Just like the Bond films, everyone has their favourite movie about the sinking of the Titanic and while most would choose James Cameron’s 1997 romance epic, I prefer Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember. This version, adapted from the Walter Loords book of the same name, doesn’t rely on love triangles and conflict between various characters to successfully tell the story of RMS Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage and the people that were abroad her.
Despite this film coming out before the discovery of the wreck, the tale was a much more truthful telling of the story, using stories from people on-board the ship and aimed at a much more adult audience than Cameron’s movie, which was clearly aimed at a more teenage market.
A Night To Remember showed a much more wide and varied range of the passengers and crew than the 1997 blockbuster, which focused mostly on the first and third class, forgetting mostly about the second classes, whereas in the 1958 classic, they are shown as much as the others, even the trailer for the film references all the different classes, giving a much broader range of the people on board.
Due to being filmed before the discovery of the wreckage, the only noticeable departure from the actual events of that fateful night is the sinking in one piece rather than breaking into two before going down, though this doesn’t take away from the film and still feels like it covers why the ship sank in much clearer detail, discussing the problems with bulkheads and the misguided notion that they were high enough and unlike the CGI filled 1997 homage.
A Night To Remember prefers to crank up the drama and tension with beautifully crafted performances, that show the turmoil of both the Captain and ships designer, with the discovery of the design floors being one of the turning points of the film, something which was omitted from the 1997 film, which focused on showing off its CGI abilities, rather than develop the shoreline.
A Night To Remember also includes the indelible drama that comes from the other ships involved in the Titanic story, both of the other ships, the Carpathia and the Californian both play important parts of the story, showing the rush to save the people lucky enough to get a lifeboat and the mistakes made by the Californian crew, that meant the needless deaths of many, many people.
Scenes to Remember
The scene that will stick in your mind the longest is one that was used again in the 1997 film, it’s the Nearer My God To Thee scene, when the band continue playing as the ship goes down, rather than trying to find themselves a lifeboat, it shows something lacking in the 1997 movie, the courage of people on board and the crew, with the singing and music, being heard from the lifeboats by the people fleeing the doomed ship, while the water moves further up the deck, contrasting the large range of emotions between the people lucky enough to be safe and those getting more and more desperate to live.
The other scene that you won’t forget from this film is the scene of the little boy and the old man, who find each other trying to get to safety but sadly never made it to a lifeboat, instead they are fated to be some last people to go down with the ship, this was an incredibly brave move, showing the deaths of two characters that in a 1958 film you wouldn’t expect to die, though this just adds to the realism of the film
The scene that will give you chills
The ending is something that leaves you feeling, like you have watched the real plight of the people on-board the Titanic, rather than being upset that two people didn’t end up together, you’re left thinking about all the people that lost their lives, but still happy for the ones that made it, unlike the Cameron film, the ending is simple, it ends with Lightoller, the surviving senior officer, reflecting that they were all so sure about the safety of the ship and that he will “never be sure again, about anything.”, followed just a poignant close up of a lifebuoy floating on the surface of the black water.
If ever you wish to watch a beautiful telling of the Titanic story and when you are trying to decide between the 1997 star maker or the 1958 film, I would suggest the beautiful tale called A Night To Remember, not only because it tells a better story but also because it was so good that it left such a mark on a young Cameron, he ended up going to make his own blockbuster about a ship that sinks.
This film has the characters that will make you care about them, the scenes that add the dramatic punch and this came before a time where every film had to have a romantic subplot, it’s an adult film, with adult themes and hits you with an emotional punch that means that A Night To Remember is a film that is the inspirational film that you will never forget.