Believe it or not, James Cameron’s “Titanic” was not the first time the tragic tale of the unsinkable luxury ship was adapted to film – and many would argue it is not the best adaptation of this well-known story. And after seeing Roy Ward Baker’s “A Night to Remember,” I agree with those people.
While Cameron’s film changed some of the historical aspects for the sake of dramatic storytelling, “A Night to Remember” prides itself on being as accurate, almost documentary-like, as possible. Rather than playing with our emotions at the cost of changing what actually happened, we get sucked into the authentic tale of a situation that could have easily been prevented and how it quickly turns into a hopeless one for thousands of people, all because of ego and pride getting in the way.
On top of that, for a non-Hollywood film made in 1958, this black-and-white film looks stunning, with amazing detail from the lavish halls to the submerging engine room. Even the models of the sinking ship and its interiors filling up with water are so authentic that seeing them slowly submerge into the depths is just as effective as Cameron’s film, if not more so here due to the realistic tone of the movie.
But of course, the main focus of “A Night to Remember” is on the 2,200 people stuck aboard the sinking ship with only enough lifeboats for 1,200 people, and how these people cope with death creeping up on them.
The film mostly follows Second Officer Charles Lightoller (Kenneth More), the highest ranking officer to survive, as he prepares to board the RMS Titanic on her maiden voyage. The mood is electric, as everyone is excited to be apart of history being passengers on not only the largest ship every built, but also one that has been touted as being unsinkable. It even gets to the point where the captain and the senior staff feel like they can relax, since they have nothing to fear. As a result, the crew of the Titanic miss a lot of obvious warnings and hazards until they’re right on top of a giant iceberg.
As the ship begins to sink, we watch that same electricity turn from shocking to deadly. The gravity of the situation is first handled with calm and sorrow, only for it to escalate to full blown panic and chaos as the front of the ship starts to go under. At which point, the focus switches to the brave men doing their best to save as many lives as possible, and how the passengers react to the icy water slowly surrounding them. Some are dumbfounded and unaccepting, while others realize there is no escape and hand on to the little life they have left. It’s like watching something beautiful slowly be destroyed from on-high and being unable to do anything about the desperate pleas and cries for help.
The tale of the Titanic is one of the most tragic and heartbreaking stories in modern times, and “A Night to Remember” captures the tragedy in the most brilliant, accurate and moving way possible. If you only ever watch one movie about this story, forget about Jack and Rose, and see one of the most wonderfully human movies ever made.
Final Grade: A