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    Jeffrey Richards, A Night to Remember: the definitive Titanic film



    ISBN: 1 86064 849 5



    136pp



    £2.95 (pb)



    (Review copy supplied by I.B. Tauris)



    Jeffrey Richards loves Roy Baker's A night to remember. Of all the films which have used the historical events and characters involved in that fateful night of April 14/15, 1912, when the largest ship in the world, the Titanic, struck an iceberg whilst on her journey from Southampton to New York and sank, he considers Baker's film the definitive version. Since 1929 there have been seven sound film and television versions recreating that night and Richards covers all of these films in this eminently readable, impeccably researched book. He traces the historical background to the disaster, provides an overview of the careers of the main creative personnel on A night to remember, and quotes, at length, the rapturous critical reception given to the film by the British critics. There is even, in the appendix, a comprehensive investigation into the identity of the last piece of music played by bandmaster Wallace Hartley and his musicians just prior to the ship breaking up and slipping beneath the water.



    I agree with Richards that A night to remember is the best version of the Titanic story, and I share Richards's admiration for the skill and economy of Roy Baker's direction. From the start, it should be acknowledged that, as one would expect from an historian with a long series of excellent studies into the British, and other national cinemas (see his ground-breaking 1973 publication Visions of yesterday), Richards's A night to remember: the definitive Titanic film a is valuable contribution both to the study of the British cinema in general and the career of Roy Baker in particular. My review, which could be seen as mean-spirited by focusing on the basis of his judgement, is concerned more with the way his conclusions perpetuate a view of British film history that requires clarification and greater precision. Too often Richards relies on problematic terms such as "sober realism" and "documentary authenticity" as if their meaning is unequivocally clear and singular. Similarly, the aesthetic and cultural implications that emanate from his juxtaposition of "realism" and "melodrama" affect virtually every level of his study and reflects the terms in which the history of the British cinema in the 1940s and 1950s was often perceived. This is evident in the conclusion to his book:



    Of the seven major screen versions since the coming of sound the best...s A night to remember. Almost all of the others have used the historical events and characters as background to fictional romantic melodramas.



    But A night to remember is a docu-drama on an epic scale, a film which stirs the emotions while you are watching it and haunts the memory thereafter. It is not the absolute truth because it uses composite characters, concentrates on the British experience of the tragedy and incorporates errors which have been identified by subsequent research, but it is as close to the truth as any film is likely to get. Like all films, it is a product of its times but in its innate integrity, documentary authenticity, emotional truthfulness and celebration of heroic stoicism it transcends its own period to become timeless and universal (114)



    And:



    there is an overwhelming British feel to the film, in the reaction of the passengers and in the behaviour under stress. It is hard not to relate this to the Second World War. The war brought the idea of national identity into sharp focus. The British national character was deemed to be composed of a sense of humour, a sense of duty, a sense of stoicism, a sense of tolerance and a sense of individualism. It was matched by the emergence of a style of documentary authenticity in films which resulted in an identifiable school of filmmaking that was recognized and praised by critics. (74 -75)



    It is thus a "film not only to remember but to cherish" (115)



    In Richards's hierarchy "docu-drama" is elevated above "melodrama", "heroic stoicism" is a characteristically British trait and there is a belief in an "absolute truth" to which, of all the film versions, A night to remember is closest. Within this seemingly objective comparison of each version there is more than a tinge of patriotic pride in the "overwhelming British feel to the film" and a prickly aversion to the "excessive" and "distinctly anti-British bias" in James Cameron's 1997 Titanic. Richards concludes by asserting that the British film is superior due to its "innate integrity", "documentary authenticity" and "emotional truthfulness".



    It these layers of justification that I wish to examine, particularly the juxtaposition of "realism" against "melodrama" and the (unexplained) link between cultural traits, such as "stoicism", and the assimilation of aesthetic forms and personal feelings in terms such as "emotional truthfulness". Yet Richards is not the only film scholar to use, and presume the innate superiority of, such an approach. It is evident in the critical ethos deployed in the immediate post-war period by people such as Roger Manvell and reinforced by many of the newspaper critics at that time. As Richards notes, there was a "remarkable critical consensus about the qualities" most prized at this time – "realism, Englishness and emotional restraint" (76) In 1947, for example, Roger Manvell wrote:



    Popular behaviour in this new war showed little desire for heroics and national self-display When eventually the real war subjects began to be produced as distinct from...melodramas ...this quiet sense of national feeling, this reticence and wry humour became part of this tradition which was to guide the conception of the remarkable films of 1942-45. ...The film producers were dealing with psychologically aware audiences. They could not afford. To turn into melodramas stories so close to the heart of Britain. (75-76)



    Richards not only establishes the primacy of this ethos in the 1940s and 1950s but, with little variation, accepts its basic precepts to justify his claim that A night to remember is the definitive Titanic film. When he notes that the reaction of the British critics towards the 1953 20th Century Fox production Titanic were "devastatingly dismissive" (9) and what "runs through the reviews is a demand for factual authenticity, a distaste for melodrama and in some cases an undisguised hostility towards Hollywood for tampering with the facts of the tragedy that was felt to be the common property of the audience" (96 - 97) he is not only pointing to a critical bias but utilises the critics who put forward these views to justify his own claims for Baker's film. Thus, not surprisingly, Richards notes that the British critics "accepted A night to remember on its own terms as an authentic and truth-telling docu-drama produced in the style of sober realism that had emerged from the war as the best and finest form of cinematic production" (96)



    If this aesthetic ethos is seen as an over-arching critical grid it, logically, results in the downgrading of many British genre films, as well as some of the great films directed and produced by such "non-realist" filmmakers as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Powell experienced the harsh critical reaction to his 1959 film Peeping Tom from many of the same critics who celebrated A night to remember. What is never examined in any detail in the book is the conventionality of his "docu-drama"/ "realist" mode, the relationship between generic and cultural verisimilitude[1] and the presumption that this mode automatically excludes the use of melodrama. Instead, "realist"/ "documentary" is posited as the opposite of "fictional"/"excessive"/"melodramatic". Often, Alan Lovell writes, "contemporary scholarship has fallen into a trap by posing excess and restraint against each other. British cinema is often most exciting when restraint and excess interact with each other"[2]. Lovell reached this conclusion after reading the plot summaries of many British melodramas made between 1946-47 – prior to viewing the films. Initially excited by what seemed to be the promise of "extravagant plotting and characterisation" Lovell was disappointed after viewing the films as the expected "emotional and large-scale" dramatic forces were downplayed and made safe by the writing, camerawork, acting and direction. I shouldn't have been surprised. As contemporary scholars are fond of pointing, British cinema has been heavily marked by qualities of good taste, restraint, reticence. Why should melodramas ...be free of these characteristics? (Lovell 239)



