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I am nothing short of amazed by what the filmmakers pulled off. Before I saw this movie, I tried to write a script that would encompass the whole story of the Titanic. I had stacks of Titanic books scattered around me, a huge map of the Titanic spread out in front of me, and I was overwhelmed by the sheer mountain of anecdotes and facts and technical details and contradictions in survivors' accounts. Reconstructing the event seemed impossible, and finally I abandoned the project by the time I got to about 1:30. Then I saw A Night to Remember, and wouldn't you know, it was exactly what I was trying to do! Kenneth More's portrayal of Lightoller is perfect. Laurence Naismith is heartbreaking as Captain Smith. The factual, historical, and technical detail is so thorough that this may be the most meticulous historical movie ever made -- certainly that I have ever seen. Somehow the stark black-and-white cinematrography is more realistically convincing than James Cameron's full-color treatment, in which things are inexplicably blue. The thing that disappointed me the most about Cameron's film was the lack of reverence for the historical characters. Lightoller, my personal hero, came off as an cowardly twit, Captain Smith as an incompetent fool, Ismay as the force of all evil in the universe, and Benjamin Guggenheim's change into evening ware as an excuse to get drunk! A Night to Remember had that reverence that was so sorely lacking in Cameron's film. Lightoller is portrayed as the hero that he was. Captain Smith is a fine captain who is understandably ovewhelmed by the magnitude of the tragedy facing him. Ismay is irritating, but tries to help out and be a responsible president -- and when he jumps into the lifeboat, well, would any of us do different? And Guggenheim's final stand brings tears to the eyes. The drama of the Carpathia is as exciting as any fictional Hollywood action film. This is the only Titanic movie that addresses the problem of the Californian, and though Lordites will object to the rather anti-Lord portrayal of the events, the facts speak for themselves. If you want to be picky, you can complain that the movie doesn't go into the politics behind building the Olympic and Titanic, or the near-collision with the New York, or lots of the little personal stories, but let's be fair: the movie has two hours to tell the story of, as Walter Lord put it, "the death of a small town." It's simply not possible for a movie, or even a really thick book, to cover everything. I don't think it's possible for a better movie to be made about the Titanic than A Night to Remember.
I've seen several film versions of the Titanic tragedy (I'm something of a buff--I'm distantly related to Mr. & Mrs. Edwin Kimball, who were 1st class passengers!) "A Night to Remember" is still the best, no contest. The effects are 1958 state-of-the-art, the script was meticulously researched, and the people are actually written and played as 1912 people (James Cameron's cast were a bit too much 1990's to be convincing). Even those characters who are slightly fictionalized (the "lady" who represents--without mentioning--Lady Cosmo Duff-Gordon, and "my dear son" and his family, for examples) behave as their real life counterparts would have in 1912, giving the film a documentary feel without failing to give the viewer people to identify with and care about. This is classic film-making at its finest!
Including the very first movie that dealt with the Titanic disaster, SAVED
FROM THE TITANIC (1912) starring Dorothy Gibson, an actual survivor who wore
the same outfit in the movie that she had on that fateful night just a few
months earlier, there have been TEN movies made covering the sinking, A
NIGHT TO REMEMBER, based on Walter Lords' ultimate reference work of the
same name, was the 6th. The film has no equal! For those who are
interested, the other nine ARE chronologically:
TITANIC (1915) TITANIC: DISASTER IN THE ATLANTIC (1929) TITANIC (1943) TITANIC (1953) A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958) SOS TITANIC (1979) TITANIC (1984) TITANIC (1996) TITANIC (1997)
The REASON that A NIGHT TO REMEMBER excels, is that it is a straight up docudrama of the event. Historical accuracy (lets forget the "split,"... although actually "suggested" by a few eye-witnesses at the time, it was believed the ship had foundered intact) was observed, the main characters were vastly better portrayed than in later films and the "scale" of the disaster far more keenly felt, for all James Cameron's $180 million! Kenneth More made an unimprovable-upon Captain Lightoller and Laurence Naismith simply WAS Captain Smith. (The less said about Bernard Hill's loopy characterization in Cameron's epic, the better!) Those who wish to compare multi million dollar digitization to that which was available in 1958 need to get REAL and for all that money, and exciting as Cameron's was - it just didn't either LOOK or feel anything more than, well...a massive film-set! The 1958 version went to the heart of the tragedy...and took the viewer with them. A NIGHT TO REMEMBER will remain a tribute...THE tribute to that night of madness. Little things, David McCallum fighting for his life-vest, Michael Goodliffe as Thomas Andrews - dignity personified waiting for his last moments, the drunken cook - they were all worth more than $100 million dollars worth of fx! You can't BUY credibility. This could never have been an American tale - it didn't work with the 1953 Barbara Stanwyck version and it didn't ring true for Cameron (good though it was as a movie rather than as the tragedy!) Did anyone notice dear old "Q" (Desmond Llewelyn) below decks and old Brit-turned-Aussie favorite Stuart Wagstaff, as a steward in Steerage?
