REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940) B/W 94m dir: Mitchell Leisen

w/Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Beulah Bondi, Elizabeth Patterson, Willard Robertson, Sterling Holloway, Charles Waldron, Paul Guilfoyle, Charles Arnt, John Wray, Thomas W. Ross, Fred "Snowflake" Toones, Tom Kennedy, Georgia Caine, Virginia Brissac, Spencer Charters

From The Movie Guide: "You'd have to be a grump not to like this funny, sentimental blend of pathos, drama and zaniness. It may have been former art director Leisen's best directorial effort, mainly due to the superior [Preston] Sturges script. Sturges had a way with designing a picture so it could get right to the brink of syrup, then pull back with an hysterical comedy sequence. Conversely, just as the humor was about to disintegrate into chaotic slapstick, Sturges would throw a curve that put the story back onto a firm, dramatic footing. Stanwyck is a tough cookie with a shoplifting habit. Christmas is approaching and she decides to give herself a present, a bracelet of diamonds. She's caught by the security people and sent to jail to await trial. She's been in twice before for the same sort of crime and the judge decides to deal with her after the Christmas holidays. MacMurray is to prosecute her in his job as assistant district attorney. He's going home to Indiana for the holiday and when he learns that Stanwyck is also from the same state, he gets her out of jail in his custody. He takes her to her home, but her mother, Georgia Caine, wants nothing to do with her. MacMurray takes her to his home to meet his mother, Bondi, his aunt, Patterson, and their handyman, Holloway. Stanwyck has never been part of such a loving family and is struck by the closeness. She and MacMurray are soon in love but she holds back, fearing that it could never be permanent. ... It could have been maudlin and dreary in many other hands but Leisen and Sturges have made this a wonderful Yuletide movie that's good watching any time of year. Three songs: 'Easy Living' (Ralph Rainger, Leo Robin, sung by Martha Mears in a nightclub sequence), 'Back Home in Indiana' (James F. Hanely, Ballard MacDonald, performed by Mears and the King's Men), and 'End of a Perfect Day' (Carrie Jacobs Band, sung by Holloway as Stanwyck plays the piano)."

From the website, this review of the film by Beth Gilligan:

"Four years before they teamed up for Double Indemnity, Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray appeared jointly in the romantic Christmas tale Remember the Night. Although Remember the Night is a far gentler story, the chemistry between its stars, especially in the last half hour, hints at the sexually-charged electricity the pair would generate in the later film.

"The movie begins with a rapid-paced scene depicting Stanwyck’s character, Lee Leander (who may or may not have been a prototype for her character in The Lady Eve), shoplifting an expensive diamond bracelet from a New York City store. The action swiftly moves to the courtroom, where Lee watches bemusedly as her melodramatic defense attorney makes an emotional plea for her acquittal. It’s Christmastime, he explains, and she could very well have been hypnotized. Sensing the jurors falling for this act, John Sargeant, the prosecutor played by MacMurray, intervenes, asking for a continuation so experts can be brought in to verify the defense’s ludicrous charges. To Lee’s dismay, the judge agrees, and she finds herself facing jail time for the holidays.

"The sight of Lee being dragged off to prison triggers something in John’s conscience, prompting him to plop down the money needed for her bail. He then sets on his merry way, his impending trip home to his mother’s farm in Indiana for the holidays outweighing any other matter on his mind. It is to his great surprise, then, when he returns to his apartment to find Lee sitting in the middle of his living room, having been dumped there by the bailiff. At a loss for what to do, John reluctantly agrees to give her a lift back home for the holidays. Unsurprisingly, the feelings they develop for each other along the way lead to complications when they return to Manhattan.

"Directed by Mitchell Leisen from a screenplay by Preston Sturges (who had yet to cut his teeth as a director), the movie, while unabashedly sentimental, contains some surprising moments that temporarily knock it out of its conventional mold. Although its wholesome depiction of the American heartland mirrors Vincente Minelli’s rendering of small-town life in Meet Me in St. Louis (which was made four years after this film), Leisen’s handling of the romance between Stanwyck and MacMurray is decidedly more complex, and in the end, unexpectedly moving. While many romance films of the era imply that love entails sacrifice (usually on the part of the woman), Remember the Night boldly envisions both of its characters as willing to change for each other. Ultimately, honesty triumphs, and Lee takes the fall, but she does so voluntarily, having been given the opportunity by John to take the easy way out.

"Unlike the pictures Sturges would go on to direct, Remember the Night is full of moments celebrating traditional family life. It is implied that Lee’s waywardness stems from her mother’s outward disdain towards her, whereas John’s upstanding character is attributed to his warm, hard-working mother, played by Beulah Bondi. Life of the farm is given a nod of approval for its wholesomeness, whereas city comes across as somewhat corrupting.

"Although MacMurray delivers (with the exception of the movie’s final scenes) a disappointingly bland performance as John, betraying none of the wit or darkness Jimmy Stewart was able to bring to similar characters, Stanwyck shows herself perfectly primed for the knockout roles she would take on during the rest of the decade. In a single glance, she is able to convey Lee’s restlessness, hope, and despair, transforming a character who could have easily been unsympathetic or unconvincing into a fully-rounded human being. Remember the Night has been long buried in the pantheon of Christmas movies, and Stanwyck is easily the best reason to resurrect it."

