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"Remember Last Night?" is a movie relic from an era when Hollywood stars
held a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. (in this case, MANY
Director James Whale (best remembered for "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein") opens his film with the wildest alcohol-drenched party ever put on celluloid. The plot thickens the next morning when one of the partygoers is found dead..and no one can recall anything about the previous evening (hence the title of the movie!) Robert Young and Constance Cummings star as the upper-class ringleaders of the pickled partiers with Edward Arnold playing the frustrated detective trying to solve the case.
Poking fun at excessive drinking would never fly in today's politically correct world, but in 1935 James Whale pulled it off flawlessly!
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!
An enjoyable stylized film directed by someone who really put his mark on his films (James Whale). There is even a satire on one of his films as Constance Cummings says to Robert Young, "I feel like the 'Bride Of Frankenstein' ". Edward Arnold was terrific as always. Robert Young never did a film where he wasn't good. Out of the 100 films he did he was always great. Young actors should study him and watch his films from the beginning of his career and watch his talents grow. Edward Brophy brought in the comedy relief and also never disappoints. Robert Armstrong as the 'Driver' has come down to be an underrated actor, was also great. Sally Eilers was also a great comic-dramatic actress. The other supporting actors including Reginald Denny, Arthur Treacher, Jack LaRue, Gregory Ratoff, Dewey Robinson, E.E. Clive were wonderful. We don't have these wonderful character actors today. They made each picture very special,including this one.
This is one of the more bizarre screwball comedy/mysteries to emerge
from the studios in the wake of the detecting/drinking classic, The
Thin Man. It's as if somebody said, "let's show what jobless rich
people would act like if they really drank as much as Nick and Nora
Charles do and tried to solve a mystery." And then someone said --
"let's get James Whale to do it! After all, Bride of Frankenstein
really is, at heart, a comedy!" And, the resulting film, "Remember Last
Night?", is, at heart, a horror film -- perhaps the scariest film about
drunks made before The Lost Weekend. The film follows the drinking and
detecting adventures of Robert Young and Constance Cummings, who, after
a night of wild partying and obnoxious, boorish drunken behavior, find
that their host has been murdered, and that they can't remember what
they did the night before. Robert fortunately has the sense to call in
his old friend Edward Arnold, who helps Young solve the mystery.
The mystery plot -- which isn't too bad -- really is subordinate here to the setting, characters, set design. Most of the "comedy" -- delivered by characters who are plastered and who are extremely insensitive to those around them -- is rude and, in one scene, incredibly racist. Anyone who spent any time in a frat house, or with the privileged fellow who has had about four or five too many, would recognize the "comedy". This unfunniness actually seems to be a deliberate choice by the director. (As is the cold and ugly set design.) Props here to Arthur Treacher, who plays (surprise) Robert Young's long suffering butler. He and Edward Arnold seem to be the only characters who haven't lost their humanity to drink. Suitably, the close of the movie belongs to Treacher, and the way Young and his buddies react to him.
This is an easier movie to respect than to like. It would make an intriguing double feature with La Dolce Vita.
When I saw the opening credits announcing "A James Whale Production," I
thought - yes, there will probably be outsized and grotesque sets, just
like in Frankenstein. I wasn't mistaken. The weird decor of the house
and restaurant where the action takes place is a movie in itself. The
entire film plays like one big in-joke, like the sorts of things film
studios put together to show to employees at Christmas parties.
But that doesn't mean this movie isn't funny, and enjoyable. The two lead characters are the boozy, over the top kind that you know are going to get into more trouble than they can handle. To me, they were sort of a combination of Nick and Nora Charles, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Their wild party was one of the wildest you'll ever see on film, and no nudity or foul language, either. Of course, there is the matter of that really tasteless, racist bit at the party. I suppose in 1935 some would have considered that funny, but it is painful to watch.
I really liked Constance Cummings. The only other thing I've seen her in is Blythe Spirit. She was very good here in a screwball mode, and she was cute and perky without being obnoxious about it. Robert Young was winning as her not very much more sober and serious husband. The whole mystery with all the suspects in one house thing was pretty silly, but I really think it was supposed to be. This film is to be viewed with tongue in cheek. It's a joke, and a funny one. It has all the stock characters you would expect to find in such an old-fashioned mystery - the rich and careless, the hardbitten law, the ex-con and suspicious (but innocent) servants, and that great, supercilious, snooty butler. Arthur Treacher was the master of that genre. I thought it was hilarious the way he made all those snide comments whenever he turned his head from his employers. The dialog is really very funny, and goes by fast, but not too fast.
