A Night To Remember is not, sadly, a movie to remember. It’s about as forgettable as a movie can be. That’s not to say it’s overtly bad but it’s certainly not a high point in cinematic history.
The idea behind this 1942 Columbia production seemed to be that any movie with a crime-solving married couple had to be a sure-fire winner. Given the enormous success of the Thin Man movies that probably seemed like a reasonable assumption. But the Thin Man movies had William Powell and Myrna Loy. A Night To Remember has Loretta Young and Brian Aherne. Loretta Young is fine but Brian Aherne is no William Powell. The Thin Man movies always had witty sparkling scripts. Wit and sparkle are sadly lacking in the screenplay of A Night to Remember.
Brian Aherne is murder mystery author Jeff Troy. Loretta Young is his wife Nancy. Jeff has decided to write a real novel, murder mysteries being apparently not real novels. It will be set in Greenwich Village. Nancy has the idea that it’s going to be pretty hard for Jeff to write a great novel about Greenwich Village unless he actually lives there so she’s found them what she thinks is a delightfully romantic and atmospheric basement apartment. The apartment certainly has atmosphere but it’s not the atmosphere she was aiming for. It’s gloomy and it soon transpires that it has an evil reputation. It used to be a speakeasy but its reputation seems to be connected with criminal activities of a more recent date.
The behaviour of the building’s other tenants is very odd, not to say paranoid. And the discovery of a corpse in the garden attached to the basement apartment does not enhance its attractiveness. There’s obviously a mystery here and since Jeff writes murder mysteries he thinks he should be able to solve it. In fact he thinks he’s better fitted to solve it than Inspector Hankins (Sidney Toler), an opinion not shared by the hardboiled New York police inspector.
There’s really nothing wrong with the set-up. The problem is that the screenplay gives the players very little to work with in the way of actual gags. As a result the performers have to work overtime in a desperate attempt to extract some laughs from the material. Not surprisingly they end up trying too hard and the performances feel forced and at times become irritating. The big problem is Brian Aherne who tries very hard indeed, to singularly little effect, and he becomes very irritating indeed. His bumbling amateur detective soon starts to grate on one’s nerves. It’s the sort of role, and the sort of premise, that really needs the sophisticated approach of a William Powell, rather than Aherne’s attempts at slapstick.
Loretta Young keeps her performance slightly more in check and at least avoids the pitfall of becoming actively annoying.
Sidney Toler is the best thing about this movie. He understands that a drily amused approach pays bigger dividends than Aherne’s mugging.
The other problem is that the mystery itself is less than riveting so the somewhat clunky murder mystery angle does little to keep the audience’s interest.
The Troy’s basement apartment has another inhabitant, a tortoise named Old Hickory who used to be the speakeasy’s mascot. It’s a symptom of this movie’s problems that Old Hickory has to shoulder much of the comedy element, and even the most comically gifted tortoise would be struggling with this script. But he does at least do his best and he has no trouble stealing scenes from the other actors.
Sadly director Richard Wallace is quite unable to overcome the deficiencies of the screenplay by by Richard Flournoy and Jack Henley.
My difficulties with this movie may perhaps reflect the fact that the style of comedy is not one that I’m especially enamoured of, my own tastes running more to sophisticated banter rather than physical comedy (unless it’s done particularly well).
A Night To Remember is featured in volume two of the otherwise generally excellent Columbia Icons of Screwball Comedy boxed set. The transfer is perfectly adequate.
A Night To Remember is innocuous enough, especially if you’re a Loretta Young completist, but it’s certainly one of the lesser screwball comedies. The boxed set itself is highly recommended but it’s difficult to recommend this particular movie. You might want to leave to a time when you’re in a in a very undemanding mood.