The Titanic was to be the greatest ship ever made, a veritable city on
the sea moving between England and New York. Made in Belfast, the ship
travels to England before its maiden voyage, which it makes loaded with
over 2,100 people ranging from the richest gentlemen in first class
down to those in stowage seeking a new life in America. However, a
series of errors and oversights result in the Titanic striking an
iceberg and ripping a gash along the side below the water level. As the
"unsinkable" ship starts to fill with water the shortcomings of having
only 1200 lifeboat spaces sinks in.
It has become very fashionable now to hate James Cameron's Titanic and it is the norm now, not only to prefer this film but to actively hate the 97 film in any review of other versions! I'm not a fan of the rather bloating modern film but I will refrain from making this review about that film and will focus on the one I've just seen. The first thing you notice here is how quickly the film moves and, after only a very brief introduction to the characters we are underway and hitting the ice. Shorn of romantic subplots and heart-tugging sweeping scores this is a very good approach and it simply lets the facts of the event and the real horror speak for themselves. In the remake we were supposed to get our emotional attachment to one or two characters based on their love for one another; here the film respects our humanity enough to know that we will be touched by the sheer number who died and the manner of their death. This works much better and it is genuinely eerie to see that large ship slip below the surface to a barrage of screams from unseen thousands that the effects are not as good doesn't matter because they are good enough and the emotional impact more than covers for them.
This is not to say that the film lacks characters because you do tend to care for everyone and the film did very well in delivering little things without getting in the way of the rather documentary style form. The horror of the death is as well told as the horror of those watching it occur from the lifeboats; I liked the guilt of the designer and the guilt of the men who climbed into the lifeboats etc, these little touches work much better than inserting large fictional sections. With this sort of performance the actors do well all realistic with none really upstaging the film with ham. Moore is a good lead and only at the end is his delivery a bit flat but that is more the fault of a wordy conclusion. The rest of the cast do very well with realistic performances of fear even if they are being directed into generic class groups simple but, with the delivery of the material, it works.
Overall, to me this is the best telling of the Titanic disaster that I have seen. The factual approach is consistently interesting and, without our attentions being directed to one or two people, the emotional impact is greater than I expected and I was quite chilled by the whole thing. For those irritated and put off by the sweeping sentimentality of the modern version, this film is the one for you.
Based on the Walter Lord novel of the same name, A Night to Remember is
far and away the most definitive and honest telling of this famous and
world-shaking disaster. Flaws it may have, but these largely revolve
around a lack of special effects technology available at the time, and
a lack of historical evidence due the fact the wreck had not yet been
discovered. Despite these minor quibbles, the film is probably the only
one to loyally adhere to telling the truth about what happened that
night; and it does so in a most compelling way.
Unlike the smartingly awful James Cameron schlock boiler, ANTR doesn't pack a spectacular special effects punch - but nor does it pack a spectacularly corny and improbable love story concocted with teenagers in mind. The producers of ANTR understood that you didn't need a fictitious love story to heighten the tragedy of that night - the bitter irony of the real events sufficed.
And it is this irony and tragedy that the filmmakers brought out absorbingly well. The comprehensive book by Walter Lord was consulted down to the letter; so the story is told as authentically as possible. With a great script involving mainly real historical characters, perfect casting, and performances that show the actors were engrossed in their roles, the film really does shine. The snappy, economical directing is both proof of the lack of pretensiousness of the producers, as well as being extremely effective in bringing out the meaning in each scene. This makes for intelligent and gripping viewing.
Watch out for the poignant scenes in which the crew attempt to contact the nearby Californian to no avail, and Captain Smith walks to the railing and implores God to help them; the scene where the Captain calls "every man for himself", then walks into the wheelhouse just before it dips underwater; and the gripping scene in which Thomas Andrews (the Titanic's designer), a broken man, waits in the smoking room for the end, determined to go down with his creation. All these scenes are powerful, authentic and sincere; scenes in which all the various emotions aroused by such a disaster are brought out very clearly and movingly.
The special effects, although not so brilliant for today, were fantastic for the times; half the ship was actually constructed for life-size shooting, and a large model was also built, complete with miniature little row boats featuring motorised oars, for the long shots. So the maximum effort was made to make as realistic a depiction of the disaster as possible. And, in fact, the interior scenes of the ship are perfectly authentic, and the audience feels that they are actually aboard the Titanic. Only in the long shots, where a model was used, does the film look noticeably dated.