    It is possible to view A night to remember in the same way, as a 1950s British film typical of these qualities – "good taste, restraint and reticence"-whilst also acknowledging that the film still utilises the over-arching dramatic structure of melodrama and many of the dramatic devices associated with this mode including pathos. Baker's film certainly eschews the excesses of James Cameron's 1997 version but this does not make A night to remember a "docu-drama", or even, as Richards claims, an example of "neo-realism" (24). The two main Hollywood films in Richards's study are the 1953 20th Century-Fox film Titanic and James Cameron's blockbuster. Both are relegated, relative to Baker's film, to the less "authentic" status of "melodrama", although he concedes that Jean Negulesco's 1953 film is "high-quality melodrama" (77). Richards, however, is much less impressed with Cameron's film, dismissing it as "contrived, bloated and melodramatic" (77). To distinguish the 1997 Hollywood film from the 1958 British film Richards emphasises Cameron's determination to appeal to the "territory of the heart":



    I set out to make a film that would bring the event to life, to humanize it, not a docudrama, but an experience in living history. I wanted to place the audience on the ship, in its final hours, to live out the tragic event in all its fascinating glory. The only territory I felt had been left unexplored in prior films was the territory of the heart. I wanted the audience to cry for Titanic. Which means cry for the people on the ship. (109)



    Thus, Richards classifies Cameron's film with earlier "shipboard weepies" such as One way passage (USA 1932), Now voyager (USA 1942), and An affair to remember (USA 1957) – there are "echoes of all of these stories in the story of Rose and Jack, in particular the basic theme that love conquers all barriers – death, injury or the marital status of one of the lovers"(109). The "genuine historical figures who appear in the film are marginalized, unless they have an ideological role to play" (109 - 110). This interest in historical authenticity is replaced by "archetypal scenes as the lovers outlined on the prow against a blood-red sunset, Cal chasing the lovers round the sinking ship wildly firing a revolver, and Rose hacking at the handcuffs binding Jack to a pipe in the rapidly flooding brig, takes precedence over the historical episodes". Cameron, he implies, is more concerned with the emotional dimension, not the "factual", with "melodrama" not "realism".



    This privileging of one style of film as "real" and "authentic" has ramifications beyond just A night to remember for, as Christine Gledhill argues, it derives from the "drive to preserve cultural space and leadership for a middle-class intellectual elite [which] polarises melodrama and realism as critical values On the one hand, realism, in its association with restraint, underplaying, and the reasoning mind, is valued as masculine, relegating emotion and pathos as feminising".[3] This is true for the British critics of the 1940s and 1950s but when Richards points to the large (young) female support for James Cameron's Titanic (USA 1997) he is in danger of perpetuating this bias by suggesting that the 1990s audience response to Cameron's film was somehow less valid (because it was primarily female and young) than the 1950s response to A night to remember:



    The audience appeal of the film, although it sought to merge romantic drama and action spectacle, was very markedly towards young women. Surveys revealed that 60 per cent of Titanic's audience was female, 63 per cent of them under twenty-five and that 45 per cent of all women under twenty-five who went to see it had been at least twice, some of them many times. One attraction was undoubtedly Leonardo di Caprio, who acquired a besotted following of pre-pubescent girls (Richards 110)



    I am not sure if these statistics have any real value, even if they are reliable, as they show that 40 per cent of the audience for the film was male and the gender and age breakdown may not differ markedly from the average for most contemporary Hollywood blockbusters. To provide some valuable basis for comparison a similar set of figures would be required for the 1953 Hollywood film and A night to remember. What is significant is that Richards considers them important as part of "the ballyhoo surrounding James Cameron's 1997 film" (114 - 115) For some people (not me), it is possible that Cameron's film is perceived as "timeless and universal" with its own "innate integrity" and "emotional truthfulness". What it lacks, for Richards, is the presentation of "valid" emotions and a sense of "heroic stoicism". But nor could it as it was not produced in the cultural context of post-war Britain. Can you, however, define a culture, or a generation within that culture, through a specific trait such as "stoicism" for, as Peter Hutchings points out, "'Britishness' is not some stable essence waiting to be discovered in its various manifestations by perceptive critics. Instead it exists as a set of ideas and discourses that circulate within a number of different contexts and which are subject to contestation and endless renegotiation".[4]



    The aesthetic and cultural significance of pathos is hardly discussed in Richards's book (it is mentioned once in the conclusion, page 114) but it is used, relatively frequently, in A night to remember, particularly in the latter part of the film. It is also, as Linda Williams[5] and Ben Singer point out, one of the most characteristic signs of melodrama and does not, as Singer notes, have to be presented in an excessive way:



    The presentation of strong pathos (ie., the elicitation of a powerful feeling of pity) is, of course, a common element of melodrama, particularly as it is understood in contemporary film studies. Aristotle defined pity as "a sort of pain at the evident evil of a destructive or painful kind in the case of somebody who does not deserve it, the evil being one which we might imagine to happen to ourselves". This is an insightful definition. The first part aptly describes the experience of pathos as a kind of visceral physical sensation triggered by the perception of moral justice against an undeserving victim. The second part touches on the sense in which pathos requires identification, which, by extension, leads to the notion that pity often (or always?) involves an element of self-pity.[6]



