A note from Lindsey: In addition to being a part of the Eight Days of Christmas celebration, this film is being reviewed/re-watched for the Barbara Stanwyck Filmography Project. For more reviews from this project, visit the Listography page!
Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) is in trouble with the law. Just in time for the Christmas shopping season, she’s done a little less-than-legal “shopping,” stealing a bracelet from a department store.
Her defense is an eccentric man and meandering lecturer (Willard Robertson) known for the showy performances he puts on for the jury. The man set on locking Lee up is John Sargent (Fred MacMurray), assistant DA with a great track record of winning cases.
John knows that it’s harder to get a conviction during the holiday season, especially when the accused is a woman, so he manages to put the case on hold until the new year. But his sympathies get the best of him, and not wanting Lee to have to spend Christmas alone in jail, he bails her out.
Lee might have rather kept put in the clink, as she has no money and nowhere to go… until she discovers that John is headed to visit his family in Indiana, which is also her home state. The two embark on a journey from New York to Indiana and back, finding a few mishaps and a little bit of romance along the way.
Remember the Night was written by Preston Sturges and directed by Mitchell Leisen. This film marked the first pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, who would go on to co-star in three more films: Double Indemnity, The Moonlighter, and There’s Always Tomorrow.
Double Indemnity is, has been, and probably always will be my favorite of the four Stanwyck-MacMurray films. This statement probably rings true for many a classics fan — Double Indemnity is the best-remembered film of the pair, and one of the true enduring classics of film noir. Remember the Night may not reach the heights of that unforgettable film, but MacMurray and Stanywck are still wonderful to watch together in this wintery romance. Their chemistry is very strong, and their individual performances are great as well.
Remember the Night blends drama, romance, and some lighter/more festive moments. It does so very successfully, the viewer easily becoming invested in the relationship between John and Lee — so long as you can suspend your disbelief regarding their twisting of the legal system. (Was it ever really okay for an ADA to bail a defendant out of jail and embark on a road trip with said defendant?)
Willard Robertson, star of the film’s supporting cast, brings big laughter in his wacky hypnotism defense while arguing Lee’s case. This is one of the funniest courtroom scenes of classic Hollywood, in my opinion. Robertson brings to life a man of wild ideas, a hyper-energetic and very theatrical lawyer showboating his way through every case.
After these laughs are had, the traditions and festivities of John’s family are sweet to watch, reminding the viewer of their own holiday customs, even if those are different from the ones shown in the film. Remember the Night evokes nostalgia through the warmth and long-held, much-loved traditions of the Sargent family.
One of Stanwyck’s Hollywood nicknames was “the queen,” and perhaps she should also be considered the queen of classic Christmas flicks. Along with Remember the Night and all of its delight, she starred in the stellar Christmas in Connecticut, bringing buckets of charm and talent to the holiday movie season.