Holiday Marathon 2021 - Remember the Night (1940)
Christmas movies are a pretty big blind spot for me, so here’s to a whole month of getting smothered with the Christmas spirit with some of the best in the genre.
The duo of Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray have their first collaboration (of four!) in Remember the Night, directed by Mitchell Leisen from a story and screenplay by Preston Sturges. It’s really that last name that got me excited because while Leisen was crucial for taming Sturges' long script and making it watchable, this movie really longs for the madcap eye that Sturges would bring to the films that he directed. Both Stanwyck and MacMurray get great one-liners and MacMurray’s family is one comic relief after another in true Sturges fashion. The story of a lawyer (MacMurray) having a heart for the shoplifter he is dead set on convicting (Stanwyck) is a predictable one, but of course, Stanwyck and MacMurray really bring it. It’s really stunning to think just how Stanwyck would play one of the indelible femme fatales of noir just four years later in Double Indemnity and how hard it is to reconcile with the sweetness tempered with street smarts and cynicism that she embodies in this movie. And MacMurray is, in my mind, always an underrated actor even though I think his performance is crucial in many of his most memorable films. It’s because he plays the boring guy that needs fun in his life in this movie or the sap taken for a ride in Double Indemnity - thankless roles on the surface but MacMurray manages to make his characters sympathetic without being maudlin or boring himself.
Holiday Spirit Quotient: 8 out of 10 candy canes. The resolution of the story is sappy even for Christmas movie standards, but the warmness of MacMurray’s family and the redemption arcs that both main characters go through is sheer Christmas magic.