    Richards' own emotional response to Baker's film is evident in the comment "a film which stirs the emotions while you are watching it and haunts the memory thereafter" (114). This reaction is found throughout the book but it is most particularly evident in his response to the scene involving the attempt by Robert Lucas (John Merivale) to persuade his wife and children to leave the ship for one of the lifeboats knowing that he will, most likely, never see them again. Earlier in the night Lucas had sought out Thomas Andrews, the ship's designer, for the truth concerning the ship's real situation. After reassuring Andrews that he "is not the panicking kind", the designer tells Lucas that there is only an hour before the Titanic will sink. Lucas returns to his family but does not convey this information to his wife (Honor Blackman). Later he escorts them to the deck and tries to deflect the seriousness of the situation by casually telling his wife that cousin Henry will be angry as the Titanic will be two days late in reaching New York. However this ruse fails and his wife realises that they may never see each other again and tells him that she is not going into the lifeboat. Robert replies that it "is only a matter of form for you and the children to go first". Reluctantly she agrees and Robert kisses his sleeping son on the forehead with the farewell "Goodbye, my dear son" before handing him into the boat. Although Lucas never sees his family again, as he dies when the ship sinks, the film reminds the audience of this loss by showing the (Lucas) family rocking horse floating in the water as one of its final images.



    Instead of recognising the significant use of pathos in both films, Richards prefers to distinguish between the "genuine" emotion in Baker's film compared with the "contrived" use of emotion in Cameron's film:



    [T]here is more genuine emotion concentrated in this one scene [ie., farewell between Lucas and his wife] than in the whole contrived, bloated and melodramatic three hours of James Cameron's Titanic. The point about understatement and restraint is not lack of emotion, it is control of emotion. Good actors like the ones in this scene, and in many other scenes in the film, are able to suggest the emotion that is held in check and this sense of restraint as a way of dealing with crisis and emergency is therefore doubly moving. Like John Merivale as Lucas, Laurence Naismith as Captain Smith and Michael Goodliffe as Andrews deliver classic performances of stoicism and emotional restraint. (77)



    Thus, the essential difference resides in the presentation of "emotional restraint". But melodrama can be presented in a "restrained" way. The key is not restraint but the way pathos is used presented in both films – it performs the same function but in A night to remember, its presentation is typically low key, underplayed and subdued.



    Robert Lucas farewelling his family is not the only example of pathos in A night to remember. Just after the Captain Smith yells "abandon ship", a little boy is shown crying for his mother when an elderly steward grabs hold of the child and comforts him by reassuring the boy that they will find his mother. The audience, however, knows they are both doomed and that mother and child will never be reunited. The film cuts back to the steward and the boy a number of times before the ship finally disappears under the water. On one occasion the steward warns panicking passengers to keep clear of the child and, significantly, the last image on the ship before it sinks is the steward with his coat wrapped around the little boy.



    Similarly, the honeymooners, Mr and Mrs Clarke, who appear regularly throughout the film, decide to stay together and they die when a funnel falls on them as they flounder in the cold sea. There are also the final scenes involving bandmaster Wallace Hartley and his decision to stay on the ship. When members of his band re-join him, and they play "Nearer, my God to thee", we have a powerful moment of pathos which Roy Baker fully exploits by showing the distressed reaction of the passengers in the boats to the ship's final moments accompanied by Hartley's music on the soundtrack. The fact that it may, or may not, have happened this way does not mitigate the emotional power of these scenes. The 1996 television mini-series Titanic, on the other, replaced "Nearer, my God to thee" with "Autumn" but, as Richards notes, it is "lost amidst the general panic" (121).



    Pathos, even if presented in a subdued, restrained manner, is an integral aspect of A night to remember. However, as Linda Williams notes, there is an "unwillingness to recognize the importance of melodramatic pathos – of being moved by a moving picture" (Williams 47). Yet the essence of the Titanic story invokes this emotion -- 1490 people died when, as most people watching these versions know, and as Roy Baker's film emphasises, some, or even most, of these death could have been avoided if the California had realised that the Titanic was sinking, if there were sufficient lifeboats on the ship or if many of the half-empty lifeboats carrying first-class passengers had returned to pick up people in the sea. Thus the well-known elements "involves us in assessing suffering in terms of our privileged knowledge of its nature and causes" (Willaims 47). We, the audience, know what is going to happen and, in most, if not all, versions this produces the "elicitation of a powerful feeling of pity", a characteristic emotion associated with pathos, according to Aristotle (Singer 44). Pathos, as Singer notes, consists of two related parts -- "a kind of visceral physical sensation triggered by the perception of moral injustice against an undeserving victim" whilst the second part "touches on the sense in which pathos requires identification", where the members of the audience "superimpose their own life (melo)dramas onto the ones being represented in the narrative" (44).



    Pathos, of course, is used in films, and other stories, that are not melodramas. Anthony Asquith's The Browning version (UK 1951), for example, has moments of intense pathos but it is not a melodrama as it lacks most of the requisite characteristics of this mode – especially the film's lack of interest in polarising morality into presentations of "good" and "bad" with its emphasis on the complex psychology of its main protagonists. The dramatic emphasis in A night to remember, on the other hand, is on a dramatically polarised situation – escape from a sinking ship -- with little concern for the psychological complexity of its characters. Pathos is often an integral, although not mandatory, element in melodrama because, as Williams argues, of the desire of audiences to be "moved by a moving picture" (Williams 47) where the big sensation scenes can consist of both prolonged "masculine" action and prolonged "feminine" pathos (59). This use of pathos, in melodrama, is designed to provoke a "sense of loss" (70) and she cites Franco Moretti's essay "Kindergarten" which analyzes the phenomenon of crying and his argument that it often "occurs when what one character knows is reconciled with what another knows, but "too late". In death scenes, for example, tears unite us not to the victim who dies but to the survivors who recognize the irreversibility of time" (Williams 70) Tears, she continues, are a "product of powerlessness" (71). This is crucial in the last few scenes in A night to remember when the survivors return the next morning to the place where the ship sank and the film ends with an emotional reminder of what has been lost with images such as a cello floating in the sea (a reference to the musicians who stayed behind and went down with the ship), a baby's crib and the rocking horse associated with Robert Lucas and his family. Here, the dominant feeling is of being "too late".



