I was lucky enough to be under the weather and stuck on the couch channel surfing when this was starting on TCM. Not having scoured the filmography of Stanwyck or MacMurray I had no idea they had starred together in more than just "Double Indemnity". I know, I am an idiot.
Given the title of the movie, I was surprised to discover it takes place over the holidays and is therefore a holiday movie. "Remember the Night" is a horrible title for this one - maybe they should call it Christmas in Indiana? Heh. Anyway, the plot goes something like this: just before Christmas, Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) is caught shoplifting. Again. It is her third offense. The District Attorney assigns John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) to prosecute the case since he is the best at getting convictions against women. After an abysmal defense attorney makes a mistake at trial, Sargent seizes an opportunity to get the trial postponed till after the holidays. He does this because the jury's heart is always softened around Christmas and convictions are much harder to get. Sargent has an attack of the old conscience and feels bad that his trick will keep her behind bars for Christmas, so he arranges for the bail that she could not pay. Much like feeding a stray, he suddenly can't get rid of her and after discovering they are both Hoosiers, they take a trip home to Indiana for the holidays.
This film is a comedy, romance, drama, holiday film and even part film-noir. I mean, really, and does it all well. The sentimentality of some of the scenes is well justified after the dark scenes like the one at Leander's childhood home. I loved how it somehow balanced out all the disparate elements.
I really thought Stanwyck and MacMurray had great, great, great chemistry in this and their performances were wonderful. Stanwyck was so beautiful and played it in her usual sassy manner until her character realizes Sargent is a genuinely nice guy. MacMurray played his part carefully so the he wouldn't look too slick in New York or too corny in Indiana. I don't know how he managed that, but it really was a great performance by him. I also loved the touch of Sargent's mother (Beulah Bondi) and aunt spinster (Elizabeth Patterson) not to forget the farm-hand Willie (Sterling Holloway). The scenes at the Sargent's home are so warm and touching that it makes anyone ache for the familiarity of home during the holidays.
TCM also made an interesting note that I wanted to pass along about this one. Preston Sturges wrote the screenplay for this but was apparently very unhappy with the cuts the director, Mitchell Leisen, made. He decided that if he wanted his scripts done the way he wrote them, he would have to direct the movies too. So, when he finished "The Great McGinty" he offered it to the studio for $1 with the condition that they let him direct it. They agreed and that is how he made the jump from writer to director. Pretty shrewd on his part.
As far as "Remember the Night", other than the title, I think this is a very sweet and wonderful movie. I highly recommend watching it, especially around the holidays. Just remember to bring along a couple of tissues for the ride - you may need them.