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'Remember the Night,' a gem with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, gets anniversary screening

'Remember the Night,' a gem with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, gets anniversary screening
Barbara Stanwyck, from left, Beulah Bondi, Fred MacMurray and Sterling Holloway in 1940's "Remember the Night." (Paramount Pictures / Margaret Herrick)

Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray gave indelible performances as murderous, illicit lovers in Billy Wilder's 1944 noir masterpiece "Double Indemnity."

Four years earlier, the actors starred in another, very different kind of gem in "Remember the Night," a delicate, sweet Christmas tale written by the legendary Preston Sturges and beautifully directed by Mitchell Leisen.

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is celebrating the holiday season Thursday evening at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood with a 75th anniversary presentation of "Remember the Night," which has been preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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Though not as widely known as some other holiday classics, "Remember the Night" is a particular favorite of Randy Haberkamp, the academy's managing director for programming, education and preservation.

"You start with Barbara Stanwyck and then you add Fred MacMurray, a Preston Sturges script, the whole beautiful Paramount sheen, and Beulah Bondi and Sterling Holloway for dessert," he said.

"Remember the Night," which was released in January 1940, a full 11 months before the holiday season, was well-respected when it came out. "It did well enough so when Preston Sturges said I want to direct, they agreed to let him do the next one," noted Haberkamp.

In fact, "Remember the Night" was the last script Sturges wrote before he began directing such classics as 1940's "The Great McGinty" and "Christmas in July," and 1941's "The Lady Eve," which starred Stanwyck in one of the screen's great comic performances.

"Remember the Night" finds MacMurray playing a young New York City assistant district attorney and Stanwyck as a woman who has seen more than her share of hard knocks on trial before Christmas for shoplifting a bracelet from a jewelry shop and attempting to pawn it.

Because MacMurray feels sorry for her, he bails her out of jail for the holidays. He ends up taking Stanwyck with him to his family farm in Indiana, where she's lovingly embraced by his mother and aunt; soon Stanwyck and MacMurray are also embracing. But what will happen to their romance once they return to New York?

As Sturges once described the story: "Love reformed her and corrupted him."

Stanwyck deftly handles the film's mix of pathos, comedy and romance. "Remember the Night" also demonstrates how capable MacMurray could be as leading man.

"He was a very natural actor," said Haberkamp. "I never for a minute think he is taking her home because he thinks he's going to get lucky. He is taking her home because he's feeling guilty. He sees there is more to her story than just being a hardened criminal. And when you get to the point where they fall for each other, you actually feel happy about the situation."

Not everyone was happy with the finished product. Though Leisen directed Sturges' script for the 1937 comedy "Easy Living," the writer was not thrilled with the cuts Leisen made in "Remember the Night."

"From what I can tell, he didn't really change anything," said Haberkamp. "But he cut. I don't think that movie needs to be any longer, and from what I read about the cuts he made, it seemed that they were actually quite respectful."

Leisen, noted Haberkamp, started his film career as an art director. "He was very much a visual stylish. 'Remember the Night' is really a beautiful film, and for such a story, it could have easily been much plainer."

Besides "Remember the Night," the evening will also features holiday trailers from the Academy Film Archive's Packard Humanities Institute Collection.

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It's an interesting mix of trailers: "It's a little bit kitsch and a lot of nostalgia," said Haberkamp.

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'Remember the Night: 75th Anniversary Holiday Screening'

Where: Linwood Dunn Theater, Pickford Center, 1313 Vine St., Hollywood

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Admission: $3 and $5

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