Legendary screen duo Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in this heartwarming holiday classic, which is more popular than ever as it celebrates its 75th anniversary. Stanwyck is a petty shoplifter caught stealing a bracelet and MacMurray is the Assistant District Attorney who gets her sent off to jail just before the holidays, then suffers a crisis of conscience and bails her out. When he invites her to join him and his family for Christmas, it begins a relationship that strains—but ultimately redeems—all parties. Featuring a wonderful supporting cast (Beulah Bondi, Sterling Holloway and Elizabeth Patterson), stylish costumes by Edith Head, a hilarious yet poignant script by Preston Sturges and superb direction by Mitchell Leisen, this is a timeless holiday favorite that can be enjoyed in any season.
Ask any holiday movie maven what seasonal flick stars Barbara Stanwyck, and they'll be quick to name the spritely domestic comedy 'Christmas in Connecticut.' That's a no-brainer. But I'd wager a hefty sum few, if any, would also cite - or even know about - Stanwyck's other Christmas picture, the charming, wistful yuletide romance 'Remember the Night,' which surpasses its better known cinematic cousin in almost every category yet has inexplicably flown under the radar for decades. How this impeccably produced, sensitively acted gem of a film has escaped notice and not become a holiday staple is beyond comprehension. Directed with delicacy and insight by Mitchell Leisen from a pitch-perfect screenplay by Preston Sturges, and performed with understated grace by Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, and a marvelous supporting cast, 'Remember the Night' tells a simple yet heartfelt story with keen perception, wry humor, and boundless warmth. It also emphasizes core values, celebrates human foibles, and explores relationships with beautiful tenderness. And to think most of us have never even heard of it...
I consider myself a fairly serious Stanwyck fan (I've seen about 40 of her films), and though I was familiar with 'Remember the Night' from reading various critical appraisals of the actress's work, I had never seen the movie until recently, and was surprised by how deeply it touched me. Make no mistake, when stacked against such iconic Stanwyck pictures as 'Stella Dallas,' 'The Lady Eve,' 'Double Indemnity,' and 'Sorry, Wrong Number,' 'Remember the Night' is diminutive by comparison, but it still makes a sizable impression and contains one of Stanwyck's most unaffected, radiant, and endearing portrayals. Known as a "natural" actress who lived roles rather than performed them, Stanwyck often nailed her scenes in one take, and here she seems even more real than usual. She also projects an arresting luminosity, thanks to the exquisite cinematography of Ted Tetzlaff, who makes the 32-year-old actress look about as lovely as she ever has on screen.
When we first meet Lee Leander (Stanwyck), she's swiping an expensive bracelet from a swanky Manhattan jewelry store, then tries to hock it for some quick cash. An astute pawn shop owner turns her over to the authorities, who assign her case to straight-arrow assistant D.A. John Sargent (MacMurray). Anxious to leave town so he can visit his mother (Beulah Bondi) in Indiana, John cleverly wrangles a trial continuance until after the holidays, but pangs of guilt over forcing Lee to spend Christmas in jail prompt him to impulsively post her bond, and when he discovers Lee also hails from the Hoosier state, he offers to take her to her girlhood home. Their road trip is not without incident, but once they arrive in Indiana, a frosty reception from Lee's belligerent mother (Georgia Caine) so angers John he insists Lee spend the holidays at his house. And it's there, in the ample bosom of his loving family, that Lee finally experiences all the simple joys her hard-knocks life has denied her. Not surprisingly, amid the idyllic surroundings and all the Christmas cheer, she and John grow closer, but a romance between an upstanding, by-the-book prosecutor and his unrepentant defendant is rife with complication, and how the couple manipulates the stumbling blocks forms the drama's crux. Sturges himself summed up his plot this way: "Love reforms her and corrupts him."
'Remember the Night' would mark the final movie Sturges would write but not also direct. (His directorial bow would come the following year with 'The Lady Eve.') His disappointment over not being allowed to helm the film was compounded by the selection of Leisen, whom he termed "a bloated phony" and with whom he clashed on the Jean Arthur comedy 'Easy Living' a couple of years before. Leisen, however, substantially improves Sturges' already excellent script by paring down extraneous exposition and tailoring it to suit the intuitive acting style of both Stanwyck and MacMurray. While maintaining the right balance between humor, sentiment, and romantic conflict (with a bit of slapstick thrown in), Leisen also imbues the film with a quiet elegance and easygoing charm that ever so subtly heighten emotional involvement. The movie's simplicity is its greatest strength, and Leisen resists any urge to overplay his hand, especially in the most dramatic moments. (A key scene between Stanwyck and Bondi, who portrayed James Stewart's mother with equal brilliance in another Christmas classic, 'It's a Wonderful Life,' brims with heartbreaking emotion, yet little of it is outwardly expressed.) As a result, there's a timelessness and resonance to this tale that keeps it relevant, despite its advanced age.
