“My life is just one long round of whoopee.”
In Remember the Night, shoplifter Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) is caught trying to pawn a diamond bracelet she stole from a jeweler. She gets her day in court defended by an overly dramatic lawyer who claims she was hypnotized. Prosecuting attorney John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) requests a delay in the trial until after Christmas–he knows full well that he stands a better chance of gaining a conviction once the holidays are over. Consequently, Lee is supposed to spend Christmas in jail. Sargent begins to feel sorry for her and arranges for bail. Lee ends up on at Sargent’s home on Christmas Eve, and after discovering they’re both from Indiana, he agrees to drive her home for the holidays.
Lee gets a cold response at her family’s old homestead, so Sargent takes her home to his family farm for Christmas. Sargent’s home is idyllic–complete with an adoring mother (Beulah Bondi), loving Aunt Emma (Elizabeth Patterson), and Willie (Sterling Holloway), the harmless simpleton of a handyman.
When the film begins, Lee is as tough as nails, but once in the Sargent home, she begins to melt. The script (by Preston Sturges) is extremely well done, and while this film could have been incredibly corny, it isn’t. Once out of their environment and their roles, both Sargent and Lee take a good hard look at each other, and gain insight into their vastly different backgrounds. As a child, he was wanted and loved, and she was despised and rejected. While on the farm, her past becomes trivial. The film, fortunately, doesn’t try to turn her ‘conversion’ and his acceptance into a fairy-tale, but continues to confront the problems inherent in their relationship. Remember the Night is a great film for the Christmas season as it explores that bittersweet theme of going home for the holidays.