Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Remember the Night

A lesser-known, but excellent, Christmas movie, Remember the Night, airs tonight on TCM at 11:15 PM ET, with a repeat on Christmas morning at 6:15 AM. It's not on DVD, and since it was made at Paramount, it doesn't get shown on TCM too often. So don't miss your chance to see it.

Fred MacMurray plays John Sargent, a prosecuting attorney in New York who is currently dealing with the case of a repeat-offender shoplifter, Lee Leander (played by Barbara Stanwyck). It's just before Christmas, and Miss Leander is remanded into custody pending her trial just after the holiday season. Unfortunately for her, she can't make bail, so it seems as though she's destined to spend the holidays in prison. Until the prosecuting attorney takes pity on her. He rustles up the bail money, takes her into his custody, and plans to take her to spend the Christmas holiday with his family in the Midwest.

The two things that happen next are fairly predictable: prosecutor and defendant get into some legal trouble together and, along their journey, fall in love with each other. (I suppose that would happen when you're stuck overnight on a farm and are forced to milk another man's cow.) There's a bit more predictability when the two get to his family out in Indiana. His mother (Beulah Bondi) is a widow, living with her spinster sister and a young man (Sterling Holloway) to help work the farm. They're the stereotype of the kindly small-town folk (as is the entire town), with Ma Sargent especially showing maternal wisdom. She thinks that Lee is actually a sweet thing, and it is this belief that eventually gets Lee to show that she's got a conscience after all. Still, there is that pesky little matter of the trial she's facing after Christmas....

Despite the fact that you know all this is going to happen, it doesn't detract from the movie. MacMurray and Stanwyck worked well together, both in a relatively light comedy like this, and in noirs like Double Indemnity. The two are also helped out immensely by a script from writer (and soon-to-be director) Preston Sturges. Sturges injects the right amount of humor into the proceedings, keeping the movie from becoming overly sentimental. Mitchell Leisen was one of Paramount's better comedy directors in the late 1930s (I've already recommended Easy Living and his 1950s The Mating Season), and handles the material with ease, as though he'd directed a hundred such movies before, yet still keeps the material looking fresh. Finally, there's the aforementioned Beulah Bondi, who really deserves a full-length post of her own sometime. She was a veteran character actress who played mother figures over and over, almost always making them tender and the type of mother you would want to come home to at the holidays (as opposed to Ma Leander, whom we see briefly, and who hates her daughter because she knows what her daughter is).

Remember the Night is an excellent example of the late-1930s romantic comedy, and one which is good for Christmas viewing. Considering the stars, it also deserves to be released to DVD.

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