Titanic (1953 film)

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Titanic 1953 film.jpg
film poster
Directed by Jean Negulesco
Produced by Charles Brackett
Written by Charles Brackett
Richard L. Breen
Walter Reisch
Starring Clifton Webb
Barbara Stanwyck
Robert Wagner
Audrey Dalton
Harper Carter
Thelma Ritter
Brian Aherne
Richard Basehart
Music by Sol Kaplan
Cinematography Joseph MacDonald
Edited by Louis R. Loeffler
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
MGM (Austria)
Release dates April 16, 1953 (1953-04-16)
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,805,000[1][2]
Box office $2,250,000 (US)[3]

Titanic is a 1953 American drama film directed by Jean Negulesco. Its plot centers on an estranged couple sailing on the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which took place in April 1912.


At the last minute, a wealthy American expatriate in Europe, Richard Sturges (Clifton Webb), buys a steerage-class ticket for the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic from a Basque immigrant. Once aboard he seeks out his runaway wife, Julia (Barbara Stanwyck). He discovers she is trying to take their two unsuspecting children, 18-year-old Annette (Audrey Dalton) and ten-year-old Norman (Harper Carter), to her hometown of Mackinac, Michigan, to raise as down-to-earth Americans rather than rootless elitists like Richard himself.

As the ship prepares for departure, her captain, E. J. Smith (Brian Aherne), receives a hint from the shipping company representative that a record-setting speedy passage would be welcomed.

Other passengers include a wealthy woman of a working-class origin (based on a real-life Titanic survivor Molly Brown), Maude Young (Thelma Ritter); social-climbing Earl Meeker (Allyn Joslyn); a 20-year-old Purdue University tennis player, Gifford "Giff" Rogers (Robert Wagner); and George S. Healey (Richard Basehart), a Catholic priest who has been defrocked for alcoholism.

When Annette learns her mother's intentions, she insists on returning to Europe with her father on the next ship as soon as they reach America. Julia concedes that her daughter is old enough to make her own decisions, but she insists on keeping custody of Norman. This angers Richard, forcing Julia to reveal that Norman is not his child, but rather the result of a one-night stand after one of their many bitter arguments. Upon hearing that, he agrees to give up all claim to Norman. Richard joins Maude, Earl, and George Widener in the lounge to play contract bridge with them. The next morning, when Norman reminds Richard about a shuffleboard game they had scheduled, Richard coldly brushes him off.

Meanwhile Giff falls for Annette at first glance. At first she repulses his brash attempts to become better acquainted, but eventually she warms to him. That night, Giff, Annette and a group of young people sing and play the piano in the dining room, while Captain Smith watches from a corner table.

Second Officer Lightoller (uncredited Edmund Purdom) expresses his concern to Captain Smith about the ship's speed when they receive two messages from other ships warning of iceberg sightings near their route. Smith, however, assures him that there is no danger.

That night, however, a lookout spots an iceberg dead ahead. Although the crew tries to steer clear of danger, the ship is gashed below the waterline and begins taking on water. When Richard finds the captain, he insists on being told the truth: the ship is doomed. He tells his family to dress warmly but properly; then they head outside. Richard and Julia have a tearful reconciliation on the boat deck, as he places Julia and the children into a lifeboat. Unnoticed by Julia, Norman gives up his seat to an older woman and goes looking for his nominal father. When one of the lines becomes tangled, preventing the lifeboat from being lowered, Giff climbs down and fixes the problem, only to lose his grip and fall into the water. His unconscious body is dragged into the boat.

Meeker disguises himself as a woman to get aboard a lifeboat but Maude Young notices his shoes and unmasks him in front of the others in the lifeboat. At the other end of the spectrum of courage and unselfishness, George Healey heads down into one of the boiler rooms to comfort trapped crewmen.

As the Titanic is in her final moments, Norman and Richard find each other. Richard tells a passing steward that Norman is his "son" and then tells the boy that he has been proud of him every day of his life. Then they join the rest of the doomed passengers and the crew in singing the hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee". The Titanic '​s bow plunges, forcing her stern high in the air, then the ship rapidly slides into the icy water.


Historical inaccuracies[edit]

During the film, many inaccuracies occur:

