Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Period Piece Challenge: "A Night to Remember" Movie Review

It may not have been Jack and Rose, but I was balling like a baby by the end.  The book is great; however, the movie was a fantastic surprise.  I don't often side with a film over a book, but this time I am tempted.  Filmed and released in 1958, the movie - based on the book by Walter Lord - is incredibly accurate, wonderfully written, and in the end, a pretty terrifying representation of the last night on the R.M.S. Titanic.

(Great effects!)
Like the book, there are no particular protagonists, you are simply shown glimpses of several individuals throughout the night and are hence able to identify with dozens of different characters in several harrowing situations, from the coal shovelers in the engine rooms and the steerage passengers all the way to the best known first class passengers.  It is kind of an exhausting movie to watch and I must admit that sometimes I come at these films with a sense of dread.  You know what is going to happen.  The ship will sink.  Thousands will die.  And yet, you can't help but watch the disaster unfold.  One of the most appealing parts of the film is that it lays out every wrong turn, poor decision, and tiny misstep that led to one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th Century.  It's really quite frustrating to watch and I love that these filmmakers capture that feeling.  No matter what you know is going to happen, you still want to stop it.  You want to yell at the screen "there's an iceburg!"  Or you want to scream at the Californian (the ship that was only 10 miles away at the time of the incident but did not come to the rescue because they did not believe Titanic was actually sinking) "turn on the radio!  Titanic is going down, you idiots!"  But it is about 100 years too late for that.  It is a horrible inevitability to witness and yet it is impossible to look away.  Mad props to the filmmakers and director Roy Ward Baker on this one.
(Tell us it's okay, Mr. Andrews!)
In addition to the overall mood of the film, the special effects were remarkably well executed.  I will concede that the 1997 version will probably always hold the title of best Titanic special effects, but for 1958, A Night to Remember did a bang-up job.  The effects in the latest version do make the final moments more terrifying; however, I have always thought it a bit overdone.  Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the action and suspense, but some of it is a little over-the-top.   In this version Titanic sinks rather demurely at times and in a rather dignified manner, not altogether inaccurate to a certain degree, I believe.  The scenes of the ship going down, of the lifeboats being lowered, and of the aftermath were superbly executed.   They worked off of a carefully crafted scale model for most of it while James Cameron actually built large sections of the ship for Titanic.   In addition to the effects, the portrayal of the passengers and their reactions was well done.   For the most part, until the ship really started having problems and listing visibly, not only would the obvious physical damage have been limited, but the people on board would have had no reason to believe there to be a problem.  For the scenes of the survivors in the water, they actually filmed it outdoors in November so the water was actually freezing cold.  That's dedication to a role right there.
(It really did look unsinkable)
A Night to Remember keeps the viewer, along with the passengers, oblivious to the severity of the situation while at the same time building a feeling of foreboding and dread in the back of your mind.   No one thought that the Titanic could or ever would sink so there was probably relative calm until the last half hour or so.   Even as you are watching everything go wrong (and still screaming at the screen and trying to change 100 years of historical fact) you are hoping to the very end that the boat will not indeed sink.  Because it is almost too horrible to imagine that it actually did.  And this right here is the moral of the story.  The unsinkable Titanic sank.  I cried when the band played on the deck until the final moments.  I cried harder still when Mr. Andrews numbly and heroically accepted his fate and the fate of his creation.  And I cried harder still during the brilliant shot of the passengers, crowded onto the stern as it is lifted into the air, all praying in their respective languages.  It was a beautiful scene and, again, likely an accurate account of the final moments of hundreds of souls about to be lost at sea.
You might love the 1997 version of Titanic as much as I do (or, heck, even as much as Sally), but if you have not seen A Night to Remember, you really must.  It is beautifully written, thoughtfully shot, and a fitting tribute to the tragedy.  Bonus, it is available on youtube!  Need some convincing?  I give you, Part I.


  1. I'm so glad you liked it! I thought it was brilliant.

  2. Ooo buddy I will DEFINITELY be watching this one! It's like you said... when it comes to Titanic, I just can't look away! Whenever something related to Titanic is on TV, it's like I'm being pulled down with it every time. It's such a force! And, oh Mr. Andrews, bless him... Somehow I have such a soft spot for him in every version I see.

    Now I know I'm a tad rabid when it comes to 1997's Titanic, but... overdone effects/action/suspense? WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!? NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Jack and I say no! No! NO!!! The bloody thing broke in half before it went down! It's TERRIFYING (granted, this is coming from someone who is DEATHLY AFRAID of sinking ships)! If anything should be in your face, it's that!

  3. *adds to watch list*
    Brilliant old films are brilliant. I'm slightly upset with myself for never having seen this one, and now that I know it's on YouTube? I'm so there!