In New York City, career shoplifter Lee Leander (Stanwyck) once again gets nabbed for swiping something; this time it’s a fancy bracelet. The usual legal procedure occurs, and she thinks she might catch a break since it’s the holiday season: perhaps the jurors will let her go free out of pity, and that ol’ Christmas spirit. Unfortunately for her, the District Attorney, John Sargent (MacMurray), is an ace at cases such as this involving women thieves—he cooks up a scheme that postpones the proceedings until after the holidays, thus making her indictment more likely.
But something hits John as he sees Lee leaving the courtroom—angry, dejected, facing the prospect of spending the holidays alone and behind bars—and he decides to post bail for her so she can enjoy Christmas far from jail. What he doesn't expect is for the bail officer to bring her to his apartment, just as he's getting ready to start a long drive to visit his family home in Indiana.
After he buys her a warm meal and they share a dance, he discovers that she too is from Indiana. He decides to take her home, and then pick her up after New Year’s. But when Lee's mother turns out to want nothing to do with her, John offers his own family home for her to stay at during the holidays. In a stark contrast with Lee’s home situation, John's own mother (Beulah Bondi), Aunt Emma (Elizabeth Patterson), and Cousin Willie (Sterling Holloway) welcome her with warm, open arms. She is finally accepted somewhere, and when romantic sparks fly between her and John, things begin to get more complicated.
The first of the four films made with Stanwyck and MacMurray as the two leads, this was also the film that drove Sturges, who was furious at how Leisen kept changing his script, to start directing his own pictures.
Not to be confused with A Night to Remember.
This work contains the following tropes:
- A-Cup Angst: As Aunt Emma is putting some sort of fluffy material on top of her old corset that she has given to Lee, she says "I never did have as much front as we were supposed to have in my day."
- Alliterative Name: Lee Leander.
- Batman Gambit: As mentioned below in Bittersweet Ending, John tries to throw the case by using one of these - he browbeats Lee on the stand so that the jury will find her sympathetic and then find her not guilty (even John's colleague, who's listening in from the judge's chambers and doesn't know the nature of John's relationship with Lee, feels he's being too harsh - but it's subverted when Lee, who doesn't want John to wreck his career on account of her, pleads guilty.
- Bittersweet Ending: An effective one. Lee decides to plead guilty even though Sargent was throwing the case just for her. He says that he’ll wait for her, but who knows what will happen.
- Broken Bird: Lee is a bit of this. In the scenes where she visits her childhood home, she breaks down when rejected by her mother.
- Dance of Romance: A staple of romantic films, Lee and John dance during the hoedown in the barn. And kiss after, too.
- Deadpan Snarker: Both Lee and John show this trope, but especially when Sargent is listening to the defense give his ruling of “temporary insanity”.
- Doting Parent: Mrs. Sargent is a classic example: she is sweet, understanding, and is proud of her son. So much so that when she finds out that her son is falling for a thief, she warns Leander that her son worked hard to get to where he is.
- Ethnic Menial Labour: Rufus is John’s African American servant.
- Feminine Women Can Cook: Aunt Emma says that a way into a man’s heart is through food. Lee doesn’t really seem to agree.
- Foreshadowing: Early in the film John comments about how you have to be gentler with women defendants to prevent male jurors from sympathizing with them. At the end he attempts to throw the trial by doing the exact opposite and browbeating Lee on the stand.
- Freudian Excuse: It seems that Lee’s mommy issues are the reason why she steals so much, and has no serious remorse for what she does.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: “Fiddlesticks!” and “Hogwash” are great examples.
- Grand Staircase Entrance: Lee, descending the stairs in Aunt Emma's fancy wedding dress, gets a gobsmacked reaction from John.
- Hidden Depths: At first, Lee mostly is tough and defensive, but she opens up nicely with the right kind of people, like the Sargents.
- Hollywood Kiss: The films ends with a classic fade out kiss.
- Insanity Defense: This is what Lee’s defense is using. Hilariously so. He says Leander was “hypnotized”, and therefore, couldn’t resist getting the bracelet. Sargent has a good time laughing at his over-the-top antics. Even Lee laughs at her lawyer for using that trick:Lee: That gag's so old its got whiskers!
- I Will Wait for You: John says he’ll wait for Lee.
- Large Ham: Lee’s defense lawyer tries to convince the jurors that this case is a huge waste of time and that they all should be Christmas shopping instead! All the while making his plea of insanity for Lee sound like a play.
- Love Confession: Both Lee and John confess their love in Niagara Falls.
- Love Redeems: Even with her Lee's stealing habits, the blinding cloak of love covers John. They both know she’s made mistakes, and he’s willing to look past that.
- Maiden Aunt: Aunt Emma is this. She once was going to get married, but she, for some unknown, tragic reason, didn't.
- Maybe Ever After: The ending is a little vague whether Lee and John are going to end up together.
- Meet Cute: Surely prosecuting your future girlfriend for shoplifting counts.
- New Year Has Come: Lee and John have their first big kiss as the crowd at the dance belts out "Auld Lang Syne".
- Of Corset Hurts: Lee has to wear one to wear Aunt Emma’s wedding dress. It looks painful.
- Oh, Crap!: Lee's face in the pawnshop when the proprietor locks her inside, because she’s pawning stolen goods.
- Pimped-Out Dress: Lee wears Aunt Emma’s beautiful Edwardian wedding dress.
- Pretty in Mink: Lee sports many beautiful mink coats. One wonders if she stole them all.
- The Runaway: Lee ran away from home as a teenager, and once we reach her home, we can understand why.
- Sarcastic Confession: John drives Lee back to New York City by way of Canada, and when they get to the border, the customs agent asks them why they've come to Canada, to which John replies that they're fugitives from justice. The customs agent laughs and lets them in. Of course, they really are; they ran out on a judge who was going to book them for trespassing, damaging other people's property, theft, and in John's case, bringing a woman across state lines.
- Sexy Discretion Shot: John promises Lee that they'll have their honeymoon in Niagara Falls. After a pause, Lee points out that that's where they are....and the film cuts to a close-up of the falls, in the morning.
- Sugar-and-Ice Personality: From flashes of rage, to her quiet, lovely moments, Lee is the epitome of this trope.
- Through His Stomach: Mrs. Sargent helps Lee how to make popovers, but tells John that Lee made them herself. Swiftly lampshaded by Lee.
- You Can't Go Home Again: Lee's return to her mother's house ends abruptly when her hateful, bitter mother throws her out.