  • There was no horn section in Titanic's band.
  • Several times throughout the film first class passengers are seen dancing in the first class dining saloon. The Titanic did not have a dance floor at all aboard ship and in addition public dancing would have been viewed as inappropriate among the middle and upper classes in 1912.
  • The interiors of the Titanic in the film are highly inaccurate as opposed to the real ship. Many stock sets were used.
  • Many hairdos and outfits in the film reflect those of the 1950s rather than 1912.
  • Madeline Astor, as played by Frances Bergen, is portrayed as a blond buxom woman in her late twenties or early thirties. In reality Madeline Astor was just barely eighteen years old when she married John Jacob Astor, and was a rather slender brunette.
  • The boilers on Titanic did not explode, but in the film they do several times.
  • The Titanic was not booked solid as stated in the film, she was just over half-full for her maiden voyage.
  • A general alarm, consisting of a siren, is portrayed as informing the passengers about the collision. No such system, though, existed on the Titanic; passengers in all three classes were informed about the sinking through stewards knocking on their cabin doors.
  • Crewmembers on the Titanic did not wear British Royal Navy uniforms.
  • The film portrays a man named Harold Sanderson as the chairman of the White Star Line who disembarks in Cherbourg, France before the ships heads for the open Atlantic. Harold Sanderson was indeed a senior official with the White Star Line in 1912, however, he was not company chairman. In reality J. Bruce Ismay was the actual White Star chairman and did sail on the ship. However, he was omitted from the film altogether.
  • The ship is portrayed as heading for the open Atlantic after its port-of-call at Cherbourg. In reality the ship recrossed the English Channel to make a port-of-call at Queenstown, Ireland before heading for New York.
  • The passengers did not stand up on deck and sing a chorus of Nearer My God To Thee. It is disputed whether the band played it on their instruments, but passengers were all rushing about. No one stood and sang.
  • People are seen easily pulling a small raft down from the roof of the officers' quarters. The collapsible life boats stored there were quite unwieldy, having boat-like lower hulls and having room for 47 passengers each.
  • At the beginning, a steward asks about the Astor cabin. They say it is A-54. There was no A-54, only A1-A37, and the Astors' cabin was C62-64, a deluxe parlour suite.
  • When the ship is going under you can see the red ensign on the stern flagstaff. The red ensign was only flown during daylight hours.
  • The ice warning first received was not delivered to the bridge.
  • There was no shuffleboard on RMS Titanic nor did the ship have its own tailor shop. Additionally the ship is portrayed as having a traditional type of bar where passengers would come to get drinks. In reality passengers on the ship would order drinks through waiters and stewards who would then deliver them to the passengers.
  • None of the First or Second Class children died in the sinking, except for Loraine Allison, who stayed on deck with her parents.
  • The Titanic passes the iceberg to starboard but is ripped by ice on its port side. In fact, all of the shots of the ship are of its port side throughout the film.
  • At least the No. 4 funnel fell as the ship made her final plunge.
  • The watertight doors on Titanic did not slide horizontally, but vertically.
  • Two collapsible lifeboats were not launched before Titanic sank, but were floated off, one of the two upside down, allowing Lightoller and others to survive. The film incorrectly shows them all having been successfully launched.
  • The Titanic is shown sinking with lights in her portholes. In reality the electrical power failed a few minutes before she went down.
  • The film narrative states that 712 people in 19 lifeboats survived. The ship, however, was equipped with 20 boats all of which were utilized during the sinking. Additionally the final count of survivors has been disputed, due to inconsistencies in passenger lists.
  • At one point, a World War II-era lifeboat is seen being launched into the water.
  • The Titanic did not sink as quickly as shown in the film but rather took as much as ten minutes to make her final plunge into the Atlantic.
  • The film shows men being effectively prevented from getting in lifeboats, thus leading to only few men surviving. In reality on the night of the sinking men were indeed prevented from entering port side lifeboats, however, officers loading the starboard boats were allowing men in them if no more women were willing to go, thus leading to a more significant number of male passengers surviving than the film portrays.
  • In the scene just before the ship strikes the iceberg, a photo of the Imperator can be seen behind Edmund Purdom, but the Imperator wasn't in service until 1913.
  • The life jackets are 1950s-style when in the real disaster they were long, skinny, 1900s-style life jackets.
  • The Grand Staircase does not have the elaborate brass dome and is a more modern version of a staircase.
  • When the iceberg is first sighted, the officer of the deck says 'Hard a-starboard!'. This appears to be an error, but is not. In British ships of that era, rudder orders were given as though the helmsman at the wheel was actually holding a tiller. So 'hard a starboard' would mean 'put your helm or tiller hard a starboard'. This would turn the ship’s rudder to port and so the ship would turn to port, as was shown in the film. It took to 1924 to change that order to its current meaning.
  • The Titanic broke in two just before the final plunge, which is never portrayed in any movie until 1985.


Charles Brackett, who co-wrote and produced the film, told the press that some of the stories had to be discarded, "because they are too fantastic for movie audiences to believe.[4] In a September 1952 news article, it was reported that Terry Moore was set to play the role of Annette Sturges, on condition that she would finish production of Man on a Tightrope on time.[5]


According to the film aggregator website, Rotten Tomatoes, Titanic holds an 88% "Fresh" rating, based on 8 reviews.[6]

Variety Magazine reviewed the film positively stating, "but by the time the initial 45 or 50 minutes are out of the way, the impending disaster begins to take a firm grip on the imagination and builds a compelling expectancy."[7]

Pauline Kael was not impressed with the picture's special effects. She wrote: "the actual sinking looks like a nautical tragedy on the pond in Central Park."[8]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Titanic won the Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay, and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction. The film was also nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award.


  1. ^ The Definitive Titanic Film: A Night to Remember by Jeffrey Richards, 2003
  2. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p248
  3. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, January 13, 1954
  4. ^ "Says Movie of Titanic Sinking To Show Heroism of Victims" by Bob Thomas, Southeast Missourian, October 2, 1952, p. 14
  5. ^ "Terry Moore Has Grown Up" by Hedda Hopper, Pittsburgh Press, September 27, 1952, p. 17
  6. ^ Titanic (1953) Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved 2010-1-4
  7. ^ Titanic Variety Magazine Retrieved 2010-1-4
  8. ^ [1] "Pauline Kael reviews on geocities", retrieved 2013-05-21

External links[edit]