Remember the Night (1940): Barbara Stanwyck's Forgotten Christmas Classic
100 Guns, Stella Dallas, Lady of Burlesque, or even her work on The Big Valley come to mind. In nearly every performance I’ve ever seen, she plays a strong, determined, and very independent woman. Remember the Night is the first occasion I have had to see Stanwyck play vulnerable. As the film begins, Lee Leander seems like she would be a jaded, callus grifter, but as we learn she was a troubled youth who got little to no love or affection from her parents. Though it is caught up in a trite, semi-stock redemptive tale, Stanwyck perfectly plays the bad girl (who desperately wants to be good but doesn’t know how) to perfection. Plus, for my money, she never looked prettier. Sure, she was more sexually alluring in some of her films, but the mix of Brooklyn-esque bravado with an Indiana innocence made Stanwyck a stunning leading lady.
I have less glowing things to say about MacMurray though he is enjoyable. The pair certainly doesn’t have the onscreen spark in their first pairing that they would in Double Indemnity, but they do eventually play out the emotional connection convincingly. MacMurray’s character, the focus of Sturges’ script before director Mitchell Leisen (Death Takes a Holiday, The Broadcast of 1937) retooled the film, comes off rather plain and milquetoast, but he handles the comedic parts of the film very well. The standout scene for both of the leads comes when they attempt to milk a cow together. Not only is the scene very funny in the context of the movie, but some of the star’s real personalities show through as they try to handle the large animal. The other notable performance in the film is Beulah Bondi as MacMurray’s doting mother. Not only is she very good, but she also appeared in a more well known Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, as Ms. Bailey.
I hope you folks enjoyed this first festive review of Remember the Night. I’ve got plenty more of them lined up for the month. So come on back and enjoy some more new holiday reviews with me or you can check out all the archived Christmas classics in the Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas vault!
In tribute to Remember the Night's plot here's The Youngsters with one of my favorite holiday tunes, Christmas in Jail.