25 Days of Christmas: ‘Remember the Night’ dances around the standard rom-com cliches

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Throughout the month of December, TV Editor Kate Kulzick and Film Editor Ricky D will review classic Christmas adaptions, posting a total of 13 each, one a day, until the 25th of December.

The catch: They will swap roles as Rick takes on reviews of television Christmas specials and Kate takes on Christmas movies. Today is day 20.

Remember the Night (1940)

Written by Preston Sturges
Directed by Mitchell Leisen

What’s it about?

Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) gets caught shoplifting and is prosecuted by ADA John Sargeant (Fred MacMurray), but when the case gets postponed ‘til after the holidays, Sargeant gets Leander out on bail to spend Christmas with her family and the two wind up on a road trip to Indiana.

Review

There is something delightful about 1940s romantic/screwball comedies. There’s no setup too preposterous, no scenario too ridiculous. The PTB (powers that be) involved throw reality out the window at the start, knowing full well that the film will sink or swim based on the chemistry and rapport of the central couple. Stick ‘em in a car, on a train, in a cabin- it doesn’t matter how they get there, so long as it’s fun and they’ll be stuck together for approx. 90 minutes. Remember the Night is a perfect example. The central couple meet in court as Sargeant attempts to send Leander away for theft, but not a day later, she’s out on bail (provided by Sargeant) and they’re off in the car from New York to Indiana (they’re both Hoosiers, you see- why wouldn’t they road trip it up?).  After this initial setup, however, the film steers clear of most of the expected beats and this refreshing take, along with Stanwyck and MacMurray’s performances, makes for a good time.

The first, and perhaps most important, avoided cliché is Bickersons Syndrome, the notion that romantic comedy leads must first hate each other and argue due to their secret attraction. Once Leander’s suspicions towards Sargeant’s motives for springing her are eased, the two get along famously, removing any need for continual plot machinations forcing them together. Stanwyck and MacMurray have an easy chemistry and from the start they make sense as a couple. Sturges’ decision to sidestep the usual route to rom-com romance is a welcome change. Anyone who reads the summary, watches a trailer, or even sees the poster knows where the story is headed and it’s refreshing to see the film recognize this.

Another significant difference from the genre norm is the lack of an antagonist. The only thing keeping the two apart is the trial waiting for them after New Year’s, but even that isn’t a particularly powerful force in most of the film. Leander knows she’s guilty and openly admits it, to Sargeant at least, and holds no animus against him for doing his job. It does come into play in the latter part of the film, but the characters and film avoid being bogged down by this. The final change involves the ending, which takes a different direction than some might expect.

Barbara Stanwyck is great as Leander, who is very much the prototypical Stanwyck protagonist- smart, tough, and always game for a laugh. Fred MacMurray plays off her well and it’s a blast to see them together playing comedic predecessors to their more famous pairing in the great Double Indemnity. In fact, classic movie fans would be well served by a double feature of the two, as the latter could be seen as a dark sequel to the former’s light romp. There are several other memorable performances sprinkled throughout, along with a song or two, and though Sturges was annoyed at the cuts to his script by Mitchell Leisen, the 91 minute runtime keeps things moving and stops the audience from spending too much time thinking about the more preposterous elements of the premise. Remember the Night is a traditional 40s comedy in the best sense of the term, and without some of the negative connotations that come with.

How Christmassy is it?

The entire premise of the film is predicated on Christmas and spending the holidays with those you care about. On the Christmas movie scale (1=Brazil, 5=A Christmas Story), this gets a 4.

You May Like It If…

You like Stanwyck, Sturges, or you like romantic comedies but not their often tired character beats.

Final thoughts:

Remember the Night is light, fun, and refreshingly uncomplicated.

Kate Kulzick

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