A Night to Remember (1958)
You Will Remember this Titanic Movie
We have dressed now in our best, and are prepared to go down like gentlemen - Benjamin Guggenheim
Watching "A Night to Remember" now it becomes almost impossible to not compare it to James Cameron's "Titanic". Whilst both re-enact the night of 14th April 1912 when the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg and sank they are different animals; "A Night to Remember" is purely a dramatic re-enactment of the events where as Cameron's "Titanic" has the fictional romantic drama of Jack and Rose. But understandably you pick up on similarities such as the drama as the officers tried to get women and children off first as well as those in steerage being kept below as the water rose. There are also character similarities such as American Molly Brown who in both movies stands up for herself and takes control of situations. And as you compare you find yourself asking which is better "A Night to Remember" or "Titanic" and it is "A Night to Remember" as it does a superior job of delivering the drama of the night.
Based upon Walter Lord's 1955 book, "A Night to Remember" is purely a re-enactment of that fateful night on the 14th April 1912 when the unsinkable Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. We do get some build up to the night as we witness various people leaving their homes to board the giant white Star liner, from the well to do to the poor looking for a new start in America and in doing so it highlights the emotional impact for those whose loved ones were leaving to seek their fortune and a new start. But unlike modern disaster movies, which to be honest "A Night to Remember" could be classed as, there is no real attempt to establish pivotal characters with the exception of Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller played by Kenneth More. And unlike James Cameron's "Titanic" we don't get some fake character who wins a ticket playing poker either.
But really "A Night to Remember" is purely focused on that night when the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. And in focussing on this highlights the lead up to the events that warnings of ice were coming in from other ships, that the nearby SS Californian had halted because of an ice field and that the radio operators aboard the Titanic were as busy receiving messages from other ships as they were sending out messages for the passengers. But whilst making clear that the radio operators did miss important messages because of the sheer amount of work they were doing it doesn't lay blame and nor does it lay blame on the SS Californian when it didn't respond to the Titanic's distress calls, instead highlighting how deficiencies in the systems contributed to the disaster.
Now when it comes to the actual disaster, the iceberg damaging the Titanic and the actual sinking it feels a very different movie to Cameron's more recent "Titanic" because it isn't about the action. Instead we get this look at how it was dealt with, the calm way that Captain Edward J. Smith and Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller went about preparing to get women and children off the sinking liner. How they prepared for when the inevitable panic set in and did all they could physically do to save as many lives as they could with not enough lifeboats. We still get the drama of the sinking, people fighting to save their lives, those diving into the water whilst those in steerage trying to fight their way to the surface but none of the focus is on making it exciting action with heroics, just real drama.
And whilst we get the actual drama of the physical sinking you also get to witness how people reacted, which in fairness watching "A Night to Remember" now almost feels comical despite being real. Watching the upper classes concern themselves with not only by how they looked in a life jacket but also with the lower classes being kept out of their way has the effect now of making your blood boil despite it being how society was and there are several occasion when a well off woman moans that you just wish someone would slap her. Yet you also see how many of the men felt it was their moral obligation as gentlemen to get women and children off despite knowing that they were most likely sentencing themselves to die. For what is really a very straight drama, a re-enactment of the night the Titanic went down it is surprisingly emotional as wives can't bear to leave husbands behind and the selfishness of certain classes makes you angry.
Now it would be fare to say that Kenneth More as Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller is central to "A Night to Remember" as the actual disaster and rescue heavily relies on what he does. We watch as he commands his men in getting women and children off the boat and into the lifeboats whilst trying to keep everyone calm and it is through his good sense that others were saved after the Titanic goes down. But whilst More gives a first class performance "A Night Remember" is full of good performances from those in minor roles as the men aboard other ships receiving the distress calls to the actual passengers aboard the Titanic. It's because everything is delivered in such a straight manner that you do feel like you are watching a boat sinking and praise should be extended to the special effects and model making teams who make it all look so believable.
What this all boils down to is that "A Night to Remember" is easily the best movie when it comes to what really happened on the 14th April 1912 when the Titanic sank and whilst I am sure some poetic licence has been used it feels all very believable. And whilst "A Night to Remember" is now over 50 years old it has to be said is still visually impressive with not only it looking authentic but in the way we watch the boat listing with men and women scrabbling to save themselves.
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