A Night to Remember (1942) is one of those films that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be when it grows up. Screwball comedy? Horror? Suspense? Romance? Take your pick, because the film really doesn't do any of them very well.
The film opens on Nancy (Loretta Young) and Jeff Troy (Brian Aherne). They have just arrived at their new Greenwich Village basement apartment, which Nancy found for them (Jeff's never been there before). He's a hack mystery writer (he writes as Jeff Yort), and wants to work in the Village, in hopes of writing the Great American Novel. They have arrived early (without notifying their landlord), and are stunned that the apartment isn't ready for them (who arrives two days early, and expects to just move in? They haven't even paid for the apartment yet). But the real problem is, the landlord is more frightened than annoyed that they are there. And there is this weird housekeeper who says something keeps crawling on her feet.
The film is extremely repetitious. The housekeeper keeps telling the same story over and over; there is a door that is always getting stuck. It's like the writers had a few jokes, and decided they could keep using them. Rather than build on humor, the repetitions become inane.The one humorous bit is the introduction of Old Hickory, a turtle that was the mascot of the speakeasy that used to be in the apartment building. Old Hickory keeps turning up (scaring everyone), and MANY people, including the police inspector investigating the murder (of course, there is a murder!), are fans of Old Hickory.
The film is based on the third in a series of nine mystery books about the exploits of
Jeff and Haila Troy, entitled The Frightened Stiff. There was also a Screen Guild Theatre radio production of the film, with Lucille Ball playing Nancy Troy and Brian Donlevy playing Jeff on May 1, 1944.
The supporting cast is good, albeit not well used. Sidney Toler
as Inspector Hankins (shades of Charlie Chan!) is the only smart one within a group of fairly dumb police officers, That's probably why he is an inspector. At one point, Jeff comments that the police are no longer allowed to used rubber hoses during an interrogation - shades of the Miranda Warning!.
You get to see the wonderful Lee Patrick
(playing apartment house resident Polly Franklin) right away, but you have to wait quite a while before Gale Sondergaard
(as Mrs. DeVoe) shows up. Both are fun to watch. We would have liked to have seen more of them, as both Aherne and Young got a bit annoying after awhile.
As the movie opens, it has a creepy air. We felt that the writers should have emphasized that suspense aspect more, as we think they would have had a better movie. Not that humor and murder can't be done - Miss Pinkerton, which we saw a bit ago, was able to do it. So did the wonderful Cat and the Canary. But the problem with A Night to Remember is that nothing really makes sense. Why would the landlord would rent an apartment in the building to an outsider, when he and all the tenants are so frightened that an outsider will discover their crimes. And, the ending is very abrupt. The murderer is revealed with almost no explanation, and the film is over.
liked the little apartment, though, with its private garden in the back. It is supposed to be on Gay Street, which is a
real Village street. But other than that (and Old Hickory), this movie was missing that certain something that makes you want to come back for more. It's no wonder there were no further Troy mysteries.