|Written by||James Costigan|
|Directed by||William Hale|
Susan Saint James
|Music by||Howard Blake|
|Country of origin||United States/|
|Executive producer(s)||Roger Gimbel|
William S. Gilmore (co-executive producer)
Neville C. Thompson (associate producer)
|Production location(s)||RMS Queen Mary - 1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach, California|
Shepperton Studios, Shepperton, Surrey, England
The Waldorf Hotel, Aldwych, Strand, London, England
|Running time||Unedited U.S. TV version|
Edited European and DVD version
|Production company(s)||EMI Films|
S.O.S. Titanic is a British-American 1979 television movie that depicts the doomed 1912 maiden voyage from the perspective of three distinct groups of passengers in First, Second, and Third Class. The script was written by James Costigan and directed by William Hale (credited as Billy Hale). It is the first Titanic film filmed and released in color.
First Class passengers include a May–December couple, multi-millionaire John Jacob Astor IV (David Janssen) and his new wife Madeleine Talmage Force (Beverly Ross); their friend, the "unsinkable" Molly Brown (Cloris Leachman); another pair of honeymooners, Daniel and Mary Marvin (Jerry Houser and Deborah Fallender); and Benjamin Guggenheim (John Moffatt), returning to his wife and children after a scandalous affair.
One plot line relates the tentative shipboard romance of two schoolteachers, Titanic survivor Lawrence Beesley (David Warner, later appearing in the James Cameron 1997 film Titanic) and the fictional Leigh Goodwin (Susan Saint James). Both are saved.
In steerage, the plot focuses on the experiences of eight Irish immigrants, who are first depicted approaching the ship from a tender in the harbor of Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland. These characters, all based on real people, include Katie Gilnagh (played by Shevaun Bryers), Kate Mullens, Mary Agatha Glynn, Bridget Bradley, Daniel Buckley, Jim Farrell, Martin Gallagher, and David Chartens. During the voyage, Martin Gallagher falls for an unnamed "Irish beauty."
One of the film's major themes is class distinctions. Second Class passengers Beesley and Goodwin discuss their ambiguous position "in the middle" and debate whether class distinctions are uniquely British. Goodwin briefly encourages Beesley to pursue his apparent attraction to a young Irish beauty in Third Class, but he rejects this advice. The Third Class passengers, mostly from poor backgrounds, do not show any resentment at their meager accommodation—Katie Gilnagh comments that sleeping four-to-a-room is far more comfortable than the situation she experienced in her overcrowded childhood home—but on the night of the sinking, they struggle to evade the efforts of ship's personnel to keep them below decks and away from the lifeboats. Led by Jim Farrell, they successfully sneak up to the First Class restaurant, where Farrell persuades the Master-at-Arms to allow the women—but only the women—to pass up to the boat deck.
Another major theme is the happy, hectic atmosphere aboard ship. Young Mary Marvin comments that many of the First Class passengers are honeymooners, and that she does not want to land, but simply to go on sailing and dancing forever. In much simpler surroundings, the Third Class passengers also engage in music, dancing, winning, and whirlwind romances. Meanwhile, Beesley and Goodwin toy with the possibility of embarking on an illicit affair in an empty cabin but decide not to. Goodwin comments that shipboard romances, like shipboard friendships, are meant to end with the voyage.
A third theme is who deserved, or accepted, responsibility for the wrecking of the RMS Titanic. Captain Edward Smith, a veteran White Star captain nearing retirement, is depicted as a masterful leader who nevertheless failed to slow down in spite of being well aware that he was traveling into ice-laden waters. Shipbuilder Thomas Andrews radiates an almost saintly quality, seeing to the final details of construction and repairs himself, tenderly looking after passengers and crew, and even conversing with a young stewardess about their common hometown of Belfast. He fully understands the implications of the collision, and his knowledge that he cannot save the ship clearly breaks his heart. Meanwhile, White Star Line director J. Bruce Ismay wavers between a stance of command and an unwillingness to take responsibility for the sinking. Identifying himself as a passenger, he defiantly boards a lifeboat, only to experience a nervous breakdown later aboard the R.M.S. Carpathia rescuing ship. Ismay is the only one of these three men who survives, and it is clear that he will never fully recover from the psychological effects and blow to his reputation from the fabled sinking.
- David Janssen as John Jacob Astor IV
- Beverly Ross as Madeleine Astor
- Cloris Leachman as Margaret "Molly" Brown
- Susan Saint James as Leigh Goodwin
- David Warner as Lawrence Beesley
- Geoffrey Whitehead as Thomas Andrews
- Ian Holm as J. Bruce Ismay
- Helen Mirren as Stewardess Mary Sloan
- Harry Andrews as Captain Edward J. Smith
- Robert Pugh as James Farrell (Irish Traveller in steerage)
- Jerry Houser as Daniel Marvin
- Deborah Fallender as Mary Marvin
- Shevaun Briars as Katie Gilnagh
- Catherine Byrne as Bridget Bradley
- Nick Brimble as Olaus Abelseth
- Norman Rossington as Master-at-arms Thomas King
- Ed Bishop as Henry B. Harris
Producer William Filmore called it the "thinking man's disaster film".
Several of the scenes on the exterior decks, as well as those in the ship's wheelhouse, were filmed on board the later British ocean liner from the 1930s, the retired RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.
Some interior scenes were filmed at the Waldorf and Adelphi historic hotels in London and Liverpool, respectively. The town of Peel on the Isle of Man served as the Queenstown backdrop. Some external shots were filmed aboard, and of, the TSS Manxman which also appears as the R.M.S. Carpathia in some of the opening sequences and as the R.M.S. Titanic in a few shipboard scenes.
- S.O.S. Titanic was originally shown on two nights on ABC television beginning on September 23, 1979. Combined, the two parts ran 150 minutes. This version has never been commercially available, although it was shown on TV occasionally and bootleg copies sometimes surfaced on the internet.
- In 1980, the film was edited to 103 minutes and released theatrically in Europe. This version was released on DVD globally. In the shorter version, some storylines (for example, a story of an elderly couple of modest Irish farmers who had sold their property for moving to the United States) were completely cut.
- Another video release briefly surfaced in North America in the early 1990s, edited to 90 minutes in order to fit the film on a shorter VHS tape.
- S.O.S. Titanic was re-released on DVD in the UK in April 2012 by distributor Studio Canal. This is also a shorter 98-minute version.
- Made-for-TV Films--Hollywood's Stepchild Comes of Age: Made-for-TV Films Come of Age By KIRK HONEYCUTT. New York Times 19 Aug 1979: D1.
- Robert Bianco (April 26, 1995). "Some movies with a sinking feeling". Calhoun Times and Gordon County News. Retrieved 9 August 2017.
- From Playmate to Governor Mann, Roderick. Los Angeles Times 22 Feb 1979: e15.
- TITANIC RESURFACES ABOARD QUEEN MARY Gore, Robert J. Los Angeles Times 6 May 1979: se_a1.