(USA 1940 94m) DVD1/2 (Italy only)
A bit of hypnoleptic catolepsy
p Mitchell Leisen d Mitchell Leisen w Preston Sturges ph Ted Tetzlaff ed Doane Harrison m Frederick Hollander art Roland Anderson, Hans Dreier
Barbara Stanwyck (Lee Leander), Fred MacMurray (John Sargent), Beulah Bondi (Mrs Sargent), Elizabeth Patterson (Aunt Emma), Sterling Holloway (Willie Simms), Willard Robertson (Francis X.O’Leary), John Wray (Hank), Georgia Caine (Lee’s mother),
There’s a favourite anecdote, a quote from Herman J.Mankiewicz, where he describes Barbara Stanwyck as his ideal. He pictures coming home to her at their cottage in Beverly Hills, finding an apple pie waiting and Barbara wearing no panties. It’s a vision that conjures up two very different films in her career, The Purchase Price, an early Bill Wellman pre-coder where she effectively plays a mail order bride out in the sticks, and this later film. At the time, Remember the Night didn’t seem anything out of the ordinary, but it’s one of those films that seem vital in retrospect, providing a definite crossroads in the careers of several important talents.
A young shoplifter is prevented from release by an assistant D.A.’s machinations to get her hearing held over the Christmas holidays. Feeling bad, he gets her released for the festive period, and then ends up finding that she lived not far from his home town, so he gives her a lift on the way to visit his own folks. Then her mother slams the door in her face…so we know where it’s going, eh? But don’t jump to conclusions, for though this may be a holiday favourite, it’s a sobering one.
This was the last film scripted by Sturges before taking over the direction of his own work later that year. Yet Leisen was the one director Sturges had time for, and not only is it his best film where he didn’t direct his own script, Leisen also directed the second best (Easy Living). Then take the star pairing, for it’s a good bet people will come to Remember the Night having first seen the couple in Double Indemnity, and having seen this it adds something next time you watch Wilder and Brackett’s piece. And don’t forget those two, for they’re very much in the mix around this film, for they also wrote the two preceding Leisen films, Midnight and Arise My Love, before taking up directing/producing chores themselves, à la Sturges.
Yet it would be wrong to label it interesting for showcasing the incestuous nature of the Paramount production factory, for it’s as a turning point in Stanwyck’s career that it seems most interesting. Up until then she’d not really done comedy, she was Stella Dallas, Annie Oakley and Lily Powers, and though Remember isn’t strictly a comedy, it was the film that led her in that direction. She may have done two films for Capra in the early 30s, but it was after Remember the Night that Capra developed Meet John Doe for her, that Wilder, Brackett and Hawks pencilled her in for Ball of Fire and, most importantly, that Sturges himself set about creating The Lady Eve. She’d even return for Leisen again a decade later in No Man of Her Own.
There’s not a dud in that entire list, a simple yet intricate degrees of separation for all concerned. Yet I haven’t addressed my original point, of why this Leisen/Sturges piece is what I think of when I think of Stanwyck and Mankiewicz’s quote. It’s not just because of the plot, it’s rather something about Stanwyck’s magic. She could be as hard-bitten as you like, but when she was touched, really touched, you could see the glisten in her eye as the façade cracked, where she could make a hard-bitten gal’s awakening to sentiment be absolutely sincere (Sturges saw it, too, remember the bar confession in Eve). To watch her give accompaniment to old Winnie the Pooh himself, Sterling Holloway, while he sings ‘End of a Perfect Day’ is the stuff of magic. She’s not the sole reason for watching, by any means, as her chemistry with MacMurray is as sparkling as it would be four years later and there are several fantastic supports and typical Sturges eccentrics, yet this is her show. Put this on any day and it’ll make you feel it really is the end of a perfect day. You cannot ask for more than that.