A Night to Remember (1958)

There's many of you here who I hope have much to say about this, my favourite Titanic film.
For now, in case any of you ave missed it, the film has been restored and re-issued. It is playing at several venues
in Britain and across the world. This link gives a guide to where it can be seen on the big screen Park Circus

though it is on at other places too, as its part of Godalming's tribute to Jack Phillips Remembering the Titanic - events in Godalming for 2012 - RMS Titanic and Jack Phillips - Waverley Borough Council

I'm always amused when watching Titanic (1997) at how many scenes were lifted from the Rank feature, which of course is based on the famous book of the same name.


It was the film that sparked my interest in Titanic when I was around 10. Made in Black and White, with obvious use of models, no amazing love story, it got some things wrong etc it is still a very powerful film. I watched my old VHS copy this weekend as part of my own remembrance process. I had forgotten just how moving I always find this film.


I'm new to the forum although I have long had an interest in Titanic, sparked incidentally from watching 'A Night to Remember' which just happened to feature one of my favourite actors (Ronald Allen who played the young man on honeymoon to whom Thomas Andrews gave advice about saving themsleves). For me A Night to Remember is the best Titanic film and the most moving, especially the scenes of those in the lifeboats looking back on the ship as it sinks. I always find that very moving.

I recently visited Belfast and was there for the 100th anniversary commemorations, and can truly say that it was a moving and emotional experience being in the city of Titanics birth on such an occasion.
New members may not be aware that ET has a large archive of threads about ANTR. Unfortunately these are currently closed to posting but they can be read, and hopefully will eventually be moved into this new forum and re-opened for posting. In the meantime, comments can of course be posted here.

For fans of the best film about the Titanic, here's the index page : A Night to Remember
This brings up something I've been wanting to ask ANTR-lovers for quite some time: What is it about this film that inspires such affection, when the Cameron movie is often derided and scorned? When I watch ANTR, I see a thoroughly competent job of movie-making, circa 1958, but I see little authenticity in the sets, I see some inaccuracies in the story (including one right at the beginning, where Titanic's bow is christened with Champagne), and I feel that Lightoller is somewhat unduly canonized.

It is not my intent to deride ANTR here, nor to question anyone's judgment in liking the film, but I would like to get the thoughts of others on WHY this movie gets so much respect, when it has its own set of problems. I hope no one will feel attacked for liking ANTR - as a defender of the Cameron film (its considerable warts and all), I know all too well what that is like.
What's special about ANTR? The answer to your question, Sandy, is ... 1958. Well, maybe not so precise as that - any time in the mid to late '50s would do. This was, quite simply, the ideal time to make a film about the Titanic. The key members of your production team would all have grown up in prewar Britain, in a world which hadn't moved very far from the standards, values, behaviour and speech patterns of the Edwardian age. Some would be old enough even to have lived through that period, like producer Bill McQuitty who had been present at the launch of the Titanic, and the production designer who could make good use of memories of his own Edwardian youth. You'd have Titanic survivors on set as advisers. The legacy of the fairly recent World War would provide you with actors to play officers and seamen who had actually been officers and seamen. You could create a screenplay from the combined efforts of Walter Lord (who had traveled on the Olympic) and Eric Ambler, noted for his realistic portrayals of ordinary people in extraordinary situations in postwar classics like The Cruel Sea. These people weren't just making a film about a byegone age, they were the products of that byegone age. And that, rather than having every set, prop and costume spot on, is the source of ANTR's (apparent) authenticity. Though there are many departures from absolute historical accuracy, most things seem right. In short, for many of us the scenarios, the people and the period setting are more believable than those of any other Titanic film - though not necessarily more entertaining.

One might argue that these advantages would have been even more apparent in a film made earlier - the 1920s or 1930s perhaps. But no, because in that period the British film industry didn't have the resources to create halfway decent sets, props and special effects. And worse than that, it was still in the grip of a Victorian tradition of melodrama, so no matter that those involved would have experienced the Edwardian age in reality - they didn't know how to portray it as reality. A viewing of the 1929 film Atlantic will make that point clear. By the 1940s there was a new trend for realism, but at that time, unlike the Nazis, we Brits couldn't afford to spend millions on making feature films. There was, however, a new style of gritty, stiff upper lip realism in the low key films made to show Britain and the World how ordinary people were coping with the war and the sacrifices it demanded. These paved the way forward, and by 1958 Pinewood was ready to compete with Hollywood by releasing the most costly production ever made in Britain - A Night to Remember.

By the 1960's it would have been too late. A 1968 ANTR would have been a Technicolor epic made with the support of Hollywood dollars. There would have been pressure to inject more excitement, more romance, more appeal for American teen audiences. Michael Caine would have replaced Kenneth More as Lightoller. Captain Smith would have been Charlton Heston. The authentic Edwardians who made the '58 ANTR would have been in retirement, and contemporary distortions of the portrayal of Edwardian society would have shifted from the not dissimilar 1950s into the radically different 1960s.

