After a night of wild partying at a friend's house, a couple wake up to discover the party's host has been murdered in his bed. A detective is called in to investigate, but his investigation is hampered by the fact that the partiers drank so much the previous night, nobody remembers anything that happened. Written by
Despite its mixed critical reception and box-office failure (when it premiered at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, a place which I passed on several occasions while I was there a few months ago), this is one of director James Whale's favorites among his own films. It's a cross between screwball comedy and murder mystery and plays almost like a zanier version of THE THIN MAN (1934).
The first 20 minutes are totally insane depicting a wild society party in full bloom, where eternally tipsy socialites are seen sipping champagne through straws from a large bowl and knocking off trays full of glasses just for the hell of it - besides indulging in some very politically incorrect behavior by, among other things, continuously humiliating their uptight and openly contemptuous English butler and dancing around in blackface! The pacing sags here and there but, overall, it's a disarmingly hilarious concoction with a frenzied stream of verbal gags which is often hard to keep up with; in light of all this, the intricate plot with its many red herrings and variety of suspects (including a rather surprising villain) seems of secondary importance.
Whale also cheekily inserts a couple of in-jokes (and at least one overtly gay reference) at the expense of his past horror output by name-dropping the likes of THE BLACK CAT (1934), BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) and DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936). Interestingly enough, the film was shot very quickly during a delay in the start of production of Whale's subsequent film, SHOWBOAT (1936) - which had arisen so as to give time to Irene Dunne to finish shooting another major Universal production of the time, MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (1935) - and, in the first place, Universal had only reluctantly greenlighted REMEMBER LAST NIGHT? once Whale had agreed to do DRACULA'S DAUGHTER in return (more on this later)!!
The film is highlighted by a bizarre hypnosis sequence in which Prof. Karl Herman Eckhardt Jones (Gustav von Seyffertitz) attempts to induce the party guests to recall the events of the previous night because they're all too hungover to do it by themselves! The elaborate décor courtesy of top Hollywood set designer Charles D. Hall (including a life-size barge for a bar!) gives the film a visual stylishness strikingly akin to Whale's magnum opus BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.
REMEMBER LAST NIGHT boasts a sharp and witty script - co-written by Dan Totheroh of THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER (1941) fame - and a great cast of character actors with the delightful Constance Cummings - real-life wife of Whale's THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932) scriptwriter, Benn W. Levy - Edward Brophy (hilarious as a "reformed" safecracker turned amateur sleuth and busy body) and Arthur Treacher (the befuddled butler, of course) standing out in particular. It's also worth noting that Whale managed here to fill out his cast list with several other vintage horror regulars like the aforementioned Brophy and von Seyffertitz, Robert Armstrong and Rafaela Ottiano, not to mention his own fixture, E. E. Clive! Besides, there's also a priceless uncredited bit from frequent Laurel and Hardy foil, Tiny Sandford as a disgruntled truck driver.
Sadly, this has only been the second (or is that third?) non-horror James Whale film I've watched (although I should be adding two more before long) but it does make you wonder whether the time has come for Universal to honor one of its most eminent past film-makers with a "James Whale Collection" DVD Box Set. All those in favor, raise their hands now!
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