    Although there are secondary villains in most of the films – such as "Cal" Hockley in Cameron's film and, perhaps, the "Chairman" in Baker's film (see below) -- the giant iceberg that fatally damages the ship performs the traditional melodramatic function of violating "innocence". After the iceberg hits the ship the film's dramatic structure is inherently melodramatic with the dramatic focus reduced primarily to one of survival, or what Peter Brooks terms the drama of the "excluded middle".[7] Within this structure it would be possible to devise a tragic strand if the focus was less on the external threat and more on the internalised conflict of personal guilt and "divideness"[8], especially if it involved a central character. There is but a brief hint of the possibilities of such a drama in the reaction of the ship's designer, Thomas Andrews, to the plight of the Titanic after it hits the iceberg in A night to remember.



    However, none of the seven film versions takes this option and all retain the basic structure of melodrama. This assertion depends on making sure that melodrama is seen in its appropriate historical and aesthetic context, such as the one provided by Linda Williams in her recent study, Playing the race card: melodramas of black and white from Uncle Tom to O.J. Simpson:



    It would be a mistake to perceive a form as contemporaneously vital and adaptable as melodrama as only a reprise of the supposedly archaic emotional forms of the nineteenth-century stage. If emotional and moral registers are sounded, if a work invites us to feel sympathy for the virtues of beset victims, if the narrative trajectory is ultimately concerned with a retrieval and staging of virtue through adversity and suffering, then the operative mode is melodrama. The kind of novelistic, theatrical, or cinematic realism that introduces the look and feel of real city streets, contemporary social problems, or more complex psychological motives is perfectly compatible with what needs to be regarded as an ever-modernizing melodrama.[9]



    Other studies have questioned the perception of melodrama as the antithesis of realism. Christine Gledhill, for example, cites studies by David Mayer and Thomas Postlewait that the "opposition implied between melodrama and realism simplifies the complexity of their relationship To unravel this paradox requires a dialectical concept of melodrama -- realism relations and of their role in modern culture's changing values"(Gledhill 235). For, as Christopher Williams points out, "realism" is not a "singular or univocal style": (C Williams 217)



    [W]e as spectators make strong demands for reference from movies as from other art and communications forms. The directions, the modes and the force of these references vary, exercising themselves in different ways and in relation to different aspects of film and television works, and of emotional, cultural and social life. We need films to be about life in one way or another, but we allow them latitude about how they meet this need. In response to this, films offer the spectating subject and audiences a range and interplay of conventions in action: technical, formal, narrative, non-realist, generic, cultural, social, realist, specialist or some combination of these. Since this is so, the relationship between the reading subject and the film is one of negotiation and interpretation. (C Williams 211)



    Richards' reference to A night to remember as a "neo-realist classic" does not help as it reinforces the view that "realism" denotes a singular style, which he calls "documentary authenticity"(114). Christopher Williams, on the other hand, shows that realism in films is "normally multiple and heterogeneous"[10] and is usually "accompanied either by their opposite, anti-realism, or by their non-identical different, which might be more useful to think of as non-realism" (217). For example, Meet me in St. Louis (USA 1944), he argues, combines "realism and anti-realism" (217).



    At the same time it is multiply realist – on all three levels of emotional truth, interest in appearances and deep analytical structure – and anti-realist, in that it makes these levels coexist with elements of music, song and dance which simultaneously translate the work to a different level, the main concerns of which are show and performance. A strong link between the two sides is emotion, and its strength does not have the effect of collapsing the articulations between the film's aspects. In fact it can be argued that the film is dynamic precisely because it is doing both different things at once, and that criticism has some difficulty in deciding whether one side is more important than the other. (217-218)



    Similarly, a neo-realist "classic" such as Bicycle thieves (Italy 1948), Christopher Williams points out, is "an astute blending of realistic elements ...with anti-realist ones" (218).



    Richards' attempt to define the "documentary" style of A night to remember via the "code of conduct for documentaries laid down by Cavalcanti, himself a documentarist turned feature-filmmaker, in 1948" (61-2) is not adequate. The maxims outlined by Cavalcanti amount to little more than a sweeping set of generalisations that do not differentiate between wartime documentaries and the fictional films produced by Hollywood at the same time. Compare, for example, these "maxims" with the aesthetic principles outlined by David Bordwell for the "classical" Hollywood cinema prior to 1960.[11] Such "maxims" included do "not forget when you are filming, each take is part of a sequence and each sequence is part of the whole: the most beautiful take, taken out of place, is worse than the most banal" and do "not invent camera angles when they are not necessary: gratuitous angles are distracting, and destroy emotion" and do "not be confused in your argument: a truthful subject should be told with clarity and simplicity" (Bordwell 62).



    Even if some kind of "objective truth" could be established, and each version was compared with this "truth" as Richards attempts to do, the "mistakes" and alterations in A night to remember render this principle of little real value. These "mistakes" range from the relatively unimportant – such as the painting that dominates the screen behind Thomas Andrews in the first class smoking room as the ship starts to go down, which should have been of Plymouth Harbour instead of "The approach to the new world"(33) -- to the recreation of the ship's final moments. In actuality, as Cameron's version shows, the Titanic broke into two parts before sinking beneath the water – not the sliding beneath the waves as in Baker's film (58). Similarly, despite the fact that survivor Joseph Boxhall wept at a screening of the finished film (33), another survivor, Violet Jessup complained that there were numerous "mistakes", including the fact that she "begged" costume designer Yvonne Caffin not to put women on board in "beflowered, beplumed hats of the period as American women (and they were mostly Americans) would never wear street hats on board and look what met your eyes at the Captain's table! Everything except the kitchen stove on their heads!" (33-34)



