Christmas In July
This is neither a photo blog or anything else remotely familiar to my usual content. But as some of you may know, I am a huge classic film fan. If it’s pre-1960 and black and white, chances are I have already seen it. If it’s really good, I’ve seen it multiple times.
One of my favourite classic actresses is the incredible Barbara Stanwyck. I recently read on another blog about a Stanwyck blogathon in honour of Miss Stanwyck’s 106th birthday. To my utter shock, no one had chosen to write about my absolute favourite Stanwyck film – a 1940 Christmas film called ”Remember the Night”. So here is where I remedy that, while on vacation, via the wonder of auto-publish. Enjoy.
Credit sequence photos from www.annyas.com. Used with permission.
When most people think Christmas classics, they think of films like “It’s A Wonderful Life”, “Miracle on 34th Street” or “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. But when I stumbled on “Remember the Night” a few Christmases ago on TCM, I went online and ordered the dvd the same day. It’s everything I love in a movie and is now a seasonal staple.
Barbara Stanwyck plays Lee Leander, a child of the street and habitual thief accused of shoplifting a diamond bracelet. Fred MacMurray is dry District Attorney John Sargeant, about to travel home to Indiana for Christmas. He agrees to prosecute Lee only because the case is clear cut – open and shut.
John soon realizes that he can’t win with a jury of her peers in the Christmas spirit, so he has the trial post-phoned until January. Being a softie deep down he posts her bail so she can have one last Christmas of freedom before he nails her firmly to the wall. And he can, conscience clear, get on his very merry way. What he couldn’t have predicted is that she would be dropped back on his doorstep. The bondsman, misinterpreting his intentions, has saddled him with an unwanted Christmas gift in the form of a feisty and resentful homeless woman.
I can’t imagine a single classic actress who could play the role of Lee with the complicated layers of Barbara Stanwyck. Lee is not a stereo-typical woman. She downs a glass of champagne with the ease of a college frat boy. She spends a very misconstrued night in a corn field with John Sargeant, but still comes across as funny, classy and innocent. She is spunky without being brash, she’s vulnerable without being campy. She is smug and bratty with a history you don’t like. But you come, through Stanwyck’s genius, to understand her. By the end, despite your best efforts, you like her. As does her lawyer, but that goes without saying. As my 13 year-old son says “Everyone falls in love in an old movie, it’s a rule“. And while he isn’t completely correct (Clearly James Cagney’s films haven’t made it into my son’s classic film education), that’s precisely why I love them – boy often gets girl and she’s dressed fabulously in the process.
However this is not a saccharine holiday film – I’ve left large portions of the plot out so you’ll watch it yourself. Like Stanwyck herself, the movie has an edge. Lee’s past means she takes forgranted that men intend to use her. And given their relationship to one another, their attraction is complicated. Love is raw and flawed – just like real life. The end is not neat and it is not wrapped with a festive bow. And the film’s historical context means there is some treatment of an African-American housekeeper that is less than politically correct.
This film has several amazing supporting actors – the cast is stellar. The film’s comic relief often comes in the form of straight-laced lawyers and judges that MacMurray plays, humorously, like a five-string bass in a jazz quartet. He is a fantastic dramatic actor, but you see his comedic side, his tongue-in-cheek humour in this movie quite a bit.
It was +30°C (that’s 86°F for you Americans) with 80% humidity when I sat down to re-watch this Christmas film. But while it takes place in December, the lessons apply all calendar year – Every person is a product of their family, love hits when it often shouldn’t, owning up to your mistakes makes you a better person and the greatest lovers laugh together a lot.
And the strongest resonating theme? Life and love are messy, but a good hat is always appropriate.
Photo from http://www.annyas.com. Used with permission.
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