A Night to Remember (1958 film)
|A Night to Remember|
|Directed by||Roy Ward Baker|
|Produced by||William MacQuitty|
|Screenplay by||Eric Ambler|
|Story by||Walter Lord|
|Music by||William Alwyn|
|Distributed by||The Rank Organisation|
A Night to Remember is a 1958 British drama film adaptation of Walter Lord's eponymous 1955 book, which recounts the final night of the RMS Titanic. Adapted by Eric Ambler and directed by Roy Ward Baker, the film stars Kenneth More and features Ronald Allen, Robert Ayres, Honor Blackman, Michael Goodliffe, and Laurence Naismith. It was filmed in the United Kingdom. The production team, supervised by producer William MacQuitty, used blueprints of the ship to create the sets accurately, while Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall and ex-Cunard Commodore Harry Grattidge both worked as technical advisors on the film.
Among the many films about the Titanic, A Night to Remember has long been regarded as the high point by Titanic historians and survivors alike for its accuracy, despite its modest production values when compared with the Oscar-winning film Titanic (1997).
The Titanic was the largest vessel afloat and was widely believed to be unsinkable. Her passengers included the cream of American and British society. The story of her sinking is told from the point of view of her passengers and crew, principally Second Officer Charles Lightoller (Kenneth More).
Once in the open sea on her maiden voyage, the ship receives a number of ice warnings from other steamers. Only a few of the messages are relayed to Captain Edward J. Smith (Laurence Naismith), who orders a lookout, but because of nearly universal faith in the ship's indestructibility, does not slow the ship or consider an alternate route.
Late on 14 April 1912, lookout Frederick Fleet (Bernard Fox) spots an iceberg directly in front of the ship. The vessel turns hard to port but collides with the iceberg on its starboard side, opening the first five compartments to the sea, below the waterline. Thomas Andrews (Michael Goodliffe), the ship's builder, inspects the damage and determines the ship will soon sink within two hours, a bad situation made horrific by the fact that it lacks sufficient lifeboat capacity for everyone on board.
A distress signal is sent out, and efforts begin to signal the SS Californian, visible on the horizon, a mere 10 miles away. But its radio operator is off duty and does not hear the distress signal. Fortunately, the radio operator on the RMS Carpathia receives the distress call, understands the emergency, and immediately alerts Captain Arthur Rostron (Anthony Bushell), who promptly orders the ship to head to the site at maximum speed. Unfortunately, the ship is 58 miles away, which means it will take around four hours to reach the Titanic. Meanwhile, the Californian remains where it is; the crew failing to comprehend why the large ship they are in sight of is firing rockets, despite the Titanic's frantic efforts to get their attention with them.
Captain Smith orders Officers Lightoller and William Murdoch (Richard Leech) to start lowering the lifeboats. Many women and children are reluctant to get in the small, cramped lifeboats, and Murdoch and Lightoller must use force to put them in. Many men try to sneak on board, but Lightoller will not allow them. Murdoch, working the other side of the ship, is shown as more accommodating to men. As the stewards struggle to hold back women and children in third-class, most of those from first- and second-class board the lifeboats and launch away from the ship.
The Carpathia is racing to the site, using all possible steam in hopes of saving more lives. The Titanic sinks amid much chaos on the deck, with third-class passengers allowed up from below only after all the lifeboats have gone. The Titanic's bow submerges, and there are only two collapsible lifeboats left. Lightoller and other able seamen struggle to untie them as the ship takes its final plunge; Lightoller and many others are swept off the ship. The ship sinks. One of the overturned collapsible boats is floating, so Lightoller and a few more men balance on it and wait. Chief Baker Charles Joughin (George Rose) is found in the water, not minding the cold because he's been drinking, and is pulled up onto the boat. Lightoller spots another boat, and the men are saved. The Carpathia comes and rescues the survivors.
Lightoller, the senior surviving officer, reflects that they were all so sure about the safety of the ship, and that he will "never be sure again, about anything."
On the Carpathia, Lightoller is told by Rostron that only 705 have survived, and the ship has only passed one body. The wireless operator comes on deck to inform Rostron that the Californian has just heard about Titanic's sinking and wants to help. Rostron says anything that was humanly possible has been done. Lightoller observes a long trail of debris in the ocean from the Titanic.
The film's epilogue states that the passengers and crew of the Titanic have not died in vain, as today ships reflect lessons learned: they are equipped with lifeboats for all and an unceasing radio vigil, and the International Ice Patrol guards the sea lanes, making them safe for the peoples of the world.
