A Night to Remember

If you are interested in the Titanic cruise ship disaster, this black and white movie traces its final hours in a very realistic way. It is based on the 1955 documentary book written by Walter Lord. Where other movies are extremely fictional, this book and movie were grounded in hard facts (at least the facts known at the time) and on real stories. It's important to remember that, back in 1955, there were still many survivors around to talk about the event with, to get the realism as accurate as possible. On the other hand, because the ship hadn't actually been FOUND yet, there were mistaken ideas about the tragedy. For example, people still thought the ship went down in one piece, when it is now known that the Titanic split in two before sinking.

The story traces the lives of several different groups of people - a few officers, a few high class, a few steerage, as they prepare for boarding and go on the voyage. There is a great deal of upper class bashing going on in the film - just about every word out of an upper class person's mouth is a snooty self centered remark. I did find that amusing but a bit excessive. The steerage are skewered as well as drinking so much that some refuse to get out of bed when the ship begins to sink.

Director Roy Ward Baker did not have millions to authentically recreate every single detail of the Titanic, as Cameron did for his modern blockbuster. Some of the special effects look a little silly by modern standards. Still, where this movie is a bit 'dated' in its realism, it shines in its characters. These are not invented characters. They are the real people, going through real tragedies. In a Cameron film, the little boy left behind at the end would somehow be miraculously saved. In the movie, he sobs in a stranger's arms while the water overtakes them.

In many ways this movie is far more "real" than other attempts to cover the topic. From when the Titanic hits the iceberg to when it sinks, it's almost a minute by minute time match, meaning you get a sense of just how little time they had until everything was lost. That also means that the pace of the Carpathia, as it valiantly steams as quickly as possible to help out, is very visceral. You get every sense that they are straining to go as quickly as they can - and that even so they know they will be too late. On the other hand, the frustration mounts with every second as the California, right nearby, completely ignores all light signals, radio signals and emergency flares that are sent up.

In a movie landscape made up of fantastic, made up tragedies, this is a very real situation that is important for us to remember. Over 1,500 people died for in essence very "silly" reasons. The look-outs did not have binoculars to see the ice berg with. There weren't enough lifeboats to hold all of the people. A giant barrage of distress signals sent to a nearby ship got no response at all. The very human responses of people to that tragedy - courage, cowardice, fear, bravery, resignation - are eternal human nature that people show in response to any tragedy, be it a volcano, earthquake, hurricane or other situation. This movie does a great job of focussing on those human stories, and giving them a honest context.

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