Classic Christmas movies on TCM: The return of Barbara Stanwyck & Fred MacMurray in ‘Remember the Night’
As usual, classic Christmas movies hold a prominent place on TCM’s December schedule. What’s unusual this year is that one of them is the digitally restored version of Paramount’s 1940 romantic comedy/drama Remember the Night, directed by Mitchell Leisen, and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray.
Written by Preston Sturges – who made his directorial debut that same year with The Great McGinty – the story revolves around a New York City assistant D.A. (Fred MacMurray) who falls in love with a shoplifter (Barbara Stanwyck) during the Christmas court recess, which the odd couple spend in the so-called American Heartland (in this particular case, Indiana).
Schmaltz, schmerz & schmutz
As found in Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges: His Life in His Words, this is what the screenwriter had to say about the relationship between his two disparate lead characters – a dynamic Mitchell Leisen felt the need to alter so as to place a stronger focus on Barbara Stanwyck (the much bigger star and the much superior performer):
“In Rain, for instance, the preacher started to reform [the girl] and ended up laying her like a carpet. In Resurrection, he got the erection first and hit the trail much later. In Remember the Night, love reformed her and corrupted him, which gave us the finely balanced moral that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, or caveat emptor. As it turned out, the picture had quite a lot of schmaltz, a good dose of schmerz and just enough schmutz to make it box office.”
TCM will be offering all that good old-fashioned schmaltz, schmerz, and schmutz several times throughout the month, including Christmas Eve at 8 p.m. EST.
‘Overlooked’ classic Christmas movies
“It’s one of those quirky twists of fate that a film as exceptional as Remember the Night has been so overlooked when it comes to great Christmas movies,” TCM host Robert Osborne is quoted as saying in the press release for the film. “It’s our hope at TCM that our special Christmas Eve showing of this holiday gem, now fully remastered, will help give it a much-deserved new life.”
Prior to this restoration of Remember the Night, which is currently available on DVD, the Mitchell Leisen-Preston Sturges collaboration had received only a brief home video release back in the VHS era.
Of course, if the powers-that-be at Universal made sure that the old movies found in their library (including most Paramount releases from the dawn of the sound era to the late 1940s) were available for viewing, we wouldn’t have as much of a problem when it comes to overlooked “exceptional” Hollywood films. But enough carping.
First Barbara Stanwyck & Fred MacMurray pairing
Remember the Night – which, strangely for a Christmas movie, opened in January 1940 – marked the first of four Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray pairings. The ensuing three were:
- Billy Wilder’s film noir and Best Picture Oscar nominee Double Indemnity (1944).
- Roy Rowland’s Western The Moonlighter (1953).
- Douglas Sirk’s soap opera There’s Always Tomorrow (1955).
Besides Stanwyck and MacMurray, the Remember the Night cast includes:
Elizabeth Patterson. Sterling Holloway. Willard Robertson. Paul Guilfoyle. John Wray. Charles Arnt. Tom Kennedy.
One of Hollywood ‘s busiest Moms (and, by extension, Moms-in-Law), Aunties, and Grandmas: two-time Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nominee Beulah Bondi (The Gorgeous Hussy, 1936; Of Human Hearts, 1938).
A few more credits: cinematography by the underrated Ted Tetzlaff, music by Friedrich Hollaender, and editing by Doane Harrison.
And for the record, Henry King’s Remember the Day (1941) is not a Day After sequel to Remember the Night. Instead, the 20th Century Fox romantic drama starring Claudette Colbert and John Payne is based on a play by Phillip Dunning and Philo Higley.
TCM’s December 2009 classic Christmas movies schedule can be found in the follow-up post. See link further below.
‘It Happened on Fifth Avenue’
Although Remember the Night is TCM’s indisputable highlight among its classic Christmas movies, there are other goodies – and potential goodies – as well.
