B&W, 1940, 94 mins. 8 secs.
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Beulah Bondi, Elizabeth Patterson, Sterling Holloway
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Turner Classic Movies (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Odeon (DVD) (UK R2 PAL), Mr. Banker (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL)
Scattered among the famous and much-loved Golden Age Hollywood Christmas classics like Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life, and White Christmas are plenty of lesser recognized yuletide favorites like Holiday Affair, It Happened on 5th Avenue, and The Holly and the Ivy. Though familiar to die-hard classic movie fans (and especially avid Turner Classic Movies watchers), these ones never quite captured the same kind of multi-generational public appeal-- and few have enjoyed more of a perpetual movie buff cult status than Remember the Night, which earned its place in the history books as the first of multiple pairings between stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray (later to achieve film noir immortality in Double Indemnity) and the last screenplay by Preston Sturges before he became a legendary comedy director. Thanks to its lackluster title and marketing campaign, it's still easy to overlook the fact that this is even a Christmas movie at all -- and it's still one of the best thanks its performances, script, and assured direction by Mitchell Leisen, who was also behind other comedy gems like Easy Living and Midnight.
When she gets nabbed trying to shoplift a bracelet in a department store just before Christmas, Lee Leander (Stanwyck) swiftly ends up in New York City court where assistant D.A. Jack Sargeant (MacMurray) is set to prosecute her. With the trial set to start after the holidays, Jack arranges to have her bail posted to keep her out of a cell for a few days and ends up transporting her to his own family in rural Pennsylvania intended to drop her off to visit her own family. They end up staying several days at his childhood home, where they both undergo significant personal transformations by the start of the new year.
Despite juggling a variety of setting, characters, and even comedy subgenres, Remember the Night stays firmly focused on its two leads who share crackling chemistry together. Once they hit the road together, it's all shot in a kind of cozy glow that makes it ideal December viewing. In typical Sturges fashion, the script takes a few zigs and zags where you might not expect including a pleasing, realistic ending that doesn't settle for the standard clear-cut conventional resolution you might expect.
Initially released by Paramount, Remember the Night was acquired by Universal as part of the studio's library sale and has remained there ever since. A 1995 VHS release led to a Turner Classic Movies DVD in 2010 and a Blu-ray in 2018. The latter is one of the more elaborate TCM releases with extras including an intro by the much-missed Robert Osborne (2m6s), the trailer, two previously unseen TCM interviews with art director Henry Bumstead and actress Constance Moore talking about Leisen (5m19s), publicity stills, scene stills, behind the scenes photos, movie posters, lobby cards, a TCMDb article, talent bios, and trivia notes.
In 2022, Indicator bowed the film on U.K. Blu-ray just in time for Christmas featuring the same excellent restoration by Universal first prepped for that '18 Blu-ray. The quality here looks identical, which is good news as there's nothing to complain about here. The LPCM 1.0 mono track is also in pristine shape and features improved English SDH subtitles. A new audio commentary by Adrian Martin focuses a great deal on Sturges and covers the various sections of the story, the supporting players, and his first experience seeing it in Melbourne. " You May Laugh, You May Weep" (25m14s) is a very informative and insightful analysis of the film by author and programmer Geoff Andrew chronicling the roles of its director and writer in shaping the story, which underwent a few significant overhauls on the way to its final form thanks to their different vantage points. In "Outsider Status" (25m32s), critic Pamela Hutchinson provides a handy overview of the life and films of Barbara Stanwyck from her early days in Hollywood and Pre-Code icon status through her successful adapting over the decades into television. Two Lux Radio Theatre productions are included in their entirety, the first from 1940 with MacMurray, Stanwyck, and Beulah Bondi reprising their screen roles (54m33s) and the second from Christmas of 1941 (54m7s) with MacMurray, Bondi, and Jean Arthur. Also included are the trailer (SD), a 71-image gallery of stills and promotional material, and 1945's Hollywood Victory Caravan (19m37s), a Treasury Department short film (partially shot on the Paramount lot) about the importance of war bonds in boosting the successful war effort -- with Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogart, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Betty Hutton, and Alan Ladd among the faces on display. The limited edition also comes with a folded exclusive poster and an 80-page book featuring a new essay by Rick Burin, archival interviews with cast and crew, press coverage of Leisen and Sturges, sample positive critical reactions, and notes on Hollywood Victory Caravan.
Reviewed on December 24, 2022