A Night to Remember

1958 movie

If you haven’t seen it:

a-night-to-remember-posterYou know the plot of A Night to Remember already. It starts with “I name this ship Titanic”, before moving on to “Iceberg, dead ahead, sir” and “Abandon ship! Every man for himself.”

Why did James Cameron think it necessary to make a big budget version of the Titanic story – surely there was no need to spend $200 million, when these guys nailed it in 1958 for a few shillings? It think that Mr Cameron knew this full well, and he just wanted an excuse to mess about in a submarine, visiting the wreck, in the name of “research”.

The special effects might not be as good as Titanic’s, but they are good enough, and better than you are probably expecting. Titanic is a great action movie wrapped around a love story, but A Night To Remember is a great drama.

If you have seen it:

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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.


Shortly before midnight on 14 April 1912, four days into her maiden voyage, the RMS Titanic (which was the largest passenger steamship in the world) was crossing the Atlantic Ocean at top speed, when struck an iceberg, and sank two hours and forty minutes later. The sinking resulted in the deaths of 1,517 of the 2,223 people on board.

Steve Sunday Says:

I thought the 1997 Titanic movie was an amazing film, but A Night to Remember is so much more convincing. Without the distracting fictitious subplots, action scenes, and sweeping score, we experience the horrific events like they actually happened – the ship slowly sinking in eerie silence, while the elite of society stood around, powerless to do anything about it. These characters are more convincing than their 1997 counterparts too – Kate and Leo were a little too modern to be taken seriously.

I thought that the authentic feel of the film made the courage shown by the characters so much more moving. In particular, the scene where Robbie places his wife and children on the lifeboat, all the while pretending for their sake that everything was going to be fine, brought a lump to my throat.


It could be worse – at least Celine Dion is not singing.

History Man says:

A Night to Remember is generally regarded as the most accurate of all Titanic movies, especially for its social realism. More than any other movie it shows accurately how the class structure affected the behavior of both rich and poor. There are, however, a number of things that are not quite right:

  • The Titanic was not “Christened.”
  • In A Night to Remember the Titanic does not split in two, but goes down in one piece. This is because “experts” refused to believe that the ship had split in two until the wreckage was discovered on the sea bed in 1985. Before then, eye witnesses who had described it happening were accused of exaggerating and sensationalizing the event.

Second Officer Lightoller (Kenneth More) is rightly portrayed as a hero – in real life he later went on to serve with distinction in World Wars I and II, rescuing many men at Dunkirk, dying in 1952. However, a few of the other characterizations in A Night to Remember have been challenged by historians:

  • Captain Smith is portrayed as a noble hero, because he went down with his ship, but not all historians agree that we should be so sympathetic towards him. Apart from the fact that the disaster happened because he ignored the ice warnings and went at full speed towards the icebergs, his leadership of the evacuation after the impact was considered poor – he failed to issue an early abandon ship order, leading to confusion and panic, and he allowed lifeboats to leave half full knowing that there were not enough places for all passengers. Eventually, he just disappeared, leaving others to clear up his mess.
  • J Bruce Ismay, the president of the company that built the Titanic, is portrayed as a villain and a coward in A Night to Remember (as he is in every Titanic movie). There are two main complaints against him – firstly, some survivors claimed that he pressurized the captain to go at full speed in order to arrive in New York early (generating free publicity), and secondly they said that he jumped into the first available lifeboat when it was supposed to be women and children only. Both these claims are questionable though, and Ismay always denied both. His denial of the first complaint was supported by other ships’ captains who confirmed that it was standard practice to go at full speed. The second complaint was also challenged by several survivors who reported that he helped out many other passengers before finally finding a place for himself on the very last lifeboat to leave the starboard side. Whatever the truth, he was vilified in the American press immediately after the event, and retired from public life in shame. The reason for the press vitriol however, is possibly because he had previously fallen out with William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate who was the inspiration for Citizen Kane (and not a nice man).
  • There is no historical evidence to support the claim that the third class passengers were forcibly held below the decks and prevented from reaching the lifeboats. It is true that there were gates which barred the third class passengers from the other passengers, but this was because they were required by US immigration laws in order to halt spread of infectious diseases. Third class passengers could reach the boat deck where the lifeboats were, although they had to navigate a lot of corridors to do so, which is why more first and second class passengers reached the lifeboats. The British Inquiry Report stated that allegations that third class passengers were locked below decks were false.


A Band on Ship

Trivia Trish Says:

  • One of the extras we see as the life boats are being loaded is Sean Connery.
  • Several survivors from the actual Titanic disaster were involved in the making of A Night to Remember. The Fourth Officer, Joseph Boxhall (played by Jack Watling in the film), served as technical advisor. Other survivors visited the set, including Edith Russell, the dress designer played by Teresa Thorne, who had the stuffed pig. One survivor from second class attempted to enter a scene, but was not allowed (because of union rules). Lightoller’s son advised Kenneth More on how to play his father. Captain Smith’s daughter also came to the set, and was overcome with emotion when she met Laurence Naismith, because of his striking resemblance to her father. Furthermore, the producer William MacQuitty, as a child, had been one of the spectators at the launching of the Titanic on May 31, 1911.
  • In his autobiography, Kenneth More recalls the filming of the scene near the end where the survivors jumped into the “sea” (it was actually an unheated open air swimming pool, late at night). When the extras refused to jump into the water, More realized he would have to lead by example and went first, but instantly regretted it: “Never have I experienced such cold in all my life. It was like jumping into a deep freeze just like the people did on the actual Titanic. The shock of the cold water forced the breath out of my lungs. My heart seemed to stop beating. I felt crushed, unable to think. I had rigor mortis… without the mortis. And then I surfaced, spat out the dirty water and, gasping for breath, found my voice. ‘Stop!’ I shouted. ‘Don’t listen to me! It’s bloody awful! Stay where you are!’ But it was too late as the extras followed suit.”

Main Cast and Crew:

Kenneth More as Second Officer Charles Lightoller
Honor Blackman as Mrs. Liz Lucas
Michael Goodliffe as Thomas Andrews

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