGHT. Yes, there is ‘schmaltz,’ ‘schmerz’ and ‘schmutz’ (as Sturges famously cracked), but it works very well. And I think MacMurray is very affecting as the ADA. He and Stanwyck were a very interesting pair of co-stars on more than one occasion.

    Nice work, John, on a holiday film that deserves more glory than it’s gotten so far. But I think, thanks to reviews like this, it’s reputation will continue to grow.

    • John Greco says:

      The schamltz works here so credit should be given to Leisen for those changes. MacMurray has grown on me over the years. i always liked him in THE APARTMENT and DOUBLE INDEMNITY but I have come to admire him more after seeing him in a couple of films with Lombard (HAND ACROSS THE TABLE and THE PRINCESS COMES ACROSS) and some other films.

  5. DorianTB says:

    John, I’m pleased to have the privilege of reading not one but two moving, beautifully-written blog posts about REMEMBER THE NIGHT: yours and Jacqueline T. Lynch of ANOTHER OLD MOVIE BLOG. Both of you made excellent points in your reviews, and both of them have me wanting to make the time and effort to catch up with the film!

    Here’s a link to Jacqueline’s post:

    http://anotheroldmovieblog.blogspot.com/2011/12/remember-night-1940.html

    You two should pat yourselves and each other on the back for your terrific posts! Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at Team Bartilucci H.Q.!

    • John Greco says:

      Dorian, Thanks very much for the kind words.This is one of those films i attempt to watch every Christmas season. Stanwyck, Sturges and snow, a tough holiday tradition to beat.

      I will check out Jacqueline’s posting. Thanks for the link.

  6. Frank Pratt says:

    John,

    I just wondered if you know whether Barbara Stanwyck actually played the piano in the movie “Remember The Night” or if “At The End Of A Perfect Day” was actually dubbed?
    If it was dubbed, what are the details? I would really appreciate the answer to this question.

  7. John Greco says:

    Frank,

    My guess is it was not Stanwyck playing. I base this on the way the film is shot, we never see her hands on the piano keys. But, as I say, it’s a guess. I have a biography on Stanwyck and nothing is mentioned in the book one way or the other. Sorry, I could not be of any help here.

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