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: