Remember The Night (1940, TCM, unrated, $20) is the best Christmas movie you've never heard of.
Scripted by the great Preston Sturges (who would go on to write the classics The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story) and directed by the underrated Mitchell Leisen (Hold Back The Dawn), the movie is, by turns, witty and heart-tugging. And it name-checks Scranton. What's not to like?
Barbara Stanwyck stars as a cynical shoplifter who's arrested around the Christmas holidays. When her trial gets delayed until Jan. 2, the assistant district attorney (Fred MacMurray) bails her out of jail. Because she has nowhere to go, Barbara winds up accompanying Fred back to Indiana, where they both grew up. After her mother gives Barbara the cold shoulder, it's off to Fred's home in Wabash the mismatched pair go.
Almost from the moment they arrive, Fred's family (Beulah Bondi, Sterling Holloway, Elizabeth Patterson) makes Barbara feel at home. As they string popcorn, bake popovers and open presents on Christmas morning, she's treated with warmth and affection.
It sounds goopy, but it's not thanks to actors who consistently underplay and to Sturges' script, which is full of gentle surprises.
By the time Stanwyck and MacMurray are ready to drive back to Manhattan for her court appointment, they're deeply in love. As they're pulling away, Bondi asks, Are you going by way of Scranton or Pittsburgh?
Canada, MacMurray answers.
Remember The Night isn't as famous as Stanwyck's Christmas In Connecticut, but it's a better, more soulful movie. Sit back and behold.
Amy Longsdorf writes about DVD and Blu-Ray releases with local connections.