A Night to Remember

You’re probably wondering how long it’s going to take me, in this review, to mention a certain other film from 1997, directed by James Cameron, that follows a similar plot to this film, and I’ll tell you that it’ll take exactly 48 words for me to mention Titanic. If you’ve never seen A Night to Remember, but are a fan of Titanic (as indeed you should be, for it is a much better film than it’s cool to admit), then you need to start paying more credit towards Night‘s director Roy Ward Baker, for it is from his 1958 picture that Cameron stole most of his film.

Now I’m not saying Cameron stole everything, for if there’s one thing Night is missing, it’s main characters to follow through the events. Instead we follow various groups of people – Second Officer Lightoller (Kenneth More), some steerage passengers, a young 1st class couple (Honor Blackman!) – throughout the night of April 14th, 1912. This lack of focusing on a few people leaves you caring for the characters less, in the same way you didn’t care that much when Fabrizzio got hit with the funnel, here its no bother when the same fate is met by other people we’ve been following. This gives Night a more procedural, re-enactment-like tone, not helped by the generally unmoving performances that leave you cold and distant.Had I never seen Titanic, chances are I’d have been far more impressed with this film, but the remake (that’s essentially what it is) has shown that almost every shot can be composed and recorded at least a little better. The fact that it was made almost 40 years later helped drastically, as the technology did not yet exist to encompass the full scope of Cameron’s vision, but the fact that it does now has left Night a little obsolete.

I found myself mentally checking off every scene that Cameron stole – the steerage dance number, lavish 1st class dining scene, the soot-caked stokers escaping the closing doors in the engine rooms, playing football with ice on the deck, the dining cart gently rolling down an increasingly listing dining room, the steward appalled at the passengers damaging White Star Line property, the musicians disbanding then reforming to play as the boat sinks. The drunken chef even looks the same, and the shot of Murdoch turning his head away in shame, unable to stand watching the boat sink from his wrongfully claimed lifeboat seat is identical! I understand that a lot of these scenes help to set the atmosphere aboard the boat and couldn’t really be avoided, but Cameron should either have admitted he was remaking, paid some form of acknowledgement to the previous film, or at least changed the shot compositions. Mr. Andrews, the boat’s designer, even at one point gives a young couple – who may as well be called Jack and Rose – details on how to survive whilst he’s stood next to the clock on the mantelpiece, and the ‘unsinkable’ Molly Brown, here played by Tucker McGuire but more famously by Kathy Bates in Titanic, vehemently demands that her lifeboat turn around to help drowning survivors.

Based on the book by Walter Lord, and using the real-life experiences of survivors, the film paints an effective picture of the differences between the classes – made particularly clear when some steerage passengers attempt to flee the waters, but recoil in shock at the extent of the upper class facilities. After some initial scene-setting and the launch of the boat, we pick up the action on the night of the 14th, as the supposedly unsinkable liner receives warnings of ice in the area. As opposed to after 90 minutes, the immortal line of “Iceberg, dead ahead” is heard after just half an hour. After the boat has struck and a 300-foot long gash has been haphazardly carved into the hull, events play out largely in real time, and a great deal of time is spent on the engine rooms and the crew’s efforts to contact the nearest boats, of which the Carpathia, a good 58 miles and 4 hours away, is the only one to respond. There are some nice examples of the typical British stiff upper lip – a man putting on a brave face as he waves goodbye to the wife and children he knows he’ll never see again – but there are all in all far too many scenes of the crew trying to convince disbelieving passengers of the seriousness of the situation, to the point where I got so annoyed with some of the passengers that I hoped they’d stay on the boat and attempt to sit it out.

Whilst occasionally moving – the lifeboats forced to listen to the screams of the drowning – there is little reason to watch this now Titanic has made it redundant. In it’s day it was probably a much better film, but alas now it has been surpassed.Choose life 7/10

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