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Mar 3, 1998
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Dan,

I have a deep professional respect for Murdoch. Even though I focus most of my research efforts on the mechanics of the ship itself, I came to know of Murdoch's history through the work of fellow researchers Susanne Stormer and Inger Sheil. From the perspective of my naval background, I immediately recognised Murdoch as a highly capable officer, quick on his feet and dedicated to his duty. I have tried as best I can to impart that to the directors of the productions on which I have worked. I'm not going to take credit for the words spoken about Murdoch in either GotA or LMoT, but I will certainly remind people of them in any discussion about the portrayal of Murdoch on film.

I think that the somewhat less-than-honourable portrayal of Murdoch in Cameron's "Titanic" accidentally yielded a positive result. The faulty portrayal focused many peoples' attention on Murdoch, bringing much of his career out of the shadows of history. As a result, many of us -- including Jim Cameron -- have developed a real appreciation for his actions. I expect that starting with GotA, Murdoch will henceforth be shown in a much more positive and respectful light.

Parks
 
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sharon rutman

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Maybe Cameron had a twinge of a guilty conscience over the negative image of Murdoch he created in Titanic and had to correct it.
 
May 27, 2007
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I believe Cameron did issue an apology to the Family of Murdoch for the Suicide scene in Titanic and to give Mr. Cameron his just do I think he was sorry about that scene. As for the way Murdoch acted when he saw the Ice that was just him reacting that way so the audience could see what danger the ship was in.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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quote:

Maybe Cameron had a twinge of a guilty conscience over the negative image of Murdoch he created in Titanic and had to correct it.

My impression from talking with the man on this very subject is that he sees a difference between the fictional Murdoch created for the story of his 1997 "Titanic" and the real Murdoch that he spotlighted afterward in his Titanic documentaries. Cameron knowingly took poetic license with the characters in his fictional story, but he was even more intent on presenting them in the truest light allowed by the available evidence in his documentaries.

As a historian, I give much greater weight to the portrayal in the documentaries than the popular films. I understand that some people will learn their history from popular movies, but I don't believe that anyone of that ilk will matter much in determining Murdoch's place in history. Cameron's interpretation of the No.1 davit (repeated twice in two documentaries) will be remembered long after the image of Cal's attempted bribe has faded from the public's consciousness.

Parks​
 
Mar 3, 1998
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quote:

I believe Cameron did issue an apology to the Family of Murdoch for the Suicide scene in Titanic and to give Mr. Cameron his just do I think he was sorry about that scene.

Cameron has expressed regret, both publically and in private, that the fictional portrayal was taken as a slight against the real man. That was certainly not his intent. I do know that he intends for his historical interpretation to be the one remembered.

Parks​
 
May 1, 2004
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Sharon said, "Even in films which tried to be a bit more evenhanded like A Night to Remember, Murdoch still had that "deer in the headlights" expression. All he could do was simply watch in abject horror as the berg loomed closer and closer. You'd never think from the movies that men like Murdoch had ever seen an iceberg or responded to an emergency situation before."

I'd have that 'deer in headlights' expression too if that huge wall of ice was still in front of my ship after I had ordered "Hard a'starboard" and "Reverse engines". That is what 'Murdoch' in 'A Night to Remember' had ordered, as well as 'Close watertight doors'. 'Murdoch' told 'Captain Smith' what he had ordered done, "but she was too close".
'Smith' didn't question him 'Did you do so and so?', but seemed to accept that he had acted wisely
I think 'Murdoch's' reactions were realistic. His orders were rapped out the moment he heard the berg was ahead. Even the bravest, quickest in thought and action and the most cool-headed would have gulped and stared and prayed for the bow to turn away.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Parks, I agree that the GOTA depiction of Murdoch is the best to date (although somewhat at the expense of Lightoller, but that's another subject!). No doubt your own presence on set, as well as Cameron's sincere desire to do justice to the man, were the reasons for that. As we've discussed before, one of the Murdoch researchers who was most concerned with the 1999 campaign following the release of the movie was very pleased with this screen incarnation, as were the other Murdoch researchers I've spoken with.

We've discussed before (at some considerable length) the unfortunate fictional versions of the First Officer. I've never had a problem with his intense focus as seen in the moments before the collision - after having given what orders he could, there must have been an interval (probably briefer than what we see on screen) of incredible tension.

