1984 German Telemovie


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Inger Sheil

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Opted to watch the 1984 German Titanic telemovie last night. Not up for a running translation, Moni only gave me the lines when the action became a bit animated. It took all of five minutes to determine that the script was heavily steeped in Wade and his interpretation of the US Inquiry - apparently they were some of the many who read the transcripts and thought "hmm...somewhere in there is an excellent 'court room' style drama" (keeping in mind, as Smith told Lowe, that it was an inquiry and no one was on trial - SNORT!).

There was absolutely no question who very clearly designated hero of this little drama was - Senator Smith. While I don't think any readers of Wade are left in any doubt as to what his view of the Senator was, this took that glowing portrait to extremes. Any blundering question, any adversarial style - all of it was eliminated. Likewise, anything that might have reflected positively on an employee of the White Star Line was also eliminated or down played.

As there was no shading to who the hero of the story was, the villains were equally well defined. Ismay was obviously the prime choice, but - with his features softened by a paternal looking beard and his manner assured rather than arrogant - he was outshone in the villainhood stakes by Lightoller. They equipped Lights with a moustache, and I kept waiting for him to give it a good old snidely whiplash twirl. He was thoroughly unlikable and positively malevolent - kept exchanging highly significant conspiratorial looks with the White Star Line officials, and was shown to be plotting with them in the non-inquiry room scenes.

Boxhall was a non-entity, Bride was just a shadow lacking even pathos, and the order of the testimony was shuffled around so Lowe was immediately preceded by Pitman in order to sharpen the contrast. Poor Pitman looked all of fifteen (and apparently had loaned his moustache to Lightoller for the day), and his breakdown came close to being touching...but then I wasn't getting the translation at that point, just the actions. Smith, needless to say, was not shown as pushing the man on the question of the cries in the water as hard as he did.

Lowe was gorgeously depicted, and I was on the floor with mirth. He sashayed up confidently to take his seat, and, in keeping with contemporary accounts, his answers were indeed given in a firm clear voice. He couldn't seem to get over his amusement at Smith, and had either a slight smile or even a grin during his entire testimony (which wasn't too long). He was the only witness shown as being effectively able to hold his own with the Senator, although they overdid the 'cocky' angle a bit when - seated on a swivel chair - he swung around to flash a wide smile at his appreciative audience after one of his little sallies met with general amusement. They started out with the 'ice' exchange (no lead in with questions to provide it with context), and opted not to show Smith's line of questioning regarding drinking. The Ismay incident recounted in his testimony was allowed to play out in full, and one got the distinct impression that Lowe didn't really give a damn about Smith, Ismay, or anyone else for that matter. The questioning ended with Lowe explaining the gunshots - no reference was made to him returning to pick up survivors. No idea was given of the range of Lowe's emotional responses during his testimony - cocky he began, and cocky he ended. However, at the very least he was shown to be a confident, independent and competent officer - the only one (save perhaps Boxhall) who was.

Ernest Gill was apparently promoted to second officer for the proceedings, giving his testimony with two gold braids. Good stuff! On walking out he sights Lord, marches straight up to him, nods sharply, then walks briskly off. A braver man than most, I'd say! Lord we know is a villain, because he's smoking a cigarette arrogantly. How does one smoke a cigarette arrogantly? I'm not too sure, but he manages it. And is positively dripping with casual malevolence as he drops the cigarette to the floor and stubs it out, then strolls in with logbook under his arm.

Gracie was - astonishingly - played for laughs. Smith makes a slight attempt to stop the villains of the piece - the White Star line and her officers - from getting away by interviewing a steerage passenger (Abelseth) in order to establish some sort of grounds to prosecute them but it's too late...evil triumphs! They can't prosecute Ismay! Smith is left to simply mop up and change a few laws.

The scenes trying to depict the grief that touched ordinary individuals descended into bathos - Smith finds a boy selling popcorn on his doorstep whose father went down with the Titanic, and a German mother confronts him with the loss of her husband, son, daughter in law and grandchildren. The one moment of this nature I found moving came early on in the movie, during Lightoller's explanation of why it was unlikely that anyone could have sought refuge in the watertight compartments. A lady approaching old age, sitting in the hearing room, briefly closes her eyes in immeasurable grief. Then silently and with great dignity she rises and slowly walks out - she has heard what she came to hear.

However, one of the final scenes left a very sour taste in the mouth. Smith phones Ismay to tell him he's continuing the investigation and wants to view the Olympic - and the phone call is taken by Ismay in a room full of WSL identities like Franklin and Lightoller, all drinking champagne. They laugh uproariously when Smith says he wants to see the Olympic. When the phone is put down, the champagne swilling Lightoller announces that Smith must be made to see he has lost, and general gloating follows. To depict these men like that - and Lightoller in particular - was quite risible, and an insult to a man who had also lost friends and shipmates in the disaster.
Curious film, but it certainly shows how tremendously influential Wade's work is!
 
Oct 23, 2000
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Whoa, Inger! That's amazing. Thanks for sharing it with us.
This film came out the year after ol' Jack "I found the Titanic!" Grimm's third expedition failed to find the Titanic (and was probably made whilst Grimm was fumbling about the North Atlantic chasing after shadows), and before Bob Ballard and Jean-Louis Mihel found the Titanic.
Kinda sad to hear they made two-dimensonal villans out of guys like Ismay, Lightoller, and Franklin at the end. Sounds one step removed from the phoney-baloney bad guys in the '97 film (still surprised I didn't whoop with derison 'till I died whenever I saw 'em they were so poor and half-baked of characters--and that film had been passed-off as some kind of high-grade drama!--, but I digress).
Must have been funky hearing it all in German, btw.

Richard K.

"Wot kinda voices? Brooklyn or guttral?" Joe & Willie.
 

Inger Sheil

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Ayup - but rereading this, I see I've given Gill two gold braids = second officer...not the case, of course. It was apparently *First* officer Gill. If he'd switched around, though, it would have been in keeping with the movie...Lightoller seemed to change from two to three stripes, depending on how his testimony was going, perhaps? Need to look at that closer, however, as a few stiff rum and cokes to not enhance one's observational skills (although they contribute tremendously to the general merriment).

Inger
 
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