A Night to Remember (1942)

Last May, my husband, my daughter and I shifted house. We’ve shifted house before (though never with a toddler in tow), but this time was rather more harrowing than every previous experience. The movers and packers we’d hired turned out to be a thoroughly inefficient and poorly trained lot, requiring constant supervision. They left debris—newspaper, scraps of cardboard and more—littered all across our new home, and the dumped al my books, each one of my precious books, in one untidy pile on the floor.

Then, on the second day in the new house, an insect flew into my eye and caused an infection that didn’t go for a month. Within the first week, the RO conked out; the kitchen tap suddenly started spewing black water; and we discovered that one of the pipes was so badly choked with plaster left behind by the repair-and-renovation gang that it had to be torn up and redone.

But at least we didn’t have people getting murdered in our backyard.

A Night to Remember is one of those sadly rare films, the comedy combined with the mystery. It begins early one night with Nancy (Loretta Young) and her husband, a murder mystery novelist named Jeff Troy (Brian Aherne) getting out of a taxi at their new flat. Nancy is very excited about it; Jeff less so, though he remarks that the place looks familiar [oddly enough, neither of them has visited the place before. Which just goes to show, in light of what follows, how you can’t be too careful when choosing a home].

Jeff can’t remember, though, why this place is familiar. The cab driver pipes up: he certainly remembers. This was where he got paid 25 bucks to haul away a pair of dead bodies.

Huh? Jeff is already getting ready to jump back into the taxi, but Nancy dissuades him: oh, this is a lovely place. Come on in, come on in. They are met by the landlord, Mr Turner (Don Costello), who is taken aback—and it seems, unpleasantly—at their arriving so soon; they were supposed to come on Thursday. Nancy explains that she was so excited about moving in, she couldn’t wait. Their furniture is already on the way, too, and should be arriving soon.

That’s all very well, Mr Turner says, but the problem is that none of the lights in their flat work, and the door leading out doesn’t close.

This conversation is interrupted by shrieks, and the housekeeper comes racing up from the basement to say that a huge monster has been crawling over her foot again. [That Nancy is still not cowed says a lot for her nerves]. Mr Turner hushes the housekeeper—her screams have also attracted the attention of a man whom we glimpse briefly as he begins to come down the staircase; Nancy and Jeff don’t see him, but he, noticing them, quickly ducks back into the room from which he’s emerged.

Mr Turner takes the Troys to their apartment—which is in the basement [with that monster or whatever]. Having shown them whatever can be seen by the light of candle, he goes off, and Nancy tries to buoy up the spirits of her husband by predicting how wonderful this place will look once their furniture is in and the lights are working. They’ve even got a garden! They go out to it [and a shabby, weed-grown bit of land it is, too] and Jeff finds a horseshoe there. A horseshoe for luck, Nancy says, so they bring it in.

And now some unwelcome news arrives. A telegram comes from the movers, saying that they’ve got delayed; the Troys’ furniture will be delivered after two hours.

Are they going to stick around in the dark for two hours? No; Jeff suggests they go out and have dinner somewhere nearby and then return in time to receive the furniture.

When they step out into the street, Nancy runs into an old friend, Anne (Jeff Donnell), whom she hasn’t seen for several years. It turns out that Anne, who is now married, lives in the same block of flats as Nancy and Jeff. But—the Troys have moved into the basement apartment? Suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown, Anne becomes flustered and worried and scurries off upstairs, saying that her husband will be waiting for his dinner…

Upstairs, we see Anne, her husband Scott Carstairs (William Wright), Turner and another man named Lingle (Richard Gaines) talking. The mood is tense; all four of them seem on edge, with Anne pretty much on the brink of toppling over. How much longer will they have to stay cooped up here, they ask. Should one go to the cops—no, no; that isn’t possible.

Jeff and Nancy find a nearby restaurant, a cheery place run by a woman named Polly (Lee Patrick). While Jeff seats himself and orders some dry toast—to put under the table leg, which is very wobbly—Nancy goes off to make a phone call to the movers, to follow up. While she’s looking through the telephone directory, a man goes into the next phone booth, and Nancy overhears him making an appointment—in a threatening tone—with somebody. Meet me at 13 Gay Street, he says. In the basement.

Which, realizes Nancy, is their flat. She is so horrified that she hurries back to her table, where Jeff is chatting with Polly. Nancy blurts out what she’s just heard, and Polly looks somewhat goggle-eyed when she finds out that the basement flat at 13 Gay Street is where Nancy and Jeff have moved in. It turns out, then, that Polly also lives in the same building, on the second floor. She tells them not to mind the man Nancy had overheard; she knows him, and he’s a bully, but no-one to be scared of.

Polly races off (and we soon see her ensconced with the lot on the second floor, also pacing about and fretting)…

… while Jeff tries to confront the man Nancy had overheard, and gets whacked for his efforts.

Finally, the Troys come back to their flat. Among the things they notice is the sound of running water. This they trace to the bathroom, where they find the bathtub draining. Who filled it?

They also discover other odd things. The horseshoe, for example, which Jeff had left on the windowsill, is now lying on the floor, well away from the window. Something very puzzling seems to be going on.

Anyway, the movers arrive, the furniture is arranged, and Nancy and Jeff are finally alone. Even as they’re getting things in place, the Troys discover what the crawling-over-foot monster is: a large turtle, with a couple of initials (including JT) etched into its shell. This serves to jog Jeff’s memory, and he remembers why this place seemed familiar: this used to be a speakeasy! This turtle was a regular mascot back then, and the initials of the people who won the regular drinking competition here used to be etched on its shell. JT stands for Jeff Troy.