It's certainly better to show him with a focussed, albeit tense, gaze after he has given his orders - a still and disciplined figure - than to depict Smith and an officer (presumably Murdoch) as we saw them in the German movie In Nacht Und Eis. As they approach the berg, the two men take on something of the appearance of headless chooks, unable to keep still but rather ineffective for all their running around.

Where I see problems are - aside from obvious matters like the homicide/suicide scenes - moments were Murdoch is not depicted as a proactive figure. He suffers from this particularly in ANTR, where dramatic necessity has deemed it advisable to enhance Lightoller's role. The time line is juggled, so while we see Lightoller struggling heroically with crowds, Murdoch is seen waving crewmen into Boat 1 with an air of indifference. There is no sense in this movie of Murdoch as a proactive figure in loading and lowering - at least in Cameron's movie we see both energy and urgency.

The miniseries is possibly the worst depiction of Murdoch - not only does he suffer the dressing down from Smith after the collision (in which Smith spouts decades' worth of Monday Morning Quarterbacking popular in Titanic circles), but he appropriates the lookout's binoculars because he will not have his officers on the Bridge sharing the one pair. Even his suicide seems a sort of "oh well..." gesture, and rather than evoking sympathy, Boxhall wonders why he's deserted them. Boxhall can probably be forgiven for being a bit miffed at that moment, though, given that his historical counterpart was already well and truly off the ship by that point in events. An unpleasant martinet of a character, the miniseries martinet gives us no sense of the character that crewmen went out of their way to offer tribute to at the inquiries.
 
May 1, 2004
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I also recall the reprimand 'Murdoch' gave to 'Ismay' and the look of disgust 'Murdoch' gave when he saw 'Ismay' seated in a lifeboat. I think he is shown in ANTR as brave, reliant and a leader. A man of quiet courage, who did his job come what may for himself. Not a superhuman who has no fear of what he sees about to happen. It was shown that he did all he could think of to prevent the collision, but that awesome berg was still in the way and he knew what that meant. The man dreaded and feared the worst. After all, he was a man, not a machine. But when the worst happened, he showed that he knew what to do.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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I mentioned before that the unfortunate depiction in the 1997 "Titanic" has had the effect of drawing attention to Murdoch as a principal character. Before that, he always (as mentioned in this thread) seemed superfluous to events...mostly because (like Smith, Wilde and Moody) he didn't survive to account for his actions. Because of 1997 "Titanic" and the subsequent debate, I don't believe that we will see Murdoch is such a periphery role again.

Walter Lord once said of Wilde, "But silence and our lack of knowledge are not evidence..." That is good to remember when we reconstruct the motives or actions of those who did not survive the night to provide us with their version of events. My approach is to assume that each did his duty unless otherwise proven.

Parks
 
Mar 3, 1998
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To veer slightly from the topic at hand, I am constantly amused by the moment in the 1943 "Titanic" when Captain Smith yells down from the bridge, "Abandon ship, every man for himself!" The crowd below promptly erupts in panic, running this way and that. Hoo boy.

It's only a movie and in this particular case, a propaganda vehicle.

Parks
 
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sharon rutman

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Oh I'm sure that Murdoch reacted quickly and decisively when the call ICEBERG RIGHT AHEAD was received.It's just that the fictional stage and screen images of Murdoch have been unfair and uniformly negative and it's time to set the record straight.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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The record has been set straight quite a few times and in quite a few different formats - bearing in mind that without an independent source recording what exactly happened during the collision there is always going to be a degree of subjectivity, and frequently controversy, in depictions of William Murdoch.

Many people, myself among them, have for years offered critiques of various interpretations of Murdoch, both in fiction and in non-fiction works. He has been the subject of two hagiographical biographies, articles in Titanic society journals, newspaper articles and letters to the editor criticising aspects of his depiction in Cameron's movie and praising his actions, and finally given a glowing tribute and shown as a proactive figure in Cameron's more recent documentaries. It is false to say that depictions have been "uniformly negative" - some interpretations have been problematic, but even some of these have had their positive elements.

