TV: Last Hours of Titanic

New York Times

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Tense, Technically Brilliant Portrayal of Tragedy on Kraft Show
A technically brilliant re-enactment of the last hours of the Titanic was presented last night on the "Kraft Television Theatre" over Channel 4.

With a cast of 107 actors and thirty-one studio sets, the production was an extraordinary demonstration of staging technique that imparted a magnificent sense of physical dimension to the home screen.

The sheer magnitude and complexity of the production, for which George Roy Hill, the director, and his crew are entitled to the highest commendation, was, inevitably, perhaps the most impressive single feature. But the emotional tension and terrifying suspense of the catastrophe at sea also were effectively introduced and for the most part well sustained. Mr. Hill had the discipline not to let his setting run away with his drama.

Walter Lord's current book, "A Night to Remember," was the basis for the "Kraft Theatre's" documentary offering. A narration delivered by Claude Rains was used to bridge the almost limitless number of sequences that made up the comprehensive picture of life aboard the doomed liner.

Thanks to remarkably smooth camera work, the program first showed the carefree existence of the passengers both in the luxurious first-class accommodations and in steerage. The ship designer's supreme confidence in his vessel, the captain's indifference to the iceberg warnings and the radio operator's preoccupation with unimportant messages vividly set the mood for the fateful hours ahead.

The insertion at this point of the first commercial marred somewhat the feeling of mounting drama. But once the advertising amenities were disposed of, the program got back on its tracks successfully.

In both visual image and emotional value, Mr. Hill made exceptionally fine use of the element of contrast. The growing panic in the boiler room of the Titanic was juxtaposed with the off-duty air of leisure that prevailed in the radio roam of the ship only ten miles away. The solicitous concern for the welfare of the first-class passengers was shown in sharp yet understated comparison with the plight of the neglected passengers in steerage.

The varying reactions of individual passengers and crew members to the crisis were suggested concisely in brief scenes that avoided the maudlin touch. And the difficult crowd movements, which so easily could have gotten out of hand, were similarly held in check.

Perhaps the portrayal of the final disappearance of the Titanic beneath the Atlantic waters did not quite reflect the imagination and technique of the balance of the production; the sense of utter finality to the tragedy that took more than 1,000 lives did not seem fully as gripping as some of the simpler interludes of personal farewells. But, with this one very minor reservation, the whole was a genuine TV accomplishment.

Mr. Rains was fine in his presentation of the narrative, letting the bare facts tell their own drama. In such a huge cast---seventy-two actors had speaking roles---no one artist can be singled out. But rarely has there been such a display of teamwork in live TV by those who either appeared on the screen or worked behind the scenes. Last night's show was a company achievement, a triumph of organization in the dramatic art.

[Note: Channel 4 was, and still is, WNBC, the NBC affiliate in New York.]

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Mark Baber

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  1. Quein said:

    its sad what happend.but i believe that jack dawnson was real.

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2004) TV: Last Hours of Titanic (New York Times, Thursday 29th March 1956, ref: #3749, published 15 September 2004, generated 2nd August 2021 03:36:04 PM); URL :