Sunday, June 11, 2017

#2,367. A Night to Remember (1958) - Spotlight on England

Directed By: Roy Ward Baker

Starring: Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert Ayres

Tag line: "TITANIC... The greatest sea drama in living memory told as it really happened!"

Trivia: This is regarded as the largest British production of the 1950s. It was also the most expensive film made by the Rank Organization

With a budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million, James Cameron’s 1997 award-winning film Titanic recreated, in great detail, the sinking of the RMS Titanic, the British luxury liner that struck an iceberg in April of 1912 and carried some 1,500 souls with it to its watery grave. 

It is a tragedy that continues to fascinate. A mammoth ship, the RMS Titanic was labeled “unsinkable” by its manufacturer, the White Star line. Yet it never completed its maiden voyage, and sits, to this day, at the bottom of the North Atlantic. Packed with drama, romance, and plenty of thrills, 1997’s Titanic took in over a billion dollars worldwide, making it one of the biggest box-office successes in cinematic history.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, 1958’s A Night to Remember is another take on the Titanic tragedy. It was produced on a more modest budget (estimated to be around half a million British pounds), yet is every bit as realistic, every bit as intense, and every bit as moving as Cameron’s epic undertaking.

While sailing from London to New York, the RMS Titanic, the largest liner ever constructed, sideswipes an iceberg in the North Atlantic. What at first seems like a near-miss soon proves catastrophic when the ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews (Michael Goodliffe), informs the crew that a gash in its side is flooding Titanic’s lower decks, and in a few hours the great vessel will sink to the bottom of the ocean. 

Knowing full well there aren’t enough life boats to save everyone on board, Captain Smith (Laurence Naismith) and his subordinates, including First officer Murdoch (Richard leech) and Second Officer Lightoller (Kenneth More), do what they can to get the women and children to safety, all the while hoping that a nearby ship will come to their rescue. 

Unfortunately, the only vessel to answer Titanic’s distress call is the RMS Carpathia, whose Captain, Arthur Rostron (Anthony Bushell), orders his crew to take whatever steps necessary to get them to Titanic’s position as quickly as possible. Even at full-speed, though, the Carpathia is 4 hours away, meaning a good many will already be dead by the time it arrives.

Based on Walter Lord’s non-fiction book of the same name, A Night to Remember takes its time at the beginning to introduce the various characters, most notably Second Officer Lightoller, played superbly by top-billed star Kenneth More, who spends the days prior to Titanic's maiden voyage in the company of his wife (Jane Downs). That said, the majority of the movie is dedicated to what transpires after the ship hits the iceberg, with events playing out as quickly as they did that fateful night in April, 1912. 

Upper-class passengers, most of whom have no concept of the danger they’re in, complain about the “inconvenience” of putting on life jackets and gathering on the frigid deck. A nearby ship, the Californian (no more than 10 miles away) is oblivious to Titanic’s situation, and ignores the SOS signals, including the distress rockets sent up every five minutes. Then there are the passengers on Titanic's lower decks, locked in until the first and second classes have safely boarded the lifeboats. Those who survived the disaster would praise A Night to Remember for its realism, and it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that they went to such lengths to depict this terrible night as accurately as possible.

But A Night to Remember is more than a documentary-style account; it features plenty of drama as well. After a brief conversation with Thomas Andrews, first-class passenger Robbie Lucas (John Merivale), realizing how dire the situation is, calmly convinces his wife (Honor Blackman) to board one of the lifeboats with their three children. He reassures his family that he will follow on another boat, yet knows that, in all likelihood, he will never set eyes on them again. This is the first of several emotional scenes in which passengers must make that all-important decision: board the lifeboat, or stay behind so their loved ones will survive.

In addition, A Night to Remember shows us the individual acts of bravery performed by the ship’s crew. Wireless operator Jack Phillips (Kenneth Griffith) remained at his post as long as possible to send the distress signals; and the band continued to play right up to the end, doing their damnedest to bring an air of calm to the escalating drama. 

Then there are the ship’s final moments, the screams that those on the lifeboats can hear in the darkness. Some, including the boat carrying American millionaire Molly Brown (Tucker McQuire), return to pick up survivors. Alas, many do not return.

While not as visually impressive as what Cameron and his team accomplished with 1997’s Titanic (the miniature shots in this movie were lifted from a 1943 Nazi propaganda film produced by Joseph Goebbels), the story as depicted in A Night to Remember is powerful, and just as likely to move you to tears.

No comments: