The best ‘Titanic’ film of all: A Night to Remember

April 10, 2012 at 3:16 pm (adventure, Art and design, cinema, history, Jim D, literature)

Amid all the hoopla surrounding the Titanic centennial, I thought I’d just mention what I consider to be by far the best film yet made about the disaster. ‘A Night to Remember’ was made in 1958 , nearly forty years before James Cameron’s saccharine ‘Titanic,’ on a fraction of the budget and with none of the sophisticated special effects. Yet the earlier film, directed by Roy Ward Barker and starring Kenneth Moore (as second officer Herbert Lightoller) is more accurate and exciting. The human interest element is far better written and acted than the overblown Winslet – Di Caprio nonsense in the Cameron film. Lee Randall (a self-confessed ‘Titanic “fan” since childhood’) has written in The Scotsman: “One of the most poignant moments in cinematic history is when an elderly couple retires to a pair of deckchairs to await the end together (a scene much repeated but never bettered). I’m welling up thinking about it now.”

Even the final sinking in ‘A Night to Remember’ was filmed in something close to ‘real time’ (just 37 minutes shorter than the actual event). And the meticulous technical accuracy is so impressive that (unlike a lot of nautical films of the time), you’d never guess that the vessel itself was a model, filmed in a pool (to be precise, an open air swimming pool in Ruislip at 2.00 am!).

I have only just discovered, however, that the film was based upon an eponymous novel by one Walter Lord, and adapted by Eric Ambler. Ambler (author of, amongst other novels, Journey into Fear, The Mask of Demetrios and Epitaph for a Spy) was one of the finest adventure writers of the twentieth century, and a leftist and antifascist who saw through Stalinism before most. He deserves to be better remembered and I’ll probably write about him again sometime. I’m sure his work contributed enormously  to the artistic success of the film:

4 Comments

  1. LadyAlston said,

    Nice to find someone who agrees with me! This is my favourite, and by far the best, Titanic film. Moore was brilliant as Lightoller. The bit that always starts me crying is when the old man’s hugging the little boy at the end, telling him it’ll all be alright, as the ship sinks. Wonderful film.

  2. Roger said,

    The major special effects were all stolen from the epic and ill-fated Nazi propaganda film Titanic! which utilised a KdF cruise ship which was subsequently filled with Nazi concentration camp prisoners and sunk in the Baltic to prevent their being liberated by the Red Army.

    And many of the male extras you see in the final scenes were actually SS-men lent to Goebbels whose tendency to turn up drunk on set, ruin scenes and destroy the production schedule so infuriated the previously loyally collaborationist director that he gave vent to an anti-Nazi tirade that got him denounced and led to a mysterious death in a Gestapo cell.

  3. Roger said,

    The Nazi Titanic is on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pwh3LthX2Es

    The excellent Channel 5 documentary on it no longer seems to be downloadable though.

  4. Roger said,

    And agree on Ambler who also said – IIRC in a mere thriller:

    In a dying civilization, political prestige is the reward not of the shrewdest diagnostician, but of the man with the best bedside manner. It is the decoration conferred on mediocrity by ignorance.

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