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Ben Mankiewicz - TCM Host
Remind Me

Ben's Top Pick for December


Every Christmas at TCM, we're reminded of valuable lessons--truisms to sustain us into the unknown danger of the coming year. Lesson one: love your neighbors. You have more in common with them that you think. Lesson two: Barbara Stanwyck is a liar and a thief.

We're presenting Christmas movies throughout the holiday season, but December 22 is the perfect night featuring two classics where Stanwyck simply cannot be trusted. And we're not even showing Double Indemnity, where she's a killer. I suppose deceit and thievery seem downright festive when compared to murder-for-hire.

In Remember the Night, Stanwyck plays a shoplifter. There's a bracelet she wants, so she just takes it. On the eve of Christmas week, she goes to trial, where her long-winded lawyer delays the case long enough for the prosecutor (Fred MacMurray) to secure a postponement through the holidays.

Then MacMurray, like all New York prosecutors, feels guilty about having Stanwyck rot in jail over Christmas, so he arranges for her bail and drives her to Indiana. Prosecutors are always giving suspects rides to the Midwest for Christmas. That's how we got the greatest justice system in the world.

Remember the Night marked the final time Preston Sturges wrote a movie that he didn't also direct. Mitchell Leisen directed Remember the Night, and cut significant swaths of Sturges' dialogue, driving Sturges insane. For what it's worth, most of what Leisen cut came out of MacMurray's mouth. Anyway, Sturges hung around the set and at some point told Stanwyck he'd write a screenplay tailored specifically for her. He did. It was the The Lady Eve, released the next year, where Stanwyck plays a grifter--so a liar and a thief in the same movie. This woman is a public menace.

In Christmas in Connecticut, Stanwyck hasn't committed any crimes, she's merely a complete fraud. She purports to be a mid-1940s Martha Stewart (criminality as a theme is everywhere in this article), writing a magazine column touting herself as the perfect suburban mother, wife, housewife and homemaker. But it's all lies. Lies, I say. There's no home in Connecticut to make. There's an apartment in the city, where she lives alone. So there are no kids...and there is no husband.

When her boss wants to bring a genuine war hero to her "home" for the holidays, Stanwyck must engage in a giant cover up to hide the original lies. I suppose we should all feel grateful she doesn't murder the war hero and steal his inheritance. Or does she?

Both pictures are holiday classics carried largely by the heft of their leading lady. Barbara Stanwyck excelled in dramas, comedies, noirs, Westerns; in movies and television. She even crushed it in a movie with Elvis. And yes, she played a thief, a liar, a con artist and a murderer. But every year, these movies of hers make the holidays just a little brighter. So in the spirit of the season, all is forgiven.

by Ben Mankiewicz