For example, one of Murdoch's relatives informed me that while he was (understandably) aggrieved at the depiction of a suicide in the 1997 movie, he felt that there were positive facets to how Murdoch was depicted. For example, he was shown to be extremely proactive in loading and launching boats, physically engaged in the action.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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quote:

To veer slightly from the topic at hand, I am constantly amused by the moment in the 1943 "Titanic" when Captain Smith yells down from the bridge, "Abandon ship, every man for himself!" The crowd below promptly erupts in panic, running this way and that. Hoo boy.
It's like that scene in ANTR, Parks, when Smith looks from the water, to people heading aft, to the water, to the passengers still on board...he has to act...he raises the megaphone to his lips...

And gives the order to abandon ship, as it's every man for himself! The result, as depicted, is panic and a surge as people begin rushing and a cry goes up from the crowd.

I suspect it's not the intention, but one is left with the impression that it was not really the optimum moment to tell the surging masses it was a case of "every man for themselves"!​
 

Ernie Luck

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Nov 24, 2004
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Whilst the passengers could evacuate at will is it possible that the crew were obliged to stay until given the order which released them from their duties? Perhaps Capt. Smith did it as a formality - more for the benefit of the crew than the passengers. It also made it clear to everyone that the end was nigh even if it was rather obvious by then.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Whilst the passengers could evacuate at will is it possible that the crew were obliged to stay until given the order which released them from their duties?<<

Legally, I believe the answer to that would be "Yes." On a ship, the orders of the captain and his officers have the force of law backing them up, and all the more so in 1912 when there was a profound respect for authority that we don't quite have an understanding of today. (Unless you're a police officer or professional military.)

A number of the Titanic's crew remained at their posts until dismissed, notably some of the engineers and also the radio operators.
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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I suspect something like that would have been the motivation behind the scene, Ernie - the idea that this was it, and that it really was a life and death situation. It's just the way it came across on screen was a bit unfortunate!
 
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sharon rutman

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I'm also speculating that another factor in the media's generally shabby treatment of Murdoch came from the fact that Captain Smith suddenly reshuffled the senior officers in Southampton. Murdoch was supposed to have been Titanic's original chief officer and it must have been quite disappointing for him to have to swallow this unexpected demotion and have Wilde replace him at top of the officer's greasy pole.
 

Inger Sheil

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I don't know whether that would have been a huge factor in their considerations - Murdoch's treatment has been as much a matter of dramatic device as any specific character portrayal. For example, in ANTR we see him contrasted with Lightoller, because Lightoller has become the central focus of the story. The suicide is depicted in both versions it was filmed in as a cause/effect action - guilt over the collision and shooting passengers leads to a simplistic dramatic resolution. Even the dressing down of Murdoch by Smith in the miniseries was just a device to enable Smith to expound for the audience a theoretical scenario by which disaster might have been averted. Murdoch appeals to dramatic use and misuse by screenwriters and directors because he was in command of the vessel during the collision - had it been Wilde, I'm willing to wager we'd have seen him meted out a similar treatment on screen.

Historically, Murdoch (although he doesn't state it explicitly) did seem to be very understandably disappointed by his demotion. He did see it as almost certainly temporary, though - here's what he wrote to his sister:
quote:

I am still Chief Offr until sailing day & then it looks as though I will have to step back, but I am hoping it will not be for long. The head Marine Supt. from L'pool seemed to be very favourably impressed & satisfied that everything went on A1 & as much as promised that when Wilde goes I am to go up again.
 
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sharon rutman

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It's a real shame, though, that the screenwriters and playwrights have to trash Murdoch just for dramatic effect. It was just this horrible last minute demotion that put him on the bridge at the worst possible time. Just another irony in Titanic's story.
 

Matthew Farr

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Apr 14, 2010
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I agree that Murdoch does seem to get a bad rep in films. I for one agree with all of you in saying that he was a fine officer who did his duty to the last and died a hero.

Lets not forget that he was originally assigned to the Titanic as her Chief Officer, only to be demoted due to Captain Smith wanting Wilde on the maiden voyage. In all likely hood Murdoch would have gotten his own command within an couple years of the Titanic's maiden voyage had history not intervened. His credentials cannot be questioned and the only reason he seems to be vilified is because he happened to be the officer on watch at the time of the collision.
 

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