Now, of course, we have the resources to do things a lot better in many respects. Better sets, better props, better effects. Arguably better talent in front of and behind the cameras too (if not in the writing!) What we don't have, and never will have again, is that direct link to the past that the ANTR team had back in 1958. The 1912 of ANTR has a lot of the 1950s in it, but in so many ways that decade (along with those of us in the UK who lived in it) was not very far removed from the Edwardian age, while more recent films have been made by people who, whatever their levels of talent and sincerity, must find it a lot harder to look back that far and see things clearly.

So there you have it, Sandy. 1958. That's the key.

Well said, Sir! I can see your point very clearly.

For all that I defend Cameron's Titanic, there are things about it that bother me mightily, and many of them are precisely the textural nuances to which you allude. Few Edwardian maidens were prepared to take the risks inherent in a dalliance in the back seat of a Renault, and those very few who WERE prepared would not have been ruddy likely to have done so with a man who had confessed proximity to prostitutes in Paris. You know this. I know this. Cameron's team either did not know it, or ignored it in the effort to appeal to today's teen moviegoers, who are, sadly, where most of the money is nowadays.

Even Edwardian patterns of movement - particularly for women - were different to today's. I wince every time I see Kate Winslet - who has since matured into a very fine actress - galumphing down the steps of the Grand Staircase towards Leonardo Di Caprio. In those days, ladies WAFTED from place to place (they still did in the '50s, as well - I was there, too), but Cameron evidently had no clue.

And I would be the very first to agree with you that Cameron cannot write dialogue for beans. It's not merely a question of anachronisms, it's a question of lumpen, leaden sentences that would tax the abilities of Duse to deliver credibly. He also egregiously over-lights Titanic; 1912 incandescent lighting was nowhere near that bright nor anything like that white. Titanic's passengers were hardly fumbling around in the dark, but they weren't caught in a halogen glare, either.

One of the great strengths of Cameron's movie, though, is its character performances, even when the actors giving them are sometimes forced to do things that they perhaps should not have been. David Warner, as Spicer Lovejoy, is marvelous in his first scene with Di Caprio, delivering his lines about Jack's jacket and shoes with a tight little smile on his face, managing to convey much more menace than any amount of snarling could have done. And Frances Fisher, as Rose's mother, is so emotionally closed off and chilly of mien that a viewer hearing Fleet cry "ICEBERG DEAD AHEAD!" could be forgiven for wondering if perhaps he'd spotted Ruth Bukater on the foredeck.

Thank you for a most perceptive and enlightening response.
And Frances Fisher, as Rose's mother, is so emotionally closed off and chilly of mien that a viewer hearing Fleet cry "ICEBERG DEAD AHEAD!" could be forgiven for wondering if perhaps he'd spotted Ruth Bukater on the foredeck.
I literally just laughed out loud. That woman scared me!

Mr. Godfrey and Mr. McLendon, your posts were a treat to read. Wonderful discussion!
Yes, I'm enjoying it too! To take it a bit further, it might be worth considering why ANTR, which drew large audiences in Britain, didn't do well in the US despite receiving a Golden Globe and good reviews from the Press - albeit not seen by many due to a newspaper strike. Well, first of all it came at a time when colour and wide-screen presentation were becoming the standard, and this film offered neither. It had no stars, or at least none that were known to American audiences. Even Kenneth More appears onscreen for only about 20 minutes, and the Producer's assertion that "the ship is the star" didn't do much to increase the film's box-office appeal. Add to this the fact that it represented a genre - the docu-drama - which rarely if ever was well-received across the Pond where more dramatic (and in every sense more colourful) Hollywood interpretations of history were the norm. The Director thought that Americans found the film too downbeat and depressing, even distressing - "they were coming out in tears" - but without the uplift of an upbeat message or sentimental angle essential to a successful 'tear-jerker'. Kenneth More believed the film had not been promoted and distributed with much enthusiasm because it wasn't made with American money.

These failings in the American marketplace were much in the minds of the Hollywood film executives approached by James Cameron 40 years later, and were still a cause of great concern. It must be said that Cameron did succeed in addressing and (you might say) correcting what could be seen in commercial terms as errors of judgement back in 1958. He showed that, with the right formula, people would flock to see "just another film about a sinking ship". But did he create a better film? He certainly came up with a product which much better satisfied the demands of a modern audience. I see no reason to pillory him for that. I just wish he hadn't written the script!

It's my belief that Cameron might have escaped the amount of criticism he got had he done just one thing: He needed to make the "doomed romance" element of his script more plausible by confining it to two members of the First Class. There was absolutely no reason this could not have been done (God knows enough young men in First Class perished), and it would have made all the difference with Titanophiles. Other errors, such as the Hollywood-obligatory locking of the Bostwick gates, would have been criticized, but not to the extent they have been, I think.