    A night to remember begins with a pre-credit sequence which has no basis in reality -- the film shows a wealthy woman launching the Titanic, flanked by Thomas Andrews and White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay (referred throughout the film only as the "Chairman"). This is followed by newsreel footage of liner sliding down the slipway to the water. This, Richards admits, was entirely fabricated as the Titanic was launched without any formal ceremony and there was no footage of the ship sliding down the slipway (56-7). Similarly, whilst Richards is critical of James Cameron's Titanic for presenting Lightoller as speaking with a pukka accent (113) he admits that Kenneth More as Lightoller in Baker's film lacks the appropriate "West Country" accent (36). The middle-class accent of Kenneth More was more in keeping with his prominent part in the film and the film's attempt to satisfy the expectations of its target audience. Historian Richard Howells writes that "Kenneth More's Lightoller ...speaks with 'received pronunciation': that is to say, the text-book, middle-class English still associated with radio and television newsreaders The character of Lightoller, therefore, has been elevated in class terms, by the use of Kenneth More's middle-class accent".[12] Even though Richards is critical of the 1979 American teleplay S.O.S Titanic because it included a fictional character, American schoolteacher Leigh Goodwin (Richards: "So much for authenticity"), Baker's film also contained many "composite" characters -- such as Murphy (the Irish leader) and the gambler Hoyle while Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff are presented as Sir Richard and Lady Richard (57) Other characters lose their American nationality and are transformed into British passengers (74) -- including Robert Lucas, his wife and children, honeymooners Mr and Mrs Clarke and the gambler Jay Yates (played by distinctive British actor Ralph Michael). When questioned as to why he changed Yates from an American to a British gambler, who swims away to his death rather than climb into a crowded upturned boat, Roy Baker noted that "it was a British film made by British artists for a British audience" (74). Richard Howells, however, points out that the sinking of the Titanic was a "truly Anglo-American event" as it "was a British registered ship, built with American money, captained and sailed by a British crew, and patronized -- certainly in first-class -- most prominently by American passengers" (Howells 421). Dramatic licence justifies Baker's decision to foreground the British experience, just as Richards notes that the 1953 Hollywood version "is very much an American version of the tragedy "(27) but such examples reinforce the fact that, as a rule, aesthetic and commercial considerations take precedence over historical "authenticity".



    Both films show Wallace Hartley and his band playing different tunes as the ship sinks. The Hollywood film plays the "Bethany" version of the hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee", written by the American Dr Lowell Mason, whilst A night to remember plays the "Horbury" version written by the British minister John Bacchus Dykes in 1881. On the other hand Walter Lord, whose book provides most of the historical information for Baker's film, maintains that the tune played was the Anglican hymn "Autumn" and this theory was based on the memory of wireless operator Harold Bride. Although other films use "Autumn", no film, Richards argues, has ever used the most likely version of "Nearer, My God, to Thee", Sir Arthur Sullivan's "Propior Deo". Richards points out that as Wallace Hartley was a devout Methodist, this version would most likely have been the one used – a thesis supported by his family who were so convinced of this fact that they carved the opening bars of "Propior Deo" on a monument above Hartley's grave (120-1)



    These "mistakes", changes and alterations to the known facts do not make A night to remember a lesser film. Nevertheless, if historical veracity were the sole or primary criteria for its "definitive" status then audiences would be better served by one of the recent documentaries screened on television at the time of the release of Cameron's film. To assess Roy Baker's film, as Richards indicates, one has to move beyond just a comparative exercise into which version is closest to the known facts. Baker, in describing the role of the director, wrote that the "two OK words for this process are selection and emphasis"[13] and this provides an insight into why the seven sound versions are so different. Not every version, for example, was conceived or released as a theatrical feature film. The S.O.S Titanic was a joint venture of ABC Television in America and EMI and it was released in two versions – a 140 minute television program in America and a 109 minute feature film in Britain (103-4) while Titanic (1996) was a mini-series released on television in the US and on video in Britain. On the other hand the 1943 German produced Titanic was developed from an idea by Joseph Goebbels and Richards provides an excellent analysis of this aspect (17-22). However, as the book emphasises, no film is immune from its historical/cultural context – the difficulty is in explaining the exact basis of this relationship.



    Richards analyses A night to remember from the point of view of class, nation, gender, religion and ethnicity and even though there is always a danger in isolating themes within a film from the whole film,[14] the issue of class is central to any analysis of A night to remember – despite recent claims from Roy Baker and William MacQuitty that there was no conscious social critique intended by their film. Class, as Richards argues, "is one of the structuring features of the film as it cuts back and forth principally between first class and steerage."[15] Baker begins the film by showing representatives of each class at the start of their journey to board the Titanic -- Sir Richard and his wife represent the first class passengers, the honeymooners, the Clarkes, the second class whilst a group of Irish emigrants, including Murphy, represent the steerage passengers. Later, in one of the film's most striking sequences, the film cuts from the Irish emigrants in steerage vigorously singing 'We're Off to Philadelphia in the morning" to a long tracking shot of Sir Richard and his wife walking through the first-class dining room. Later, as the Titanic begins to founder, Baker cuts from the first-class women boarding the life-boats to the Irish trying to escape from steerage to the upper deck, and the lifeboats. Along the way they encounter a number of physical barriers, including a locked door preventing their entry into second class, as well as a steward who also tries to block their escape. Eventually they make it to the first-class dining room where Kate, one of Irish women, gasps in awe at the lavish surroundings.



    The elitism of the first class passengers is foregrounded in a seemingly light-hearted moment soon after the iceberg hits the ship. The steerage passengers, unaware that the ship will soon sink, play an impromptu game of soccer with a large piece of the ice. Their game is watched by an obviously wealthy English couple from the upper deck:



    Man: Oh, well-played sir! (excited by the spectacle) I say, let's go down and join the fun!



    Woman: But they're steerage passengers!



    Later, as the situation becomes very serious, displays of selfishness and irritation from the first-class passengers become more frequent-when a wealthy woman is ordered to assemble on the deck she tells everybody that this is "tiresome" as "everybody knows this ship cannot sink". When news that the ship is sinking becomes widespread the first-class passengers are shown clamouring for their valuables at the purser's office. More significantly, when most of the upper class women are in life boats, and many other people dying in the sea, it is suggested to Lady Richard that their boat, which is less than half full, should return and pick up people in the water. She responds by refusing the request: "we're crowded enough as it is. I am most unwell". This is a crucial scene as more people would have survived if some of the half empty life-boats had returned to rescue those in the sea – only one boat returned. As Lady Richard and her husband Sir Richard represent the real life Sir Cosmo and Lady Duff (Richards 57) and are used by Baker as representative of the British upper class, this scene is crucial and is presented as an indictment of this class regarding their attitude to the plight of the working and second class passengers who were less able to secure a berth in the lifeboats. Statistics show that 60 per cent of first-class passengers survived compared with 44 per cent second class and only 25 per cent of steerage-class passengers (8). Lady Richards's self-interested response is reinforced by the complaint from another wealthy woman in a life-boat who complains, with people dying in the water, that a sailor is smoking ("People ought to control themselves"). This attitude is contrasted with the response of Molly Brown, a brash, unpretentious American woman who orders the women to assist in rowing the life boat and, later, urges the sole sailor in the lifeboat, Quartermaster Hitchens, to go back and pick up people in the sea.