So by sticking as close as possible to the survivor's accounts featured in the Walter Lord novel, and by avoiding modern cinematic clichés, A Night to Remember remains the only Titanic film to provide a genuine account of the sinking of the great ship that is not marred by superficial Hollywood garbage. It tells the story, as it happened, of an event that changed mankind's attitudes toward his own creations; and as such, it brings to the screen the full impact of what this disaster really meant to the world in, as mentioned, a very compelling, poignant and honest way. It is a true testament to British film making.
As a footnote, many actual survivors of the Titanic were on set as the film was being made; and the musical pig in the lifeboat scenes was the actual one from the real disaster. In addition, the Titanic's fourth officer Boxhall was a technical adviser to the production. And the film's producer was there, as a small child, when the actual Titanic was launched in Belfast. This kind of authenticity makes this movie almost a living documentary.
Intelligent, honest and compelling, A Night to Remember is at least one of the best historical films ever made, and is well worth anybody's time. Everyone is bound to get something out of this movie; and indeed it is a powerhouse for anyone with an interest in the Titanic or just history in general. A totally underrated gem.
"A Night to Remember" is an extraordinary film that gives a magnificent
account of the Titanic tragedy. The film is based on Walter Lord's book
that describes what happened to the ship, that by all accounts, could
not sink. The wonderful script illuminates on the facts of that fateful
night in which the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic; it was written
by Eric Ambler, in a fabulous adaptation for the screen.
We had seen this film years ago. On second viewing, the movie has kept its impact on us like no other. The amazing cinematography of Geoffrey Unsworth looks as crisp as when it was first released. Contributing to the enjoyment of the film, Sidney Hayers' editing is excellent, as is the music by William Alwyn. This film shot in London's Pinewood Studios seems real, given the technology of the movies in those days.
The human tragedy aboard the Titanic comes across vividly and with high intensity, as the director, Ray Ward Baker, kept everyone moving in perfect formation. One of the many achievements he was able to get from his cast and crew was this precise staging of the story. There is not a false moment in the movie. In keeping the film narrative as a documentary, Mr. Baker gets amazing results from everyone.
Among the large English cast, Kenneth More, has the most important part of the ensemble players. Some of the best English actors, working in films at that time, are seen in the movie. The more prominent faces one sees are Honor Blackman, David McCallum, Alec McCowen, Michael Bryant, among others serve the film well in roles that intermingle without making anyone shine over the rest.
"A Night to Remember" was one of the best English films of the period and it is gratifying to have seen it again after many years looking so well. This is a film to treasure.
Well what can I say? What can you say? I know what my 16 year old
cohorts would say; "it's rubbish, there's no sex and drugs etc". Well
to them I say grow up, there's more to film than that. A red-headed
friend at school is talking with Channel 4 about doing a documentary on
ginger people, and while everyone else says "oh god not another awful
waste of disk space", I say good luck. Back to the film, It is
brilliant. It puts a lot more emphasis on the crews actions to save
that wonderful ship than Camerons and the actor who played Molly
"unsinkable" Brown was credible, believable and so what if the
designer, Thomas Andrews, had somehow lost his Irish accent. It was
awful for me having to watch as he lent so casually by the fireplace,
and adjusted the clock to time, only for it to be frozen in that
position for all time. And when E J Smith calls for everyman for
himself, and the sense of the ship plunging into the abyss beneath
everyone, the atmosphere is tense, and you really start siding with
characters, I personally sided with Lightoller, who was portrayed as
the brave, professional seaman that he was. Cameron's Lightoller; "GET
BACK OR I'LL SHOOT YOU ALL LIKE DOGS", was awful and I personally
resented that cowardice portray-el of the real hero of the Titanic
story. The model is pretty good for its day, and although the smoke
stacks are a bit too tall the ship is still identifiable as Titanic, so
no need for computer graphics there. The sinking was very well executed
and although films don't upset me much, when the old boy with the
little kid on the ships fantail are huddled together, with the old man
reassuring that he will see his mother in a couple of minutes, that
sent a chill through a my body, and I feel really upset as I write
In short, its a very good film, and does not resort to stupid love stories, and really is quintessentially British!!!!!!
Why do all the commentators here insist on comparing apples to oranges?
There is a huge difference between the two movies BUT THE DIFFERENCE IS
INTENTIONAL--'A Night to Remember' is based on Walter Lord's
documentary-style novel which does not use a fictional story at all. 1997's
'Titanic' does not paint itself as a documentary--the author (James Cameron)
chose to tell a fictional love story set against an enormously famous tragic
event--AND THIS IS WHAT HE DID. He was not striving to make a documentary.