I thought the funniest scene by far was where the hero is racing his car to get home, and he almost collides with a truck at a road construction site. The truck driver lets loose a stream of curses, without actually uttering any four-letter words. And listen carefully for the very last thing he says -- well, I won't give it away -- it caps the whole scene and makes it even funnier.
It's a wild party all right, with a lot of content that would curl the
hair of the average movie- goer nowadays. While we in the 21st Century
have been brutalized to boredom by the sight of a person's entrails
being blown via shotgun blast onto the walls like some kind of macabre
Rorshach, these folks would have been mortified at such a sight. But
abuse people? While mid-party, even before the first piece of
significant action, we are treated to profligate drinking, both
individual and group (You have to see this to believe it.), impaired
driving, racism (The most embarrassing and shamefacedly tacky
minstrel-take-off I've ever seen!), vandalism, reckless endangerment,
resisting arrest and dangerous driving.
Notwithstanding, the movie is an instructive social exhibit of a time when, during the depth of the worst depression in history, these brutes marauded carelessly while the world burned around them. Never has a house staff been so clearly cast as in utter disgust of their employer's very existence.
Overall, a terrific example of its time. Fun, too, even if it's darn near too nasty to live.
Report from Cinesation 2006: REMEMBER LAST NIGHT? (****) The notes
suggested that James Whale sold this idea to Universal by comparing it
to The Thin Man-- but it's The Thin Man as written by Evelyn Waugh, a
tale of bright young things drinking and partying fast enough to keep
despair at bay, and a reminder that Whale belonged to the same
generation of artists formed by World War I who produced things like
The Sun Also Rises and Goodbye To All That.
A group of young friends party the night away on a series of amazing Art Deco sets, and when they wake up in the morning, one of them has been murdered. As the mystery-plot mechanics take over, it loses some of its brittle, dark charm, relying on Arthur Treacher in the Thesiger part as a mordant butler for laughs. But at its best this is one of the most striking comedies of the 30s, energetic and gay (in the old sense-- mostly) and often very funny, yet worldly and almost bleak at the same time. If only the solution of the mystery could have paid off the film's tone thematically. The collector's print shown, incidentally, was 16mm, but could have been 35mm for how beautifully it showed off the film's remarkable sets.
This odd item is sandwiched chronically between two of my favorites
within their genres: It came right after my favorite horror movie,
"Bride of Frankenstein" (to which its lead character alludes.) And it
was right before my very favorite musical, Whale's heartbreaking "Show
Boat." It has a great cast. Conusance Cummings, whom I saw on Broadway
four decades later in a Tony-winning role in "Wings," is a delight.
Robert Young is not the husband I'd see her with but he's fine. Edward
Arnold, the friend who's called in to solve a murder or two, is one of
my favorites. Jack La Rue is handsome and mysterious as a chauffeur and
Arthur Treacher is very funny as the butler.
The movie captures Jazz Age rich people's lives better than almost any other I can think of. "The Wild Party" has it too. Young and Cummings drive a gorgeous Bugatti. They resemble the couple in "Topper" to some degree but they're more dissolute; the script pushes their charm on us less. It's all Champagne, furs, swimming pools, antiques, and lots of flirtation with danger.
This film seems to be an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the
Thin Man, which came out the previous year, and while Young and
Cummings are fine, they can't match either the urbanity or the
chemistry of Powell and Loy. The acting is generally top-notch,
although Sally Eilers' overwrought hysteria becomes really grating
The drinking here seems more witless and reckless than in the Thin Man; at one point speeding drunken driver Young barely misses being flattened by a train, resulting in general hilarity among his passengers. Several times he is shown going 90 mph while plastered, once with a police detective as a passenger! All very cute in 1935, I guess.
There's a lot of amusing 30's banter, especially in the early part of the film. The plot is of the usual type for a murder mystery of the period, with the suspects gathered in the drawing room, and the announcement of the murderer's name, although there are some twists. I did think it was just a little bit too much to believe when the detective allowed the apparently guilty party to get a smoke from their own cigarette box--resulting in silly, cheap theatrics that added nothing to the plot.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this 1935 movie as a Greek twelve-year old in Alexandria, Egypt
where I grew up, and I have never forgotten it -- because of the cast
which contains many of my favorite actors and mainly Arthur Treacher
(who is unjustly trashed by another of your reviewers). Ever since it
became possible to own and view movies on VHS and DVD I have been
trying to get a copy of this one but to no avail. I even sent IMDb an
email asking if you could help me find it but got no reply. Then, lo
and behold, I found it the other day on a web site entitled
LovingtheClassics.com, on sale for $14.99. I ordered it immediately and
have just enjoyed seeing it again after all these years. I am sending
you this in case there are any other old codgers like me around and who
might remember and want to see it again.
Best regards, Alec Kitroeff
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