Titanic@100 Pt. 1: A Night To Remember (Roy Ward Baker, 1958): UK

Reviewed by William Conlin. Viewed on Criterion Blu Ray.

Part I of a review series pertaining to the sinking of the Titanic.

With the 100th anniversary of the sinking of The RMS Titanic occurring later this month it seems like an appropriate moment to look at some of the most famous (and infamous) portrayals of the iconic sinking. Nearly 46 years after the sinking director Roy Ward Baker adapted Walter Lord’s best selling novel into the motion picture epic A Night To Remember. What resulted was a restrained, yet powerful exploration of the events of April 14-15, 1912.

A Night To Remember primarily follows Titanic’s 2nd officer Charles Lightoller (expertly performed by British character actor Kenneth More) but features an ensemble of characters ranging from 1st class socialites to 3rd class immigrants. Unlike other Titanic films that focus on the voyage up to and then the sinking, A Night To Remember makes it’s introductions before the ship gets underway then skips right to the night of the sinking. As the audience gains affection for the characters, the impending doom reminds us that some will most likely not survive the night. Once the iceberg hits, the viewer is expertly shown the heroism, cowardice and tragedy that took place during the sinking.

Considered for many years to be the best screen depiction of the sinking A Night To Remember is a tour de force of British cinema. In the newly released Criterion Collection Blu Ray Edition, die hard fans are treated to documentaries about the making of the film, audio commentary with Titanic Historians and interviews with actual survivors of the sinking.

For me, the strongest aspect of A Night To Remember is the camera movement. Baker’s ability to engross the audience is brilliant. As the ship begins to list, the camera seems to loose it’s footing without becoming handheld. As the ship rises into the air the camera shoots from left to right and right to left, disorienting the viewer and adding to the chaos of the moment. Geoffrey Unsworth’s stunning low key cinematography shows his technical prowess nearly fifteen years before he won his Oscar for Cabaret.

For trivia junkies, A Night To Remember provides two interesting pieces of film history: Die hard James Bond fans will enjoy seeing Sean Connery (James Bond), Desmond Llewelyn (Q) and Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore) in ensemble roles in A Night To Remember five years before co-starring in Goldfinger. Also, actor Bernard Fox portrays Lookout Frederick Fleet in A Night To Remember. In James Cameron’s Titanic, Fox portrays Col. Archibald Gracie. With nearly 42 years between them, Fox acts as a link between the two greatest screen portrayals of the sinking.

Titanic is an enduring story. With so many film and media adaptations A Night To Remember stands out as a top-tier example of bringing the emotion and exhilaration of the sinking to the viewer. I highly recommend the new Criterion Edition of A Night To Remember for any one interested in experiencing this incredible film.

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