No, this has absolutely nothing to do with the sinking of the Titanic. This A Night to Remember is a very different proposition— a 1942 romantic comedy mystery (and one that I’m glad to see is starting to find an audience). The problem has always been that it lacks a star who would go on to became one of those actors lionized in the 1960s nostalgia boom. And it doesn’t help that the movie was directed by Richard Wallace — a name apt to draw blank looks even in the most rarefied movie-historian circles. (I’m on the encyclopedic side when it comes to filmmakers, but this is the only movie of his I can name without looking him up — and that’s only because I’ve known it since I was 14.) That’s a shame because this is a charming little movie that not only has a great cast, an amusing script, stylish direction, a really good musical score and even an OK mystery, but it has a turtle, too. The story centers on a mystery novelist (Brian Aherne) whose wife (Loretta Young) wants him to write stories about real people “in which no one gets murdered.” To this end, she moves them into a pretty terrific basement apartment in Greenwich Village so he can soak up the atmosphere. Unfortunately for this plan, a man is murdered in their very apartment the night they move in.
Being that this is a movie, it follows that the writer will decide to solve the murder himself — much to the annoyance of the police. One thing that sets this apart from a lot of films of this type is the fortuitous presence of Sidney Toler in the cast as the much put-upon Inspector Hankins, who has to put up with the amateur sleuth on one hand and the incompetence of his own men on the other. It was simply a matter of timing that Toler — known for playing Charlie Chan — was between studios when A Night to Remember was made. (A few months either way and he’d have been tied up with Chan pictures.) Here we get the experience of seeing Toler as a much more (justifiably) irritable detective — and he plays it for all its worth (probably enjoying saying the things Charlie Chan would mostly keep to himself). Aherne and Young make for very appealing leads — handling the film’s comedy with ease and charm. Topping it off is a witty musical score from Werner R. Heyman, who not only comes up with clever music of his own, but does some handy pilfering from the classics. (Just what Wagner would have thought of his “Magic Fire” music being used in a comedic arrangement for a scene where Aherne burns a roast is anybody’s guess.) For what it is, this is close to a great little movie.
The Asheville Film Society will screen A Night to Remember Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.