Director: Roy Ward Baker
Cast: Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert Ayres
Plot: The Titanic disaster is depicted in straightforward fashion without the addition of fictional subplots.
Awards: Won 1 Golden Globe - Best English Language Foreign Film.
Rating: PG for disaster images.
“Abandon ship! Every man for himself!”
Imagine an enormous iceberg floating in the sea. Imagine that it represents all who have seen James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). Now imagine only the tip of the iceberg. That’s only how many who have seen A Night to Remember, the 1958 British production often regarded as the definitive motion picture ever made about the ill-fated ship.
Directed by Roy Ward Baker, who made films early in his career, and got involved in television later on, A Night to Remember is perhaps his only memorable claim to fame when looking at his professional life in retrospect.
Devoid of subplots, romantic or otherwise, A Night to Remember is a more focused, and I daresay, more insightful look at the events that led to the sinking of Titanic, while not forgetting the tragic human drama that must have unfolded that fateful, freezing night.
While this may be a useful, albeit unfair reference, think of Baker’s film as Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), the quintessential film about the attack on Pearl Harbour, and Cameron’s Titanic as Pearl Harbour (2001), the Michael Bay movie with a distracting romance plot. But to be fair to Cameron, Titanic was a much better achievement and a more spectacularly engaging film than Bay’s farce.
Shot in black-and-white, and incredibly in a studio with models and sets, A Night to Remember recreates the extravagance of the luxury liner and depicts its sinking with docudrama realism. This perspective is unique and allows the viewer to absorb the drama as it occurs. It gives a ‘you-are-there’ experience, with most of the scenes backed by the testimony of survivors. Speaking of which, you may find some of the scenes and some of the characters familiar as they have been loosely recreated in Cameron’s epic.
Even though A Night to Remember is first and foremost a chronicle of the final hours of Titanic, it also gives us a mini history lesson as it tries to paint a more objective picture on the disaster, with the film opting to stray away from ground zero for us to have a look at the reasons Titanic’s call for help was not met with a more urgent reaction.
While Cameron’s film is more entertaining, A Night to Remember is stronger in terms of historical accuracy. Of course, the ship in Baker’s film does not break into half as it sinks, because it was only in 1985 that the split was discovered and confirmed. Still, it is compelling, and at times a brilliant technical feat.
Verdict: Perhaps the definitive Titanic disaster movie, filmed with docudrama realism.
GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)
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