That’s two mysteries cleared up, thank goodness.

But next morning, when Nancy and Jeff wake up, it’s to find that there’s a dead body in the garden outside, and it’s the man whom Nancy had heard fixing up to meet in the basement apartment the previous night.

What is going on?

What I liked about this film:

Pretty much everything, to be honest. The balance between comedy and mystery is good: there is a decent enough mystery here, surrounding that murder and the very odd behaviour of some of the characters. And there’s a hefty dose of comedy, most of it in the little things: the door that jams (but mostly only for Jeff; everybody else seems to know just how to open it); the interactions between the cops and Jeff; Jeff’s efforts to be detective… all are fun.

And, especially, Brian Aherne, who is a hoot as the mystery writer trying to be detective. I like that his character isn’t completely clueless (he, along with Nancy, does manage to crack some important clues and get to the heart of the matter), but then it’s not as if Jeff is the muscle-flexing, all-powerful hero who runs the culprit to earth all by himself. The balance is maintained.

What I didn’t like:

Nothing, really, that I outright disliked, but yes, the housekeeper and the turtle were a bit tedious and too obviously there just as red herrings.

Nevertheless, a delightful film. Entertaining, fast-paced, with good dialogues and great acting, and just generally thoroughly enjoyable. If you want to watch A Night to Remember, it is—at the time of writing—available on Youtube, here.


24 thoughts on “A Night to Remember (1942)

  1. For some time there was a drought on this blog of English language titles. I am not counting A Matter of Innocence since it had an Indian angle to it.

    It is these titles where I feel like making the effort to write a comment. Most old-time Hindi films are boring to me; I find not much to say about them. That’s why most of my comments are on English/foreign titles.

    Anyway, when I saw the title I first thought this was about its namesake, the 1958 movie on the Titanic disaster. Then I saw the year.

    This doesn’t look bad. I have bookmarked it.

    • I am so glad at least someone comments on these English-language films! What with the comments on Hindi films anyway tapering off into almost nil, I’m tempted now and then to shut this blog down.

      So, thank you. And I hope you get to watch this film – and that you like it.

      • Not everyone who visits your blog comments. Not everyone enjoys your blog comments. It will be a loss both to your reader and your creative outlet if you close the blog. Keep it Up.

        • I am reminded of someone who once said that “It is hard work to post a comment”, and I was tempted to point out to them that it was also very hard work – perhaps much harder work – to write that blog post in the first place.

          I’ve been blogging now for ten years, and believe me, it gets harder and harder to sustain with every passing year. The least I can hope for is some engagement with blog readers – a two-way engagement, that is – to make me feel as if I’m not just talking to myself.

          Anyway, enough of the rant. Thanks for taking the time to post that comment and for encouraging me.

          • I always find your blog informative and entertaining. I will try to leave more comments. In past, I did not want to comment on each post as I did not realize the necessity of continue conversations. Now I have my own blog https://trivediziemba.edublogs.org and realize how important it is to give feedback as well as engage with the readers.

            Best wishes.


            • Thank you! Yes, I think it’s important to comment if one is reading a blog post. Not always possible, of course, since there are times one just can’t think of anything to write… but I make it a point to try and write at least something to let the blogger know that I’ve read their post. It makes a big difference, as I’m sure you’ve realized.

  2. I am watching the movie right now, because I love comedy-mysteries. Just yesterday I watched ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?” That was good.
    I like the one-liners here and the situations are funny too, what it lacks (in my personal opinion) is the execution. Evrything is funny, but somehow, the end result is not that funny, maybe the timing or something.
    Thanks for pointing this film out.

    • Why didn’t they ask Evans
      Is it based on Agatha Christie’s novel with the same name?
      I’m a huge fan of her books, and have nearly all of them.
      Such a delight to read them.
      Though Poirot is my favorite, miss Marple do equally well.
      Especially I like her saying ‘oh dear’.
      The books actually make u imagine those characters in front of your eyes.

    • Ah, well. Humour is subjective, so a lot that may seem funny to one person may just not work for another.

      I’ve read Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? ages back, and didn’t know that it was a movie too. Which year? Within the scope of this blog? If so, I’d like to watch and review.

  3. I am going to watch this movie tonight. Mystery and comedy are both hard to find together and looks like you have found a good one. I skipped the review and just went straight to “what I liked about this film” and I am sold..

    I will be back..

  4. IDK if this story is true. But RIP Sridevi. She truly did leave a mark on Indian cinema as the biggest Indian female superstar.

        • Yes
          It was a great shock!
          Wasn’t at all expected. She still had a lot to offer.
          R IP shridevi.
          Will always be remembered for her great roles in films like chalbaz, Chandani, English vinglish and so on..

      • The worse part was that in bid to increase TRP, the so called news media showed their true colors – they were worse than vultures. Going as far as recreating the scenario, passing judgement and engaging so called experts on the reasons behind her sudden death – all on name of informing public about news.

        There were billion other things – good and bad- they could have focused. Instead, they chose to smear an artist and show callous disrespect toward the grieving family.

        • I agree with you completely. The heartless and completely callous way in which the media pounced on her death and speculated about it was terrible. I’ve come to expect it, but this time it seemed even more macabre than usual. Horrible.

      • Was too shocked yesterday night to pay much attention to the plot; read your review again today, and realise that this had shown up on my YouTube recommendations a while ago. Went looking for what it was all about and found that it didn’t have very good reviews – so I ignored it. Now that you’ve recommended it, I’ll surely give it a try.

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