Tonight at 8 p.m. EST, Turner Classic Movies is showing an excellent Christmas film, one which I recommend highly. Remember the Night (1940) stars Barbara Stanwyck as Lee Leander, a beautiful shoplifter in a big city (New York City, I think), whose court case is continued until after Christmas by clever assistant district attorney John Sargent (Fred MacMurray, who would costar with Stanwyck in Billy Wilder’s 1944 venture into film noir, Double Indemnity), who realizes that no jury will convict her right before Christmas.
When Lee is led away to jail, however, Sargent’s conscience convicts him, and he posts bail for her. Lee, however, has no money and nowhere to go, so when he discovers that she is from Indiana, where he is about to go to visit his family for Christmas, he offers to drive her to her mother’s house.
Lee’s mother, however, despises her because Lee never could live up to the puritanical woman’s perfectionist standards of behavior, and the mother coldly turns Lee away at the door. Jack begins to understand how Lee ended up as a thief and so tough herself (to steel herself against the hurts she is sure are always on the way), and he brings her home to have Christmas with his family.
Naturally Jack and Lee fall in love with each other, and a less suitable match could hardly be imagined. Further complications ensue, of course, and a pair of difficult moral choices arise, one for each half of the couple. They both ultimately do the right thing, with Jack the prosecutor showing impressive sympathy and mercy, and Lee the thief showing powerful moral strength.
As this description should make clear, Remember the Night goes to the heart of the Christmas story: redemption. And what is most wonderful about the film, helmed by steady Paramount studios house director Mitchell Leisen from a superb screenplay by Preston Sturges, is that it doesn’t limit the theme to its obvious subject, the thief Lee, but also shows it in play in Jack and all the other characters.
This is a film that not only keeps the surface aspects of Advent and Christmas in the foreground but also, and more importantly, stresses the real meaning behind it, our human condition and overwhelming need for a a Savior.
This is one you really should not miss. As far as I can determine, the film is not avaiable in any official release on DVD, but a VHS version is available.