You'd have to be living on Antarctica if you missed any of the media coverage a couple of weeks ago recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking. In anticipation of the grim milestone, James Cameron's 1997 movie Titanic was re-released in theaters--in 3D no less, because 1,500 people plunging into deathly icy water is even more entertaining if they appear to be popping out of the screen. But if you're looking for a more classic (and, according to some, more realistic) movie adaptation of the Titanic tragedy, I highly recommend seeing the 1958 British film A Night to Remember.
That is not to say that Titanic was a bad movie. It wasn't. It was just tainted by a sappy love story, phenomenally expensive computer special effects, and Cameron's ego. After my father watched Titanic, he wanted to rent A Night to Remember, so we did. The film was based on the best selling 1955 book by Walter Lord. Lord grew up fascinated by the Titanic story and interviewed dozens of survivors to hear their accounts of that fateful night first hand. His book wove together their stories in an overlapping narrative style, and was a huge success. It's still in print today.
The book was first adapted as a TV movie, presented by NBC in 1956 on Kraft Television Theater. It was said to be quite a lavish production, featuring over 30 sets and 3,000 gallons of water, but while viewing it on YouTube I quickly got bored by the canned acting and slow pace. The screen movie version is much more compelling.
I didn't shed any tears while watching Titanic, but I find A Night to Remember particularly moving and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because it didn't focus on any one character or their back story (except for Second Officer Charles Lightoller, as played by Kenneth More), but showed the devastation in general. It's more of a tribute to the people who died and their legacy rather than a showy spectacle. We see mass panic, people trampling over each other, and a couple killed when one of the ship's smokestacks falls on top of them. But one of the most heartwarming (and heart wrenching) scenes is when an old, grandfatherly type man finds a lost child looking for his mummy. He picks him up and continues to comfort him (and protect him from the crowd) as the ship sinks, promising him that they'll find his mother soon. This clip shows the final moments on board before the boat disappears forever:
I think what's most amazing is that the movie wasn't nominated for any Oscars. It did win a Golden Globe for the Samuel Goldwyn International Award. A Night to Remember became an inspiration to Cameron and is still considered one of the best depictions of the Titanic tragedy. There's no computerized effects or Leonardo DiCaprio, but I still find it chilling and compelling.
As an aside, I read a local news columnist's rant about how some young people tweeted that didn't know that the Titanic was a real ship--they thought the story was just a movie(!) Either the American educational system truly is failing us, or kids today don't watch PBS anymore; they're much more fascinated by texting or video games.
Have you seen the movie? Do you prefer it, Titanic, or another depiction of the tragedy?