    Richards's analysis of A night to remember from the point of view of "nation", "gender", "religion" and "ethnicity" is less convincing as it appears imposed rather than flowing logically from the overall film. There is, however, one interesting aspect that could have been more fully developed. This concerns the presentation of the "Chairman" in the film. The name of the Chairman is never revealed although it is clearly J. Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star shipping line. Rank, fearing a libel suit, decided that he should only be referred to as "the Chairman"(57). William MacQuitty later claimed that the sensitivity of the Ismay family disrupted the shooting of A night to remember. Filming extended from October 15, 1957, to March 4, 1958 and as the Rank studio tank was not large enough to allow long shots of the lifeboats and passengers in the water, location filming took place at Ruislip Lido, a reservoir near Pinewood Studios, from October 15 to October 23. There was, however, no cooperation from the shipping companies, as MacQuitty discovered after planning the first locations shots showing the lifeboats filled with passengers being lowered down the side of the Titanic. As they needed these scenes to be shot at night from a ship with the same colours as the Titanic, MacQuitty sought permission from the Shaw Savill Company because their davits were the same as the Titanic:



    We were promised the use of one of their ships during a weekend when it was in the Port of London at Royal Dock between voyages to South Africa. Meanwhile I bought lifeboats identical to those of the Titanic from the Franconia, which was being broken up. These were on their way from Scotland by road and shooting was due to begin on a Friday. On Thursday a very embarrassed Shaw Savill port captain telephoned me to say that the line's chairman had decided against the film. Permission to use one of the ships had therefore been withdrawn. Later I heard that the chairman was a friend of the Ismay family. This sensitivity could be accounted for by the fact that the Ismays were closely linked to the Titanic story through their interests in the White Star Line. The ship itself had been the fulfilment of the vision of J.Bruce Ismay as managing director of White Star. Subsequently, having survived the disaster, he came in for public criticism for what was seen as his erratic behaviour during the emergency of the sinking. [16]



    MacQuitty was also denied cooperation from the other major shipping companies and, desperate, he contacted Thomas Ward, Clyde shipbreakers, and he flew to Helensburgh where they were breaking up an old steamship, the RMS Asturias. MacQuitty found that the port side had already been demolished but the starboard side was intact so by fixing a mirror on the camera, and ensuring that all lettering was written backwards, filming could take place after Glasgow art students painted the white ship black (MacQuitty 14) Stunt men were then paid a pound a foot for the eighty-foot drop into the icy waters of the Clyde. However, when MacQuitty discovered that the property department had supplied the stunt men with heavy cork lifejackets he quickly substituted kapok for cork as the jackets would have broken the men's necks as they hit the water (14).



    Aside from the iceberg, the destructive force that destroys the ship, "the Chairman" is the symbolic "villain" in A night to remember. He is important on two levels of meaning – literally through the presentation of his behaviour during the crises – and, more importantly, what he represents in British society. Initially he is presented as a blustering nuisance and after the iceberg hits the ship Lightoller tells him on more than one occasion to keep out of the way. One rebuke is so strong that a member of the crew expects that there will be trouble from the Chairman when they reach New York. Finally, in direct violation of Captain Smith's orders that women and children must be given preference, Ismay sneaks aboard a lifeboat ahead of women and children waiting to board the boat. A close-up of an officer supervising the boats registers his disgust at Ismay's action. Richards cites Baker's interpretation of this action, 45 years after the film, as the Chairman's determination to go back and take responsibility for the disaster (79). This, based on the evidence of the way the film presented this incident and the close-up of the officer on the ship registering his disgust, is not a convincing interpretation.



    The "Chairman", in effect, is the traditional melodramatic villain and he "personalises" the more thematic "villain" – British hubris. The natural disaster that destroyed the Titanic in A night to remember can be interpreted as retribution on a nation that arrogantly believed it would overcome all obstacles – natural and made-made. This theme of a nation blind to its own hubris is introduced early in the film when a pompous passenger on a train carrying Lightoller and his wife objects to Lightoller's reference to an advertisement for Vinolia Otto toilet soap for the use of first-class passengers on the Titanic. When Lightoller jokingly says "the rest don't wash, of course", the man (Mr Bull, "the typical Englishman"), interprets Lightoller's light-hearted comments as unpatriotic, as a criticism of England.



    Mr Bull: My wife and I find your sneering remarks in bad taste. Let those who wish to belittle their country's achievements do so in private. Every Britisher is proud of the unsinkable Titanic



    This is followed by Bull's comment that the "newspapers say she [Titanic] is a veritable floating city, a symbol of progress, of man's final victory over nature and the elements". Yet, as the film demonstrates, this smug, self-satisfied attitude resulted in an enormous loss of life, especially amongst the most vulnerable citizens. Significantly, this theme is foregrounded late in the film, in a lifeboat, in a key dialogue exchange between Second Officer Charles Lightoller and Colonel Archibald Gracie. Uncharacteristically, Richards's citation of this incident is incomplete (69). It should read:



    Lightoller: If we had been steaming a few knots slower, or if we sighted that berg a few seconds earlier, we might not even had struck. If we carried enough lifeboats for the size of the ship instead of just enough to meet the regulations, things would have been different again, wouldn't they?



    Gracie Maybe, but you have nothing to reproach yourself with. You've done all that any man could and more. You're not [pause], I was going to say, you're not God, Mr Lightoller.



    Lightoller: No seamen ever thinks he is. I have been at sea since I was a boy, I have been in sail, I've even been shipwrecked before. I know what the sea can do, but this is different.



    Gracie: Because we hit an iceberg?