Therefore, no one should be wasting their time trying to compare the two
films--each had a specific purpose in mind and accomplished
If you read the Walter Lord novel, you'd know that 'A Night to Remember' is intended to be a crisp re-telling in documentary style of the events of that fatal voyage. It does so without any frills, sticking closely to the novel's minute by minute description of events. The film never once misses a true beat and all of the performances are excellent. Only in the area of special effects is there a letdown--the model is an obvious model filmed against a black backdrop for the sky. There are other minor flaws that one could quibble with--but on the whole this is a fine, realistic depiction of the actual event. On the other hand, if 1997's 'Titanic' insults you by telling a fictional love story told against this background, then don't bother to see it for that is exactly what Cameron intended it to be--a fictional love story set against the background of an historical event, much the way 'Gone with the Wind' was a fictional love story told against the background of the Civil War and its aftermath.
BUT PLEASE--STOP COMPARING THE TWO MOVIES. It's a senseless thing to do. They weren't meant to be compared--each takes a different route toward telling the story and shouldn't be compared, any more than you compare fiction with non-fiction! Each has its own assets and one shouldn't be judged superior to the other. And yes, each one is undeniably an example of great filmmaking.
The Titanic disaster has provided material for quite an assortment of
films, and a number of them have at least something to offer. This is
one of the more effective, with its straightforward and, based on the
knowledge then available, factually accurate approach. One particularly
worthwhile aspect is that it spends more time detailing the reasons for
the disaster than do most movies on the subject.
Often movies that try to stay close to the facts suffer from a lack of focus, especially when there is/are no central character(s) to hold things together. In this adaptation of "A Night to Remember", they solved the problem by focusing much of the action around Second Officer Lightoller, who was involved in some way in so many different aspects of what happened. As a device it works well, and there is enough action involving the other characters to keep it balanced.
Another inherent challenge in the story is that there are so many characters, and most of them hold some interest. In this adaptation, they chose simply to depict as many brief situations as possible, often without giving much with which to identify the characters. If you are familiar with Walter Lord's book, it is often possible to identify many of them, but otherwise, it might be a little confusing to sort through so many characters.
For such a detail-heavy story, this is an effective and commendable movie. With very few frills, it tells the story believably and sometimes memorably.
It does a pretty good job of meeting the main challenges, not telling the complete story, of course, but providing a worthwhile overview of events.
Roy Ward Baker's masterly docudrama still holds up well even after
nearly a half century. It is a far more historically accurate, and
broader-scoped version than the James Cameron 1998 epic. Although I
thoroughly enjoyed the latter, the former still wins the prize for
historical veracity as well as for dramatic impact.
Les from Brighton asks a couple of questions and poses a few comments meriting response:
Q: With a huge iceberg nearby would it not have been obvious to run the Titanic aground upon it?
A: Obvious, perhaps, but hardly practical. Icebergs are harder than steel and any attempt to beach an ocean liner on a berg (particularly with nearly perpendicular slopes) would only invite more damage to the vessel. There is some speculation that Titanic might have survived if the lookouts had detected the berg only one minute later than they did. The deck officer would have had no time to attempt evasion and Titanic would have rammed the berg-head on instead of sustaining a glancing blow, which peppered the hull with breaches to sea along her port bow three hundred feet aft. Conceivably, for a head on blow the damage might have been restricted to the first two or so of the first four watertight compartments, which might have allowed Titanic to remain afloat.
Q: In a similar vein on spotting the light on the horizon (the Californian) I would have thought that setting out for it in one of the lifeboats manned by as many beefy rowers as they could cram into it might have been a good way to get its attention.
A: SS Californian was anywhere from ten to fifteen miles from RMS Titanic on the night of the sinking. An oar powered life boat (not built for speed but for capacity) with a full crew can make, perhaps, three to four knots on a flat sea. This would mean, roughly, two and a half to four hours for even a beefy lifeboat crew to reach Californian, even if Californian had been close to Titanic, and even if the boat crew had the strength and endurance to pull at maximum speed for the entire time. Titanic struck the iceberg at 11h30 on 14 April and sank at 02h20 on the 15th, slightly under two and a half hours between impact and foundering. There was not enough time to attempt a rescue effort along those lines, and the boat needed for it was better used to get passengers off Titanic.
Q: On the other hand had I been aboard I may have been running around like the rest
A: There was very little running around. The crew of Titanic were unpracticed in evacuation procedures, but they were highly disciplined. They loaded the boats and launched them as quickly and efficiently as they could, but the boats were nowhere near capacity when crew launched them. Walter Lord suggests that one of the factors contributing to the high death rate among passengers (there was room in the lifeboats for 1200 passengers and crew, but only 714 survived) was not necessarily that the large number of steerage passengers were deliberately kept from getting to the boat decks, but that few crew members took the initiative to try encouraging steerage passengers to go the boat decks. Even if a few crew members made the attempt to drive passengers to the weather decks, however, most passengers making it to the deck found it too cold and uncomfortable and simply turned around to go back to the warmth of below decks until it was too late.
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