Remember the Night (1940)

Film and Plot Synopsis

Shoplifter Lee Leander is caught stealing and attempting to pawn an expensive bracelet just before Christmas in New York City. It is her third offense, so the district attorney wants to make an example of her and brings in his best prosecutor, John “Jack” Sargent, to handle the case. Jack gets the case postponed on a technicality until after the holidays which results in Lee likely spending Christmas in a cell. Feeling guilty, Jack arranges bail for Lee. However, the bail bondsman misunderstands Jack’s intentions and delivers Lee to Jack just as he is preparing to leave to spend Christmas with his family in Indiana. Surprisingly, Jack offers to take Lee with him. Unsurprisingly, they fall in love. Now how do they deal with the reality of the criminal trial waiting for them both when they return to New York?

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‘Remember the Night’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
Remember the Night (1940)The film begins with Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) stealing a bracelet from a well-established New York City jewelry store and trying to pawn it on the seedier side of town. Lee is caught at the pawn store. The crime is her third offense, so the district attorney (Paul Guilfoyle) wants to make an example of her. However, he is worried that a jury won’t convict a woman of the crime during Christmas time, so he asks his best attorney, John “Jack” Sargent (Fred MacMurray), to handle the case. The trial begins just before Christmas, but Lee’s defense attorney argues to the jury that his client was hypnotized by the jewels and didn’t understand what she was doing. The new defense allows Jack to ask for a continuance to call his own expert on hypnosis, but also to avoid a jury that is more likely to acquit due to the holiday season. However, the expert won’t be available until after Christmas. The judge (Charles Waldron) recesses the case until the first week of January and remands Lee into custody for a couple of weeks.

Jack feels remorseful for his technical continuance condemning Lee to spend the holidays in jail. He arranges for Lee’s release from jail with a local bail bondsman named “Fat” Mike (Tom Kennedy). “Fat” Mike misunderstands Jack’s intentions and delivers her to his apartment believing that Jack wishes to seduce her. Lee is skeptical of Jack’s real intentions, but when he insists that she is free to leave, Lee insists on staying around to determine if Jack is for real. Jack takes Lee to dinner at a local restaurant where he is seen interacting with Lee by the judge. During dinner, Jack and Lee realize that they are both from Indiana. Jack informs Lee that he is heading home for Indiana that night and offers to drop Lee off at her mother’s house along the way when Lee indicates that she has no place to go for Christmas in the city.

While on the road in Pennsylvania, Jack gets lost and stops to rest in the middle of a farmer’s field. The next morning, the farmer named Hank (John Wray) conducts a citizen’s arrest for trespassing and destruction of his property. Jack and Lee are taken to an unfriendly justice of the peace (Thomas W. Ross) who threatens to railroad the two of them for their petty crimes. Lee starts a fire in the judge’s wastebasket as a distraction that allows Jack and Lee to flee the state.

Jack and Lee eventually arrive in Lee’s hometown. Lee directs Jack to her mother’s (Georgia Caine) house. Once there, Lee is not greeted warmly by her mother. Lee’s mother has remarried and started a new life. She informs Jack that her daughter is not welcome in her house and is nothing but a no-good thief. Lee protests that her mother wrongly accused her of something that she did not do when she was a child. Lee and Jack leave, and Jack invites Lee to spend the holiday with his family.

Now there’s nothing as dangerous as a square shooter. If all men were like you there wouldn’t be any nice girls left. Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck)

Once at Jack’s family’s house, Jack and Lee are greeted very warmly by Jack’s cousin Willie (Sterling Holloway), his aunt Emma (Elizabeth Patterson), and Jack’s mother (Beulah Bondi). Everyone believes that Jack and Lee are romantically involved, but Jack informs his mother of the truth although neither she nor he tell anyone else about Lee’s checkered past. The family warmly makes her an unofficial member of the family, giving her Christmas presents from the things that they have around the home. On New Year’s Eve, Jack’s family attends a dance at a nearby barn. During a dance, Jack kisses Lee, which is observed by Jack’s mother and aunt.

Later that night, Jack invites Lee to join him by the fireplace for a cigarette. Before she can join him, Jack’s mother visits Lee in her bedroom and reveals that the family was extremely poor during Jack’s childhood. As a result, Jack had to work exceptionally hard to put himself through college and law school. Jack’s mother asks Lee to give Jack up, rather than jeopardize his career. Lee confesses to Jack’s mother that she loves Jack and agrees to let him go.

The next day, Jack and Lee leave for New York, this time going through Canada to avoid Pennsylvania where they are likely wanted for petty crimes. The couple stops in Niagara Falls to spend the night. Jack confesses his love for Lee, but Lee doesn’t initially return his promises of love. Jack informs Lee that he wants to spend the rest of his life with her and insinuates that once the trial is over that they can be together. Lee finally tells Jack that she loves him as well.

Once back in New York, the trial resumes. The judge informs Jack’s boss that he saw Jack and Lee together before Christmas and insinuates that Jack may throw the case to get Lee acquitted. The district attorney refuses to believe that Jack would do anything wrong and offers to listen in. During the trial, Lee takes the stand in her own defense. During cross-examination, Jack is overly aggressive in his questioning which causes the jury to have sympathy for Lee and to dislike Jack. Jack’s boss hears the case starting to turn against Jack. Lee realizes what Jack is attempting to do and fearing that he will destroy his career in the process, she suddenly confesses to the crime. The judge accepts her plea and remands her back into jail to await sentencing.

As she is led away, Jack begins yelling at Lee, condemning her selfless act. Lee explains to Jack that she had to do it, because it was the only way she could be worthy of Jack’s love. Jack tells Lee that he wants to marry her on the spot. However, Lee refuses and states that if he still wants to marry her after she finishes her prison sentence and he has had time to consider his decision, that she will marry him. Lee asks Jack to stand beside her and hold her hand during her sentencing. Jack promises that he will.

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Our Rating

Paramount Pictures released Remember the Night on January 19, 1940. Mitchell Leisen directed the film starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, and Beulah Bondi.

User Rating: 2.95 ( 1 votes)
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