Monday, April 16, 2012

A Reel 100: Titanic and A NIGHT TO REMEMBER

“People first, things second.”

On the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the famed ocean liner Titanic, this Blogger was pleased to attend a showing of A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958) on the big screen.

Based on the book of the same name by Walter Lord, NIGHT was a landmark film for its time; with breathtaking visual effects and the first film to accurately depict the sinking. The film benefitted from Titanic’s fourth officer, Joseph Boxhall, who served as a technical advisor. The film’s leading man was Kenneth More, who played second officer Charles Lightoller. Bernard Fox, who played the lookout Fredrick Fleet (the man who saw the iceberg), would also appear as Colonel Archibald Gracie IV in James Cameron’s 1997 TITANIC, making him the only cast member in two films about the sinking. As a sidenote, the film also has a young and uncredited Sean Connery…five years before his first turn as James Bond.

Where Cameron’s ’97 version was essentially a retelling of Romeo & Juliet, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER steams away from the human elements and focuses mostly on the facts known at the time. It is a docudrama, perhaps one of the most effective ones ever made. For the most part it gets the facts correct; an astounding feat considering the film was made 28 years before the revealing discovery of the wreck. With no real heart for audiences to connect to, NIGHT turns to Kenneth More’s Lightoller as the main character; a smart choice considering the dutiful, and oft-forgotten heroics Officer Lightoller played during the catastrophic events of that night.

Despite trading in heart-felt stories for 1950’s-era melodrama, NIGHT still manages to be effective. The visual effects, which may feel a tad dated today, still pack a powerful punch and it is interesting to see the many elements that Cameron would eventually borrow for his own historic film nearly 40 years later. NIGHT also makes it a point to drive home the massive differential between first and third class people; a social statement that rings true to this day. NIGHT is a look at the disaster through 1950’s eyes, but it still feels incredibly relevant; a rare accomplishment for a film from that era. And on top of it all, the black-and-white delivers a hovering eeriness that you cannot help to be aware of.


As a history-buff and Titanic-nerd, this Blogger/movie-geek has always had an interest in A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, but only experienced it in increments over the years on TV. On the big screen in a digital presentation, it really gets the justice it deserves. It looks and sounds incredible; a testament to the great effort of the filmmakers nearly 54 years ago. A NIGHT TO REMEMBER may not be a tearjerker, but it remains an important part of the undying legacy of Titanic and the many, many lives she has touched.

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