BluRay/DVD Reviews

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

By • Apr 17th, 2012 •

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My mother’s high school art teacher was a Titanic survivor. He told her his recollections of that terrible disaster, and remained in contact with her until his death decades later. So, I grew up in a household fascinated by all things Titanic, including the many film adaptations. The best film version, hands down was the British J. Arthur Rank 1958 production A NIGHT TO REMEMBER.

To honor the 100th anniversary of the sinking (April 15, 1912) Criterion has released a stunning Blu-Ray of A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. The film never looked this good, alive with incredible detail, with crisp perfect audio. The film has some amazing sound edits and uses of jarring off camera sound effects – such as the massive, bellowing groans the 46,300 ton ship made as it sunk below the surface of the North Atlantic!

On the filmmaking side, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is one of the most nearly perfect films ever! As each shot progresses, so does the story. No unnecessary sup-plots (the film has sub-plots, but they are important). There is nothing supercilious about A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. This Criterion Blu-Ray includes a documentary about the making of the film, complete with home-movie footage of the production, Titanic survivors visiting the set, and scenes of a snowstorm disrupting the outdoor set. A rare Swedish documentary about the Titanic from the 1960’s can be also found on this release.

An unheralded extra here is the replacement of a scene censored from American release prints. After the ship sinks, Second Officer Lightoller (played with restraint and humility by Kenneth More) tries to balance men on an overturned lifeboat. A man swims up yelling “save the child,” and hands Lightoller an infant wrapped in a blanket. The American edit abruptly cuts from here to a shot of Lightoller and the men balancing the boat. But now we see the hidden continuation of the shot, where Lightoller checks for breathing and a pulse within the motionless blanket, then shakes his head “no”, and lets the bundle gently sink into the ocean.

It’s the best film from director Roy Ward Baker, who later went to Hammer studios to helm the thrilling QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT as well as some of the studio’s later sexy vampire movies and DOCTOR JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE.

Many film-goers compare James Cameron’s 1997 Oscar winning TITANIC in unkindly ways to this film. Many go on line and call the more recent film ‘a “puke-fest” Certainly A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is the better film, but the Cameron-DiCaprio-Winslet extravaganza has plenty of merit, and was made with great respect for the story.

Here is my quick run down of Titanic Films through cinema history.

SAVED FROM THE TITANIC (1912), a presumed lost nine minute film made a month after the Titanic sinking, which stars Dorothy Gibson, who was an actual Titanic survivor. In the film, Ms. Gibson even wears the same dress she wore when she boarded Titanic’s first lifeboat.

ATLANTIC (1929) An early British talkie partially based on the Titanic disaster, directed by German expressionistic director E. A. Dupont. Its obvious use of miniatures is sub-par for 1929 movie special effects. Madeleine Carroll and sometimes Hitchcock villain Donald Calthrop star.

CAVALCADE (1933) This epic about historic British events affecting a wealthy family during the first part of the 20th Century features a well-staged scene aboard the Titanic. A good, not great adaptation of a Noel Coward play, CAVALCADE strangely won a Best Picture Oscar, beating out that year’s KING KONG, DINNER AT EIGHT and 42nd STREET.

S.O.S TITANIC (1943) Yes, the Nazis made a Titanic movie! This German production, made during Hitler’s rule, has some impressive special effects (Some of the shots from this film were used in A NIGHT TO REMEMBER) But the film-makers foul it up by keeping a pro-German/anti-British slant, which distorts many Titanic facts. As the ship is sinking, Titanic’s Captain Smith actually says “See if you can find any German people on board. They’ll know how to save the ship.” And during the Titanic inquest after the sinking, the disaster is blamed on capitalism. I’m not making this up.

TITANIC (1953) This first serious filming of the disaster is passable at best. Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck are rich folks aboard the doomed liner.

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958) Get the Blu-Ray. Well worth the price!

TITANIC (Made for TV, 1996) To cash in on the anticipation of James Cameron’s monstrously budgeted film, this just-add-water, inaccurate version stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Peter Gallagher. The worst part of the film involves Tim Curry as a serial rapist running amok on the ship as it sinks. An earlier Titanic TV-Movie made in 1978 starring David Warner (who was in the James Cameron film) is the much better TV-Movie bet.

TITANIC (1997) One of the most famous films ever made. The film holds your interest throughout its three-hour running time. Leonardo Di Caprio is a very likeable fictionalized “stowaway” who wins the heart of super-rich Kate Winslet on board the liner. Because the relationship between DiCaprio and Winslet works so well here, I find that TITANIC works better on the small screen than on the large screen. The film’s final shot, where the camera creeps along the sunken ship to discover Titanic ghosts, is a carbon copy of a scene from the 1960 Japanese film, I BOMBED PEARL HARBOR, where the camera prowls a sunken Japanese ship and comes upon the victims.

My mother’s friend, Titanic survivor Marshall Drew remained in contact with our family until his death in 1986, often sending us Christmas and Easter Cards. Here is his recollection of the disaster printed in various venues:

“I am always annoyed at artists’ depictions of the sinking of ‘Titanic’. I’ve never seen one that came anywhere near the truth. There might have been the slightest ocean swell but it was dead calm. Stars there may have been, but the blackness of the night was so intense one could not see anything like a horizon. As row by row of the porthole lights of the ‘Titanic’ sank into the sea this was about all one could see. When the ‘Titanic’ upended to sink, all was blacked out until the tons of machinery crashed to the bow. This sounded like an explosion, which of course it was not. As this happened hundreds of people were thrown into the sea. It isn’t likely I shall ever forget the screams of those people as they perished in the water said to be 28 degrees.”

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