- Kenneth More as Second Officer Charles Lightoller
- Ronald Allen as Mr. Clarke
- Robert Ayers as Arthur Godfrey Peuchen
- Honor Blackman as Mrs. Liz Lucas
- Anthony Bushell as Captain Arthur Rostron
- John Cairney as Mr. Murphy
- Jill Dixon as Mrs. Clarke
- Jane Downs as Mrs. Sylvia Lightoller
- James Dyrenforth as Colonel Archibald Gracie IV
- Michael Goodliffe as shipbuilder Thomas Andrews
- Kenneth Griffith as Wireless Operator Jack Phillips
- Harriette Johns as Lady Richard (Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon)
- Frank Lawton as J. Bruce Ismay
- Richard Leech as First Officer William Murdoch
- David McCallum as Assistant Wireless Operator Harold Sydney Bride
- Alec McCowen as Wireless Operator Harold Thomas Cottam, SS Carpathia
- Geoffrey Bayldon as Wireless Operator Cyril Evans, SS Californian
- Tucker McGuire as Mrs. Margaret 'Molly' Brown
- John Merivale as Robbie Lucas
- Ralph Michael as Jay Yates
- Laurence Naismith as Captain Edward J. Smith
- Russell Napier as Captain Stanley Lord
- Redmond Phillips as Mr. Hoyle
- George Rose as Chief Baker Charles Joughin
- Joseph Tomelty as Dr. William O'Loughlin
- Patrick Waddington as Sir Richard (Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon)
- Jack Watling as Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall
- Michael Bryant as Sixth Officer James Moody
- Cyril Chamberlain as Quartermaster Rowe
- Richard Clarke as Martin Gallagher
- Bee Duffell as Mrs. Farrell
- Harold Goldblatt as Benjamin Guggenheim
- Gerald Harper as Third Officer, SS Carpathia
- Thomas Heathcote as Steward
- Andrew Keir as Second Engineer Officer John Henry 'Harry' Hesketh
- Howard Pays as Fifth Officer Harold Lowe
- Harold Siddons as Second Officer Herbert Stone, SS Californian
- Charles Belchier as Bandleader Wallace Hartley (uncredited)
- Teresa Thorne as Miss Edith Russell (uncredited)
- Howard Lang as Chief Officer Henry Wilde (uncredited)
- Sean Connery as Steerage passenger (uncredited)
- John Moulder Brown as boy (uncredited)
- Henry Campbell as William T. Stead (uncredited)
- Larry Taylor as bearded seaman (uncredited)
- Gordon Holdom - baritone, sang the song "Nearer, My God, to Thee" dubbed.
- Desmond Llewelyn makes an uncredited appearance as a crew member reassuring the panicking steerage passengers
- Peter Burton makes an appearance as a steward.
- Bernard Fox, who appears as Lookout Frederick Fleet and utters the famous words, "Iceberg, dead ahead, sir", also appears as Colonel Archibald Gracie IV in Titanic (1997), making him a cast member of two films about the sinking of the Titanic.
- Norman Rossington plays a steward who loses his temper with non-English speaking passengers just after the collision. Rossington 20 years later played the Sergeant-at-Arms in SOS Titanic (1979).
- Jeremy Bulloch (well known for his portrayal of Boba Fett in Star Wars) makes an uncredited appearance as a boy jumping into water.
- Frank Lawton, who plays J. Bruce Ismay, previously starred in 1933's Cavalcade, which also prominently featured the Titanic.
The film is based on Walter Lord's book A Night to Remember (1955), but in Ray Johnson’s documentary The Making of 'A Night to Remember' (1993), Lord says that when he wrote his book, there was no mass interest in the Titanic, and he was the first writer in four decades to attempt a grand-scale history of the disaster, synthesizing written sources and survivors’ firsthand accounts. Lord dated the genesis of his interest in the subject to childhood. So did producer MacQuitty, who, as a boy of six, watched the Titanic set out from Belfast, as well as screenwriter Ambler, who was a lad in London when the ship was launched.
Producer MacQuitty had originally contracted with Shaw, Savill & Albion Line to use its former flagship QSMV Dominion Monarch to shoot scenes for the film, but the company pulled out of the production at the last minute, citing that they did not want to use one of their liners to recreate the Titanic sinking. However, according to MacQuitty, the Shaw Savill Line at the time was managed by Basil Sanderson, son of Harold Sanderson, the White Star Line's director in the U.S. at the time of the sinking. Harold Sanderson would later succeed J. Bruce Ismay as president of the International Mercantile Marine Company, J.P. Morgan's shipping conglomerate that owned the White Star Line. This connection to White Star, according to MacQuitty, is what actually led the Shaw Savill Line to pull out of the film. MacQuitty eventually got permission from Ship Breaking Industries in Clydebank, Scotland to film scenes aboard RMS Asturias, a liner the company was in the process of scrapping. The liner's port side had been demolished, but its starboard was still intact, and so MacQuitty got art students to paint the liner the White Star Line colors and used mirrors to recreate scenes that took place on the port side.