    Lightoller: No! Because we were so sure, because even though it's happened, it's still unbelievable. I don't think I'll ever feel sure again -- about anything.



    Lightoller's reaction to the disaster makes clear that the responsibility belongs to a society that was so sure of itself that it failed to protect its citizens by providing sufficient lifeboats to carry all of its passengers to safety. This is reiterated in the film's written epilogue which approximates the tone and style of the "propaganda" films common in the early years of the Second World War. These films tried to reassure wartime audiences that military disasters at places such as Pearl Harbor, Wake Island and Bataan[17] were only the part of the story, not the end of the story. Similarly, A night to remember ends with the following epilogue:



    But this is not the end of the story -- for their sacrifice was not in vain. Today there are lifeboats for all. Unceasing radio vigil and, in the North Atlantic, the international ice patrol guards the sea lanes making them safe for the peoples of the world.



    This represents a substitute for the conventional third act in melodrama. Traditionally the bulk of the drama is concerned with the blockage to the realisation to desire (Brooks 31-32) with the expectation that, finally, "virtue is freed from what blocked the realization of its desire, and evil is expelled from the universe". The basic facts of the Titanic story are so well known, however, that it is impossible to contrive a last minute rescue. Thus, whilst the iceberg function as the "blockage", the writers in each version are forced to devise a third act which will satisfy the traditional expectation of sentimental and/or heroic catharsis. Whilst James Cameron's version opts for the familiar "reconciliation in death" epilogue where the lovers, Rose and Jack, are reunited on the Titanic to the applause of the passengers, A night to remember opts for a more socially conscious epilogue where the sacrifice of those lost in the disaster is redeemed by the fact that "their sacrifice was not in vain. Today there are lifeboats for all".



    When Richards attempts to place the other films in their cultural/historical context he is less convincing. For example, he argues that the 1953 20th Century Fox production was a "Titanic for the Cold War"(24) with a "narrative line ...that] stresses the unity and sanctity of the American family, redeemed and re-established at the end... The 1950s was very much the decade of the idealized American family, particularly in long running television sitcoms such as Father knows best, The Aldrich family and The adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Titanic conforms precisely to that ideal" (25) Richards concludes that this is "very much an American version of the tragedy. There are no British passengers. The crew, however, are British and so is the ship There is no particular desire to vilify the British" (27).



    However, Richards detects a "distinctly anti-English bias" (112) in James Cameron's version and with "its emphasis on female liberation, freedom of choice, the primacy of spontaneity, instincts and 'let it all hang out' emotion, hostility to materialism, class privileges and the English, this is very much a film in tune with the sensibilities of 1990s Hollywood and beyond that of liberal Clintonian America" (114). However, the popular cinema is not as carefully tuned to the prevailing social and cultural ethos as he asserts. If it is, then the specific mechanics of this process are still a mystery to most film producers– as the producers of Pearl Harbor discovered in the relatively poor response to their film. To argue that the 1953 film Titanic endorsed broad [American] family values is not very helpful beyond an obvious conclusion that between 1953 (Negulesco's film) and 1997 (Cameron's film) there was a general liberalisation of sexual representation on the screen and that young people were allowed greater freedom than their counterparts forty five years earlier. As for the "stress on the unity and sanctity of the American family" in the 1953 film and popular 1950s American television programs, many other long-running American television programs, such as Little house on the prairie in the 1970s, reaffirmed these ideals long after 1953. Similarly, Richards's claim that Titanic reflected "Clintonian values ... is too broad to have much value -- it also describes, for example, Julie Christie's character in John Schlesinger's 1963 British film, Billy Liar – a far cry from Bill Clinton and the so-called dominant American values of the 1990s.



    Richards's book is, in effect, another attempt to argue that popular film "reflects", in some way, the values of the society in which it is produced. Whilst earlier studies[18] benefited from the existence of hundreds of genre films over a long period of time, Richards is constrained by the small number of films -- seven -- in his study. Nevertheless, the nature of the relationship between popular film and social meaning is an important one and, in a chapter in Reinventing film studies, Christine Gledhill revisits this issue by questioning the value of genre studies as it is commonly practised in Film Studies. Gledhill writes: "To understand exactly how the social and films interact we need a concept of genre capable of exploring the wider contextual culture in relationship" (Gledhill 221) and that crucial "to the modern genre system and to the understanding the shifting borders between high and mass culture is the rise in the nineteenth century of melodrama" (222). She concludes that melodrama is not, nor ever was, a singular genre but can be conceived in "two interdependent ways: first, as an early cultural machine for the mass production of popular genres capable of summoning up and putting into place different kinds of audience; second, as a modality, understood as a culturally conditioned mode of perception and aesthetic articulation." (227)



    If critical attention is directed, at least initially, away from specific films and genres, and melodrama is perceived as the major dramatic mode in the last two centuries where action and sentiment, pathos and spectacle are combined in a "composite aesthetic and dramatic modality, capable of different emphases and generic offshoots" (Gledhill 230), a conceptual space is established to explore many of the issue addressed in Richards's book. Thus, Gledhill argues, melodrama should be perceived as a "genre-producing machine" (227) which precedes analysis of specific genres as they are sub-genres of this overriding modality. Similarly, instead of creating a dichotomy between melodrama and realism, as Richards does, this relationship should be seen as a dialectical one. The cultural verisimilitude assumed by a film, or what society accepts as reality, can, over a period of time, be shown to "shift under the polemic of realism" (Gledhill 235). Thus, A night to remember, as Richards points out, tells us something about stylistic preferences and cultural ideals in England in the 1940s and 1950s. This, however, should not be confused with "reality". A night to remember should be perceived as subdued British melodrama able to move audiences with its scenes of pathos and heroic action, even if they are presented in the typical postwar style involving "good taste, restraint [and] reticence".



    Geoff Mayer,

  2. #2
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    Heh. The author of that piece, Geoff Mayer, is a lecturer of mine at university here in Melbourne. He has recently completed a book on Roy Ward Baker due for publication shortly through Manchester University press.

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    Senior Member Country: Wales David Challinor's Avatar
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    I recall hearing that Sean Connery made his film debut in this, my favourite Titanic film. It was brief and I'm sure non-speaking....I've viewed the film many times but hsve never caught him. Can anyone help ie - point towards a specific moment/scene where he appears.

