This post is part of The Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon hosted by Cinema Dilettante and myself! Be sure to scroll down and check out the other great entries!
What do you do when your husband only wants to write murder mysteries? Well if you are Nancy Troy (Loretta Young), you rent a new apartment. And so it is that Nancy and Jeff (Brian Aherne) arrive at their new home in the basement of an apartment building at 13 Gay Street in Greenwich Village. Unfortunately, Nancy’s dreams of newly decorated homey bliss will have to wait because Eddie Turner, the building’s owner, informs them that the electricity has not yet been turned on and advises that they come back tomorrow. Nancy is insistent that they move in that evening, despite the lack of lights and furniture, and she and Jeff are getting their bearings when Nancy spots an old friend.
Anne Carstairs (Jeff Donnell) is climbing the stairs but she is only too happy to stop and talk to Nancy. Anne tells them that she married now and has an apartment on the second floor of the building, but she becomes unexplainably flustered when Nancy reveals that they have just taken the basement apartment. Anne hurries off and once inside she, and several other tenants including Mr. Turner, ponder why the Troys would move into the building at all. It seems that all the tenants share a similar dilemma which has caused them to take up residence.
Later that evening Jeff and Nancy go to a local restaurant for dinner. Nancy goes off to make a phone call and Jeff reacquaints himself with restaurant owner and apartment neighbor, Polly Franklin (Lee Patrick). Polly also becomes flustered when she finds out that Jeff is now living in the basement apartment. Meanwhile, Nancy overhears a very large man in the next booth making a phone call to someone demanding that they meet him at 13 Gay Street in the basement apartment. Nancy returns to the table and relates her story to Jeff and Polly, who takes this as a cue to excuse herself. Jeff decides to take matters into his own hands and confront the would be apartment thief, which results in him earning a punch on the nose.
Back in their apartment, Jeff and Nancy hear the sound of water running. They soon find that the tub in their bathroom has recently been filled and drained of water. Setting down the candle they have been using for light, the couple is shocked to find it moving on its own. Upon closer examination it is found to in fact be a turtle. Old Hickory is his name and he used to be the mascot of a certain speakeasy that used to be in residence in the basement of 13 Gay Street. It is at this moment that the movers finally arrive with the couple’s furniture. After several feats of strength and some male posturing, Nancy and Jeff tuck in for a comfortable night’s sleep in their own beds. They are awakened by several police officers trooping in and out of their apartment. The body of a man has been found in their back yard and it is someone that the Troys recognize. It is the man from the restaurant! Jeff soon decides that he going to solve the mystery of the murdered man and make into his next bestselling novel…much to Nancy’s dismay.
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, not to be confused with the film of the same name about the Titanic, is quite a fun and enjoyable screwball comedy. I’ve read some reviews that have said that this film isn’t particularly funny or that the ending is lazy, but I have to disagree. Too often I think when people think screwball comedy they think only of MY MAN GODFREY, BRINGING UP BABY, or THEODORA GOES WILD. These are the pinnacle of the art form and while A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is not on the level of BRINGING UP BABY, it is still a very good screwball comedy/mystery in its own right. The story and mystery are a bit different than the usual fare, with the film mixing comedy, suspense, mystery, and a bit of drama quite effectively.
I really enjoyed Brian Aherne in this. His portrayal of Jeff Troy was a great combination of wit, charm, cool, and foolishness. When he returns from the police station he is only concerned with being hungry, rather than being traumatized by a police interrogation. At one point someone screams and when Nancy tells him to go and see what it was Jeff replies, “What do you mean? I know what it was, someone screamed.” And then there is the issue of the apartment door. Aherne gives a non-traditional performance as the “hero”, being neither all knowing nor a bumbling idiot but a nice combination of the two.
My usual thoughts regarding Loretta Young come from her roles in THE BISHOPS’S WIFE and HEROES FOR SALE. I tend to think of her as virtuous but serious women. But I am delighted to say that she is quite a good comedienne and A NIGHT TO REMEMBER gives her ample opportunity to show this. She has moments of hand wringing and “Oh Jeff!”-ing of course, but there are far more moments of her keeping pace with her husband and throwing off several witty and sarcastic one liners. She loves Jeff but remains wholly unimpressed when he tries too hard to play the hero detective. She gets scared sometimes by the strange goings-on in her new home but never lets it get the best of her, often sticking by Jeff during his sketchier investigations. Loretta Young looks lovely as always, but she shows a bright and witty side of her talents that I hope to see more examples of!
Is A NIGHT TO REMEMBER a great screwball comedy on par with the best of them? No, but I do think that it comes close. This screwball comedy mystery is a truly fun and funny movie, and one that I hope more people will take the time to see. In a genre that can too easily fall into troupes and well-used gags, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER takes a unique and smart approach to adapting The Frightened Stiff by Kelley Roos. If you want a film that has a little bit of everything, including Sidney Toler and a turtle, then A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is for you! As a special birthday treat for Loretta Young, I will leave you with a chance to watch it for yourself.