Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Night to Remember (1942)

Fans of Sidney Toler’s Charlie Chan characterization will likely enjoy “A Night to Remember” (1942), a murder mystery comedy where Sidney plays Inspector Hankins, called in to investigate the murder of a man found in the backyard of a Greenwich Village apartment building.

The couple who discover the body are played by Loretta Young and Brian Aherne. He’s a mystery writer and she thinks their new Greenwich garden apartment is the ideal setting for him to write his mysteries. Of course, with a real murder mystery in their own back yard (literally), the couple decides to investigate the mystery on their own.

“A Night to Remember” was produced by Columbia Pictures, and what an odd coincidence that it should appear the same year Columbia produced “My Sister Eileen”, also set in a Greenwich Village garden apartment. Coincidence, or did a Columbia executive have a Greenwich garden apartment fetish? In another nod to Eileen, actress Jeff Donnell appears here too, again as an upstairs neighbor. (I also wonder if Columbia re-used the apartment set. It doesn’t look like the one used in Eileen, but Hollywood’s production designers are wizards at adapting their sets for more than one purpose.)

It’s an amusing enough trifle I suppose, and many think it’s one of the better comedy mysteries made in that era. I thought it took a while to get going and never really picked up steam.

Sidney Toler is good though. He was at an odd point in his career when he made this. Because of World War II, Twentieth Century Fox elected to cease production on their very popular Charlie Chan series. Even though Charlie was of Chinese descent, and China was our ally, it was still considered incendiary to have an Asian hero. In 1944, Toler purchased from Fox the film rights to the Charlie Chan character and brought the Charlie Chan series, with himself in the lead, to Monogram Studios, where the series continued for 11 more Charlie Chan B mysteries until Toler’s death in 1947.

Between Fox and Monogram though, Toler kept busy with a variety of assignments, including this outing. It’s fun to see Toler interview suspects wearing a dark suit, instead of Charlie’s usual white attire. In what I suspect is a nod to his Chan portrayal, at one point he even politely bows to one of the suspects, and says “Thank you so much.” It has to be a joke about his Chan portrayals.

The funniest exchange occurs between Inspector Hankins and Aherne’s Jeff Troy character, who explains to the Inspector that his pen name is Jeff Yort. Get it, he asks the Inspector?

The Inspector nods in understanding and tells him he read his last murder mystery, “Murder on the Terrace.” Jeff asks what he thought of it. Inspector Hankins says, “It knits. Get it?”

Young and Aherne both overact for my taste, and its up to a fine supporting cast to keep us interested. Welcome faces like Gale Sondergaard, Donald MacBride and Lee Patrick provide much amusement.

It’s all very light and pleasant enough. It’s not bad, but there’s not much to get excited about either. A better movie involving a mystery author who gets involved in a real life mystery is “Footsteps in the Dark: (1941) with Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall and Ralph Bellamy.


ClassicBecky said...

I love that play of words, with the response "It knits. Get it?" That's great! I haven't seen this one, but it sounds cute. I have seen Errol Flynn's mystery (of course), and it is a lot of fun. Good post, Kevin!

Rick29 said...

Kevin, I'm always enjoyed FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK (though it made me leery of dentists) and I like Sidney Toler, so I might like A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. One of my favorite things about KEVIN'S MOVIE CORNER is that you often review classic films I haven't seen. Maybe I should start keeping a list of promising movies covered on your blog site!

Classicfilmboy said...

I'm not reading your review until I see this, as it's in my Tivo queue!! :) I am sure your review is great. We need to coordinate on a review!

Kevin Deany said...

The good thing about winter is playing catch up on titles that have been sitting by the TV for awhile. "I Met Him in Paris" is from a Claudette Colbert box set and "A Night to Remember" is from the set Icons of Screwball Comedy, Vol. 2. Both were Christmas presents from, gasp, 2009.

Brian, you already know what my next review is going to be.

R. D. Finch said...

Kevin, I saw this a few months ago and found it most enjoyable, not a great movie but a solid, snappy entertainment helped immensely by its talented cast. I had just seen "My Sister Eileen" a few weeks earlier and immediately noticed the resemblance between the two basement apartments. I had no doubt it was the same set with a makeover and slight rearrangement of floor plan. Brian Aherne (who was at the time married to Joan Fontaine) was another cast member who was also in "Eileen."

Kevin Deany said...

R.D. Of course, I had forgotten that Aherne was also in "My Sister Eileen." That was a brain freeze on my part. Thanks for pointing it out. Also, thanks for the confirmation that it was likely the same set.