Stanwyck and MacMurray, of course, would reteam four years later, steaming up the screen in Billy Wilder's tough noir classic 'Double Indemnity,' and that knowledge makes their tender relationship in 'Remember the Night' all the more appealing and a testament to both actors' versatility. (They would also co-star in the 1953 western 'The Moonlighter' and in Douglas Sirk's 1956 drama 'There's Always Tomorrow.') Their superior chemistry is difficult to explain, because MacMurray is such a straightforward, no-nonsense leading man, yet his natural style complements that of the down-to-earth Stanwyck, and together they make a believable couple who, despite their inherent attractiveness, seem to rebel against the dictates of Hollywood glamour.
Often under the Christmas tree, the best things come in small packages, and 'Remember the Night' is a winsome holiday surprise - unassuming in presentation, yet strangely wondrous. Though little more than a trifle, it brims with honest emotion and beautifully conveys all the warmth of the season without any saccharine additives or shameless manipulations. Do yourself a favor and give this understated classic a spin this season, and help it finally achieve the recognition it so deeply deserves.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Remember the Night' arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu without music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
From the moment the opening credits flash on the screen, it's immediately apparent 'Remember the Night' has undergone a meticulous restoration, and the results are quite stunning. For a film that was largely forgotten for the better part of its history and can't have been particularly well cared for over the past several decades, 'Remember the Night' looks gloriously vibrant. Exceptional clarity and contrast allow us to drink in a host of fine details and textures, and revel in the rich, inky black levels, clean whites, and all the gradations of gray in between. (If it sounds like I'm a sucker for beautifully restored black-and-white movies, I am!) Grain has obviously been reduced, but not in any manner that negatively impacts the picture, and enough of it remains to maintain a film-like appearance and exude a wonderful warmth and lushness. The source material isn't perfect, but any blemishes are practically microscopic. (Just a few errant specks dot the print now and then, but they're barely noticeable and never distract from the drama.) Close-ups are lovingly photographed by cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff ('Notorious'), highlighting the palpable glamour of Stanwyck and MacMurray, and background elements show up well, too, lending the image a nice hint of depth. Patterns, such as the heavy tweed on MacMurray's jacket, remain rock solid and resist shimmering, and even the fine hairs of fur on Stanwyck's coat are crisp and distinct. A bit of murkiness creeps into some of the nocturnal scenes, especially during the film's final few minutes, but shadow delineation remains strong, with only a hint of crush affecting the picture. Noise, however, is blissfully absent, and any digital doctoring escapes notice. Without question, this is a superior remaster from Universal, and fans of Stanwyck, MacMurray, and this beautiful gem of a movie will be thrilled with this exceptional presentation.
'Remember the Night' is celebrating its 75th birthday next year, but you'd never know it from the quality of its DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 track. Universal technicians have scrubbed away any age-related imperfections, such as hiss, pops, and crackles, leaving a surprisingly resonant track that serves the material well. Though treble and bass levels don't come close to pushing any boundaries, the dynamic scale is always wide enough to accommodate their activity without any hints of distortion, and no extraneous effects disrupt the purity of quiet scenes. All of Preston Sturges' marvelous dialogue is clear and comprehendible, and Frederick Hollander's understated music score exudes a pleasant fullness of tone. This is a simple, unobtrusive track that keeps us focused on the film without any distractions, and that's quite a feat for a film of this vintage.
Though much of it is text-based, the supplemental package offered by TCM provides a wealth of fascinating information that will captivate classic movie fans.
Introduction by Robert Osborne (HD, 2 minutes) - The stalwart host of Turner Classic Movies calls 'Remember the Night' a "gem," and marvels at how a picture boasting such a strong cast, accomplished director, and esteemed screenwriter could remain in relative obscurity for decades.
Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2 minutes) - The original preview somewhat spoils the film's ending, so make sure you don't watch it before you see the movie for the first time.
TCM Archival Interviews (HD, 5 minutes) - Two brief interviews - with art director Henry Bumstead and actress Constance Moore - focus on director Mitchell Leisen and his talents, personality, and artistic nature. Both clips make their premiere on this disc.
Still Gallery (HD) - Divided into five sections - Publicity Stills, Scene Stills, Behind the Scenes Photos, Movie Posters, and Lobby Cards - these galleries present a total of 63 images with captions. The photos are crystal clear in HD, and the movie posters and lobby cards are in full color.
TCMDb Article - This excellent article, which also can be accessed on the TCM website, provides a comprehensive chronicle of the film's production, detailing tensions between Sturges and Leisen (whom Sturges called "a bloated phony"), the evolution and development of the script, Stanwyck's legendary professionalism, and critical reaction to the movie.
Biographies - In-depth bios of both Leisen and Sturges are included in text form.
Trivia - Almost all the nuggets included here are culled from the above material.
A beautifully affecting holiday romance that plays well any time of year, 'Remember the Night' is a forgotten gem that's been given glorious new life on Blu-ray, thanks to a marvelous restoration produced by Turner Classic Movies in partnership with Universal. Four years before 'Double Indemnity,' Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray shine in much gentler roles, and their much different - but no less potent - chemistry, along with an understated script by Preston Sturges and sensitive direction by Mitchell Leisen, infuse this simple love story with tenderness and warmth. Excellent video and audio transfers and an array of interesting and informative supplements at last elevate this under-the-radar movie to holiday classic status, where it hopefully will remain forevermore. 'Remember the Night' will surely brighten your holiday season, and if you haven't yet discovered it, you're in for a treat. Highly recommended.