In addition to basing the script — both in action and dialogue — on Lord's book, the filmmakers achieved nuanced performances and authentic atmosphere by consulting several actual Titanic survivors who served as technical advisors. Among them were Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, and passengers Edith Russell and Lawrence Beesley. Boxhall and Russell were also portrayed in the movie.
Kenneth More recalled the production of the film in his autobiography, published 20 years later in 1978. There was no tank big enough at Pinewood Studios to film the survivors struggling to climb into lifeboats, so it was done in the open-air swimming bath at Ruislip Lido, at 2:00am on an icy November morning. When the extras refused to jump in, More realised he would have to set an example. He called out: "Come on!"
I leaped. Never have I experienced such cold in all my life. It was like jumping into a deep freeze. The shock forced the breath out of my body. My heart seemed to stop beating. I felt crushed, unable to think. I had rigor mortis, without the mortis. And then I surfaced, spat out the dirty water and, gasping for breath, found my voice.
'Stop!' I shouted. "Don't listen to me! It's bloody awful! Stay where you are!But it was too late ....
The character of the baker, seen drinking after giving up his seat in a lifeboat to a female passenger, is based on Chief Baker Charles Joughin who, on that night, drank some whisky, threw deck chairs overboard, rode the stern all the way down, swam in the freezing water for hours, was eventually picked up by the overturned collapsible boat B, and survived the disaster.
During the sinking, a steward pauses as he flees through the first-class smoking room to ask ship's designer Thomas Andrews, "Aren't you even going to try for it, Mr Andrews?" This sequence was replicated essentially word-for-word in Titanic (1997), substituting that film's protagonists Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater instead of the steward. The scene was also repeated in S.O.S. Titanic, with a stewardess asking him if he will save himself, pointing out that there would be questions that only he could answer.
Four clips from the Nazi propaganda film Titanic (1943) were used in A Night to Remember; two of the ship sailing in calm waters during the day, and two of a flooding walkway in the engine room. As Brian Hawkins writes: the British came closest "to the Titanic truth in 1958 with their black-and-white production of Walter Lord's novel A Night to Remember, seamlessly incorporating sequences from director Herbert Selpin's 1943 (Nazi) Titanic without giving any screen credits for these incredible scenes." Selpin himself was executed by Goebbels over the course of production in early August 1942, for offering a negative opinion of the German military while directing this earlier Nazi era film.
Of note are some historical inaccuracies:
The first scene of A Night to Remember depicts the christening of the ship at its launch. However, Titanic was never christened, as it was not the practise of the White Star Line to stand on this sort of ceremony. This has come down in popular lore as one of the many contributing factors to the ship's "bad luck".
As with most films about the Titanic made before the discovery of the wreck in 1985, the film portrays the ship as sinking in one piece, when in fact, Titanic broke into two pieces as she sank.
Upon its December 1958 U.S. premiere, Bosley Crowther called the film a "tense, exciting and supremely awesome drama...[that] puts the story of the great disaster in simple human terms and yet brings it all into a drama of monumental unity and scope"; according to Crowther:
"this remarkable picture is a brilliant and moving account of the behavior of the people on the Titanic on that night that should never be forgotten. It is an account of the casualness and flippancy of most of the people right after the great ship has struck (even though an ominous cascade of water is pouring into her bowels); of the slow accumulation of panic that finally mounts to a human holocaust, of shockingly ugly bits of baseness and of wonderfully brave and noble deeds."
The film was a relative disappointment at the box office. However, it received critical acclaim. A Night to Remember won the 1959 "Samuel Goldwyn International Award" for the UK at the Golden Globe Awards. The film currently has a "certified fresh" score of 100%. It still receives praise. It is considered "the best Titanic film before Titanic (1997)" and "the most accurate of all Titanic films"  and "the definitive Titanic tale", especially for its social realism, reflecting, in the words of one critic, "the overwhelming historical evidence that the class rigidity of 1912, for all its defects, produced a genuine sense of behavioural obligation on the Titanic among rich and poor alike; that the greatest number of people aboard faced death or hardship with a stoic and selfless grace that the world has wondered at for most of this century."
A Night to Remember is one of the Criterion Collection's early titles. A high definition upgrade of the DVD and a Blu-ray edition were released on 27 March 2012.
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