One such is It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), a minor comedy that former Warner Bros. contractee Roy Del Ruth (The Maltese Falcon, Blessed Event) directed for Allied Artists, at the time the upscale division of Poverty Row’s Monogram Pictures. The cast features Don DeFore, former RKO star and Best Actress Academy Award nominee Ann Harding (Holiday, 1930–1931), Charles Ruggles, Victor Moore, and Gale Storm.
Is charity a virtue?
Everett Freeman’s screenplay (from an “original story” by Herbert Clyde Lewis and Frederick Stephani, with additional dialogue by Vick Knight), centers on a hobo (Victor Moore) and his buddies (homeless ex-G.I. Don DeFore among them), who take over a New York City mansion while its wealthy owner (Charles Ruggles) is away during the Christmas holiday.
Romance and all-around kindness ensue in this feel-good release that – in terms of tone and messaging – sounds like the polar opposite of Luis Buñuel’s similarly themed Viridiana (1961), a “sacrilegious,” Palme d’Or co-winning dark satire about the virtue of charity that got the filmmaker in some deep trouble with Spain’s Catholic Church and its cohorts in Gen. Francisco Franco’s right-wing regime.
Classic Christmas movies wage Oscar battle
Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences apparently found no reason to be offended by It Happened on Fifth Avenue, which was shortlisted for the Best Original Story Academy Award.
The Allied Artists release was likely a surprise nominee, as during the studio era relatively few movies not put out by the Hollywood majors and near-majors managed to get included in the Oscars’ top categories.
Curiously, the winner that year was another New York-set Christmas-themed entry, George Seaton’s better-remembered – and more widely available – Miracle on 34th Street, with the original story credit going to Valentine Davies. (Seaton was credited for the final, Oscar-winning screenplay.)
Yuletide syrup: ‘Little Women’ 1933
More classic Christmas movies: Directed by George Cukor, RKO’s 1933 version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic 1868–69 novel Little Women is chiefly notable for having solidified relative newcomer Katharine Hepburn’s movie stardom.
Some prefer it to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s more opulent 1949 version, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring June Allyson in the old Hepburn role. In this movie watcher’s view, superior to both is Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 film – Winona Ryder’s central miscasting notwithstanding.
Regarding the 1933 version, in spite of its undeniable Christmasy atmosphere, the film feels a bit too precious and much too sentimental. Never mind the fact that this generally well-regarded box office hit earned Victor Heerman and Sarah Y. Mason the 1932–1933 Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Katharine Hepburn the Best Actress award at the 1934 Venice Film Festival.
More classic Christmas movies: ‘Christmas in Connecticut’ & ‘Beyond Tomorrow’
Irrespective of the presence of hard-hitting types such as Remember the Night‘s Barbara Stanwyck and The Maltese Falcon‘s Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Godfrey’s Christmas in Connecticut (1945) is one of those “feel-good” classic Christmas movies that make this viewer despair over the demise of classic Rome’s festive Saturnalia traditions.
On the other hand, A. Edward Sutherland’s little-known Beyond Tomorrow (1940) sounds like it could be interesting, even if only for its cast of scene-stealers.
The story of three matchmaking ghosts, the low-budget fantasy features C. Aubrey Smith (The Four Feathers), Charles Winninger (Show Boat), silent era cowboy star and Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Harry Carey (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939), and the marvelously accented, two-time Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Maria Ouspenskaya (Dodsworth, 1936; Love Affair, 1939) as an elderly Russian countess.
In addition to Helen Vinson (The Wedding Night), silent era star Rod La Rocque (The Ten Commandments), late silent/early sound era juvenile/leading man William Bakewell (All Quiet on the Western Front), and, as the young couple about to get matchmade, future The Creature of the Black Lagoon leading man Richard Carlson and Little Women 1933 actress Jean Parker.
A curiosity: Beyond Tomorrow was produced by cinematographer Lee Garmes, who helped to transform Ufa’s Marlene Dietrich into Hollywood’s Marlene Dietrich by way of Morocco, Dishonored, and Shanghai Express.
