Remember the Night (1940)
Directed by Mitchell Leisen
No film epitomizes the holiday season like this Preston Sturges-penned tale of a sincere, dignified prosecutor and the light-fingered woman, full of profound charm and an unbridled capability for human understanding, he brings home for Christmas. Though the plot is far-fetched, the tender sentiment of the story and the sound performances from—and the emphatic chemistry between—stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck as two Hoosiers who unexpectedly find love, is lighthearted perfection.
Life in monochromatic late-Depression New York is tough as usual; to make ends meet, Lee Leander, as she’s sometimes known, steals a bracelet from an upscale boutique, only to be caught hocking it a few avenues over. Assistant DA John Sargent knows the pre-holiday courtroom drill all too well, and during Lee’s hearing, he allows the defense attorney to finish his ramshackle soliloquy before requesting the trial pick up after the new year. Sargent is a decent man, though, and the idea of a young woman—criminal or not—alone and in prison shakes him, so he wrangles bail bondsman Fat Mike to arrange for Lee’s release. She shows up at his door soon after, and rather than bringing her back to the authorities, he takes her out to dinner, and then on a road trip to Indiana so they can both visit with their families.
Though Lee’s visit home is a solemn moment in their journey, thanks to a harsh rejection from her mother, she’s welcomed at the Sargent home, despite her criminality. Lee and John grow closer, and a romance develops, though its outcome is indeterminate as he’ll have to prosecute her come the New Year.
Remember the Night is not a typical screwball farce; it’s a bittersweet, egoless love story full of earnest characters––particularly Stanwyck’s Lee––who stand apart from the commonplace reindeer wranglers and clodhoppers we annually see in December. Samantha Vacca (December 22, 2pm, 6:30pm at the Metrograph’s “Christmas at Metrograph”)