The sinking of the Titanic has been dramatized on several occasions, and the subject has been examined from different aspects - as one of the greatest disasters in marine history, as an essay in human courage, as an event that symbolized the passing of an age, and as a warning against mans complacency, and his belief in the indestructibility of human inventions.
A Night to Remember, a British film which opens tomorrow at the Odeon, Leicester Square, is concerned with all of these, but it also covers new ground. The screenplay by Mr Eric Ambler is based on the book by Mr Walter Lord, a factual and detailed account of the incidents which occurred in the Atlantic on the night of Sunday, April 14 1912, and it has clearly been the purpose of the director. Mr Roy Baker, to examine the disaster factually, and in equal detail. The film lasts for two hours, and it is no doubt by design that the events 1eading up to the collision with the iceberg only occupy the first 30 minutes, so that the time taken to describe the sinking is approximately the same as that which the Titanic actually took to go down.
The drama inherent in this disaster, as Mr Baker is at pains to establish, lay in the fact that here was no sudden, shattering impact which made the passengers immediately conscious of their grave danger. All that happened was a glancing blow which scarcely produced a shudder, and thereafter the great vessel settled quietly down in a calm sea under a peaceful, starlit sky. Even the captain did not at first realize the full significance of what had happened, and many of the passengers continued to sleep peacefully in their beds. Orders to don lifebelts and to go to the boat deck were not given until half an hour later, and it was not until the ship had taken on a serious list that the first signs of alarm, and the first stirrings of panic, began to take hold of those on board.
Carefully, almost too scrupulously, Mr Baker presents his audience with a cross-section of the ship and of the passengers on board her, moving his cameras from the bridge to the engine room, from the steerage quarters to the first-class saloons, while at the same time building up the sense of bewilderment and incomprehension on board the other vessels in the Atlantic who are receiving by wireless the seemingly unbelievable news that the Titanic is sinking on her maiden voyage. And all the time another ship, the small cargo liner Californian, lies motionless within sight of the sinking ship, and almost within hailing distance of her, but stubbornly refuses to become conscious of the tragedy that is being played out only a few miles away.
The strength of this film lies in the acute sense of participation which it arouses in its audience, and the mounting tension which it creates. Mr Kenneth More leads a strong cast whose performances are kept subordinate to the central character in the narrative, which is the Titanic herself, and the crowd scenes in the final, dreadful phase of mounting panic and terror, have been filmed with horrifying realism.