I find your comments on ANTR's technical aspects interesting, because you're quite right - it was an era when American movie-goers were primed to expect, in Cole Porter's words, "Glorious Technicolor, breathtaking CinemaScope and stereophonic sound." Since I don't know a great deal about ANTR's production history, I am left wondering why it was not filmed in color, to improve its chances in the North American market. Certainly, the British film industry was well-acquainted with color film-making; Powell and Pressburger's "The Red Shoes" (1948) contains some of the finest Technicolor design and filming ever seen on the screen, far more advanced than American work in the process; the movie is full of things that simply were not technically possible when it was made - and yet, there they are.

Cameron's film and ANTR share one failing: Margaret Brown is depicted as a plain woman. She was actually rather attractive, and she must have had somewhat more social finesse than she's credited with in films about her; J.J. Astor seems to have found her agreeable company.

Even Edwardian patterns of movement - particularly for women - were different to today's. I wince every time I see Kate Winslet - who has since matured into a very fine actress - galumphing down the steps of the Grand Staircase towards Leonardo Di Caprio. In those days, ladies WAFTED from place to place (they still did in the '50s, as well - I was there, too), but Cameron evidently had no clue.


Movie talk! If they had really used authentically recreated costumes from the time period, I don't see how Kate Winslet could have galumphed. From looking at the dress patterns of the time, women would have only been able to waft, or risk falling down.

I haven't seen the Cameron movie in years, but my niece told me she saw it for the first time a few weeks ago with some of her 20-something friends. It was interesting to hear her say they thought Leonardo DiCaprio seemed too modern to be believable for the time period. Fascinating to me, because I don't remember that type of criticism when the movie first came out.
Sandy, there was another option. Keep Jack in 3rd Class and re-write Rose as an Irish immigrant! Or maybe compromise and place them both in 2nd Class. Wouldn't work, of course - you gotta have all that 1st Class opulence to pull in the audiences. Hang on - why not have unlikely romantic entanglements in all three Classes? Get me Julian Fellowes!

Producer Bill MacQuitty has written that ANTR was made in small-screen black & white so that he could include library footage, but I think there's more to it than that. There's actually very little stock footage in the film (including a few seconds of clips from the wartime German Titanic), and none of it essential. But in Britain at least, audiences were familiar with a highly respected docu-drama tradition which began in wartime and continued into the '50s, represented by films like The Dam Busters, Reach for the Sky, and (especially relevant) The Cruel Sea, all of which were set in WW2. This was a formula that required the use of lots of real stock footage, and created an expectation that reality was black & white, while widescreen colour was better suited to escapist fantasy. Unless you're Powell and Pressburger - if you've seen A Matter of Life and Death you'll know what I mean by that! I wonder if Schindler's List would have been more (or less) effective if filmed in colour?

You think Margaret Brown was rather attractive? In her youth perhaps. I believe she would have been very good company, but to be honest she looked more like Burt Reynolds than Debbie Reynolds.
Dee, that particular criticism of DiCaprio's role was quite widespread as I recall. A streetwise late c20th kid transported back in time. There was argument, however, about whether this was due to his performance, to the hair & makep department, or to the screenwriting. I hardly need to cast my vote!
Dee: There were several problems with Winslet's costumes. One, the narrow circumference at the hem (the "hobble" effect, or a somewhat "easier" variation of it) seen in that era's dresses was discarded to give Winslet more ease in walking and running. Another one was that polyester was used for a few of them, and poly never picks up the light in quite the same way as, say, a silk satin.

If you want to see 1912 costuming that is quite reasonably accurate (in and of itself, not counting the efforts of the hair and makeup departments), try 1962's "The Music Man," costumed by Dorothy Jeakins, set in 1912 Iowa. Normally, star period costuming has to be modified somewhat, to rid it of anything modern-day audiences might find strange or unattractive. On "The Music Man," Jeakins discovered two things: 1) Shirley Jones looked absolutely ravishing in 1912 fashion, and 2) Jones trusted Jeakins.

The costuming on the townswomen in "The Music Man" is especially worthy of note, because it is very finely graduated according to each character's social and financial status. Hermione Gingold, as mayor's wife Eulalie Shinn, got costuming more lavish than that seen on Shirley Jones. But at the other end of the scale, some players were given clothing deliberately sewn and trimmed to look home-made, with crooked details, etc. It's extraordinary work, particularly when you stop to think that few movie-goers would notice.

The only letdown in "Music Man" is seen on some of the chorus dancers' costuming, much of which has a 1962 feeling; one dancer wears a headband that would have been right at home on "The Patty Duke Show."

I hope that I am not exposing any naked emperors by saying this, but it is my opinion that one of the chief signs that civilization is coming apart at the seams is the emergence of Julian Fellowes as the world's most conspicuous writer of class-based drama. The man simply does not know what he's talking about half the time. I turned off Downton Abbey after twenty minutes - and when THIS viewer declines to watch Maggie Smith, a writer may deduce that his project is in no small amount of trouble.

Yes, I was referring to Margaret Brown's younger years, but still, I don't see the need of film-makers to turn her into a brassy gargoyle.

P.S.: I didn't have any real trouble with Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic; he very strikingly reminded me of the young James Cagney in it.