From Hollywood Director: The Career of Mitchell Leisen by David Chierichetti: "Mitchell Leisen collaborated with screenwriter Preston Sturges for the second and last time [their first collaboration was 1937's EASY LIVING] on REMEMBER THE NIGHT, a warmly sentimental comedy-drama which well demonstrated Leisen's ability to work with actors, and to convincingly create a milieu. It was the first of several perceptive Leisen films which contrasted the characters, lifestyles and values of New York City with those of rural America. ...

"Since the reputation of Preston Sturges now eclipses that of Mitchell Leisen, it might be assumed that Sturges and not Leisen was the main creative force behind REMEMBER THE NIGHT. Such an assumption is unwarranted. Certainly Sturges' screenplay is excellent, one of the best Leisen ever directed. The screenplay, however, was very different from the final film, and in modifying it to suit his own tastes, Leisen markedly changed the concepts of the characters and the whole emotional tone of the piece.

"Sturges' screenplay was overwritten in every possible way. At 130 pages, it was much too long for Paramount's usual maximum running time of 100 minutes. Leisen produced the film as well as directed it, and lacking [his previous producer Arthur] Hornblow's assistance, the decision to not film several long sequences included in the screenplay was Leisen's alone. One of these sequences had Stanwyck going to church with MacMurray's family and being profoundly moved by the sermon. Several other sequences were shot but eliminated by Leisen from the final cut. They included a scene in the prison where a surprised Stanwyck is informed she has been bailed out, a party at the farm in which everybody bobs for apples and get soaking wet, and a love scene between Stanwyck and MacMurray after Stanwyck has told Bondi that she will not allow their love to ruin his career. Leisen could have kept at least some of this material by speeding up the cutting on some of the sequences he used, particularly the one in which the family sits around the parlor and sings 'Swanee River' and 'The End of a Perfect Day.' Leisen decided, however, that all the necessary plot points were covered in the footage he kept, and that a deliberately slow pace in editing was necessary to communicate the exact emotional climate of the farm life. More than a half hour of Sturges' most brilliant writing therefore never saw the light of day.

"Leisen also shortened and simplified all of the scenes he shot. Sturges often had a tendency to overdevelop his scenes and characterizations, a tendency which made the films he later directed difficult to edit. Leisen, however, instinctively knew what lines he needed and he ignored all the rest. Sturges wrote a very funny exchange between MacMurray and his black valet that was long enough to serve as a vaudeville routine. Leisen cut out pages of dialogue, using only the last few sentences with which the valet announces the arrival of Stanwyck and the bail bondsman.

"The farmer who hauls Stanwyck and MacMurray into court snorts, 'And they ain't even married.' MacMurray replies, 'You talk about marriage as if it's the least thing people could be.' Sturges had continued that speech with a rather profound discourse on the subject of marriage which Leisen didn't use.

"Leisen softened the dramatic moments, too. Sturges has Stanwyck's mother refer to another daughter who went bad as well. Leisen excised the line because it made the mother unrealistically heavy.

"Tailoring the script to fit the personalities of Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck drastically changed Sturges' original concept of the characters. Reading the script, one gets the impression that it is the attorney that dominated the story. Sturges gave him many lengthy and clever speeches which made him assume almost heroic stature. Leisen felt that this was a bit theatrical, and the wordiness of the dialogue demanded a certain articulate quality on the part of the actor that MacMurray simply didn't have. Cutting MacMurray's lines down to the minimum, Leisen played up the feeling of gentle strength that MacMurray could project so well. It was a far cry from Sturges' dashing hero.

"Since Stanwyck retained most of the lines Sturges wrote, her character automatically got a larger percentage of screen time than Sturges had intended when MacMurray's lines were cut. As usual, MacMurray quietly underplayed his role and turned in a most satisfactory performance. Stanwyck is less intense here than in many of her roles, but even so, her characteristic interpretation, when contrasted with MacMurray's style, seems to shift the greater weight of the film onto the female character.

"Although Leisen greatly changed Sturges' intentions in his direction of REMEMBER THE NIGHT, virtually all the dialogue in the film remains the work of Sturges. Leisen selected what he wanted from the script, but he did not rewrite anything himself. There was little need for revision during production, and since Sturges was on the Paramount lot, Leisen always sent for him when it was necessary to write a few lines to bridge major gaps or add a gag. Although the two men were not close friends personally, each respected the other's talent. Despite all of Leisen's pruning, Sturges seems to have been pleased with REMEMBER THE NIGHT. Of all the films he wrote but did not direct at Paramount, EASY LIVING and REMEMBER THE NIGHT are the only ones Sturges liked enough to buy 16mm prints.

"In the final analysis, REMEMBER THE NIGHT is a very fine work, and most of the credit belongs to Leisen. Had the same script been filmed by some other director or even Sturges himself, it might have been just as good, but it certainly would have been different."