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    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    David Challinor:

    I recall hearing that Sean Connery made his film debut in this, my favourite Titanic film. It was brief and I'm sure non-speaking....I've viewed the film many times but hsve never caught him. Can anyone help ie - point towards a specific moment/scene where he appears.
    Try asking at seanconnery.com .

    They list A Night to Remember (1957) in their filmography and include Sean as one of the cast.



    Please let us know what they say.



    Steve

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    Senior Member Country: UK DB7's Avatar
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    I've been told it's a myth (imdb don't list him) by some whilst others claim he's an extra during the ship's sinking.

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    Seen the film so many times, but just noticed a sizable gaff. At the end of the opening credits the producers acknowledge thanks to Joseph Boxhall (played by Kenneth More) who quite correctly was 4th Officer on the Titanic. Then, about two minutes into the film (scene in train compartment) Boxhall's wife introduces her husband as the 2nd officer!



    Was this a mistake or was (is) there some obscure rating system on Merchant Navy ships?

  7. #7
    Administrator Country: Wales Steve Crook's Avatar
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    Rennie:

    Seen the film so many times, but just noticed a sizable gaff. At the end of the opening credits the producers acknowledge thanks to Joseph Boxhall (played by Kenneth More) who quite correctly was 4th Officer on the Titanic. Then, about two minutes into the film (scene in train compartment) Boxhall's wife introduces her husband as the 2nd officer!



    Was this a mistake or was (is) there some obscure rating system on Merchant Navy ships?


    Or was she bragging to make him sound more important?



    Steve

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    Kenneth More actually played Herbert Lightoller, not Joseph Boxhall.

  9. #9
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    Just realised that David after sitting through another 15 minutes. Went to delete and spotted your posting. Now its my gaff!!!!!!!!!

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    Rennie:

    Just realised that David after sitting through another 15 minutes. Went to delete and spotted your posting. Now its my gaff!!!!!!!!!


    Fear not Rennie old mate, we all make gaffs on here, mainly coz of our aged failing(specially mine!) memories, that's why we're here - to remind eachother's memories and to correct eachother's gaffs! wink Regards, Decks.

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    So right, Decks. I often get confused and make gaffs, too...plenty of 'em. It's my age, I suppose. Don't worry, Rennie, old chum. You're in good company with all us old codgers on here.

  12. #12
    Senior Member Country: Wales David Challinor's Avatar
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    This web site... http://www.moviemistakes.com/film1299 claims James Cameron's 1997 version of the famous sinking has 168 'gaffs'...Mr Cameron really did want his film bigger that GB's A Night to Remember, and in historical inaccuracies he certainly has achieved that. One thing that was never mentioned in all the hype that went with the Oscar-laden Hollywood film is that it unashamedly lifted at least two scenes from A Night to Remember completely.

  13. #13
    Rennie
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    Well what more can I say about all your outpouring of forgiveness!! Just a simple 'thank you' will have to suffice. Wish I could say 'less of the old codgers' bit, but sadly it is true. I can assure you all that in future I will really stop and think before hitting the 'Add' button.

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    David Challinor:

    This web site... http://www.moviemistakes.com/film1299 claims James Cameron's 1997 version of the famous sinking has 168 'gaffs'...Mr Cameron really did want his film bigger that GB's A Night to Remember, and in historical inaccuracies he certainly has achieved that. One thing that was never mentioned in all the hype that went with the Oscar-laden Hollywood film is that it unashamedly lifted at least two scenes from A Night to Remember completely.


    In places Titanic resembles nothing more than an over-priced remake of A Night To Remember - IMHO

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    I think somebody has been confused here. I append a list of the actors who played the deck officers in "A Night to Remember".



    Joseph Boxall acted as technical adviser on the film along with Harry Gratidge who was White Star's Marine Superintendent at one time. More didn't play Boxall see below:



    A Night to Remember cast.



    Captain Smith.Laurence Naismith

    Chief Officer Wilde Howard Lang

    First Officer MurdochRichard Leech

    Second Officer LightollerKenneth More

    Third Officer Pitman – Uncredited.

    Fourth Officer BoxallJack Watling

    Fifth Officer Lowe Harold Pays

    Sixth Officer MoodyMichael Bryant

  16. #16
    Senior Member Country: UK Wee Sonny MacGregor's Avatar
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    'A Night to Remember' does it everytime for me.



    Lightholler was a remarkable guy. He joined a "Capehorner" in 1888 at the age of 13, was shipwrecked 4 times, prospected for gold in the Klondyke, commanded destroyers in WW1, rammed a U-boat and took his 60ft yacht to Dunkirk in 1940 to bring back troops. Someone could make a film of his non-Titanic adventures!

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    There is no doubt that Bill McQuitty identified Lightoller as the central character in the film. For A Night to remember buffs I recommend reading the book "The Definitive Titanic Film - A Night to Remember " by Jeffrey Richards. A British Film Guide Published by I. B. Taurus. It gives a vast amount of background information, a critique and compares other cinema versions of the story.

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    I have a copy of Jeffrey Richard's book and a very thorough job he has done too. What one must 'remember' is that wihtin the constraints of technology and budgets of the 1950s McQuitty did a pretty good job! If James Cameron had simply 're-made' A Night to Remember making corrections due to the inordinate amount of information which has come to light since the discovery of the wreck, we would have had an all time classic!



    But, of course, it was not to be! And would a simple re-make have brought in the pennies?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Allan Condie
    I have a copy of Jeffrey Richard's book and a very thorough job he has done too. What one must 'remember' is that wihtin the constraints of technology and budgets of the 1950s McQuitty did a pretty good job! If James Cameron had simply 're-made' A Night to Remember making corrections due to the inordinate amount of information which has come to light since the discovery of the wreck, we would have had an all time classic!



    But, of course, it was not to be! And would a simple re-make have brought in the pennies?
    A Night To Remember is in many (most?) respects superior to Titanic due to its documentary approach and the integrity of the script.... and all done without digital effects.

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    Hey! DB7 - did you type that lot in or do you have some electronic gadget - OCR for instance? :

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