Beulah Bondi: One of Hollywood’s favorite moms & aunties
 In Remember the Night, Beulah Bondi plays Fred MacMurray’s kindhearted Midwestern mother (reportedly inspired by the mother of Preston Sturges’ third wife), who offers some nice and cozy Christmas shelter to Barbara Stanwyck’s movie-star-like shoplifter.
Until, that is, Mom – like countless other movie Moms before her – realizes that “the girl” may be a danger to her beloved son’s career.
Elsewhere, among Bondi’s numerous movie children, grandchildren, and nephews and nieces are the following:
- Scotty Beckett (The Case Against Mrs. Ames).
- Thomas Mitchell (Make Way for Tomorrow).
- Bette Davis, Anita Louise, and Jane Bryan (The Sisters).
- James Stewart (Of Human Hearts, Vivacious Lady, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Wonderful Life).
- Martha Scott (Our Town).
- John Wayne (The Shepherd of the Hills).
- Eleanor Parker (The Very Thought of You).
- Loretta Young and Susan Hayward (And Now Tomorrow).
- Rosalind Russell (Sister Kenny).
- Bobby Driscoll (So Dear to My Heart).
- Robert Mitchum and Tab Hunter (Track of the Cat).
- Rod Steiger (The Unholy Wife).
In addition, Beulah Bondi was “Granny” to Zachary Scott, Betty Field, and their children in Jean Renoir’s The Southerner, while Madeleine Carroll (The Case Against Mrs. Ames), Fay Bainter (Make Way for Tomorrow), and Diana Dors (The Unholy Wife) were three of her daughters-in-law.
Overlooked cinematographer Ted Tetzlaff
The remastered edition of Remember the Night – once again, in Robert Osborne’s words, one of Hollywood’s “overlooked” classic Christmas movies – is supposed to have restored the luster of Ted Tetzlaff’s black-and-white cinematography.
The Los Angeles-born Tetzlaff (1903–1995), for his part, is definitely one of Hollywood’s overlooked classic cinematographers for all occasions. Even among cinema connoisseurs his name doesn’t have nearly as much weight as those of, for instance, Gregg Toland, Stanley Cortez, or James Wong Howe.
Yet Tetzlaff’s cinematography credits over a two-decade period (1926–1946), initially at Columbia and later mostly at Paramount, include:
- Frank Capra’s The Younger Generation (1929).
- Irving Cummings’ Attorney for the Defense (1932).
- Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey (1936; at Universal).
- Mitchell Leisen’s Easy Living (1937) and Swing High, Swing Low (1937).
- George Stevens’ The Talk of the Town (1942) and The More the Merrier (1943; both back at Columbia).
- And two of his greatest achievements, both at RKO: John Cromwell’s The Enchanted Cottage (1945) and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946).
Surprisingly, Ted Tetzlaff was shortlisted for only one Academy Award, for The Talk of the Town (Best Cinematography – Black and White).
He later became a director, most notably of the classic low-budget noir The Window (1949), in which 9-year-old Bobby Driscoll witnesses a murder, but no one believes him.
‘The Long Absence’
Viridiana shared the Palme d’Or with Henri Colpi’s The Long Absence / Une aussi longue absence, starring Alida Valli and Georges Wilson.
Turner Classic Movies website.
Images of Elizabeth Patterson, Fred MacMurray, Beulah Bondi, and Barbara Stanwyck in one of Hollywood’s “forgotten” classic Christmas movies, Remember the Night: Paramount Pictures / Universal Pictures.
Beyond Tomorrow poster: RKO Pictures.
Don DeFore, Gale Storm, Victor Moore, and Ann Harding in one of the Academy Awards’ “forgotten” classic Christmas movies, It Happened on Fifth Avenue image: Allied Artists.
“Classic Christmas Movies: Remember the Night Returns + Largely Forgotten Oscar Nominee” last updated in April 2018.