July 3, 2012
Inevitably, the ship hits an iceberg. The passengers initial downplay any concern, but the crew is immediately concerned and mobilized. Ship engineer Bell (Andrew Keir) confirms to the captain that the Titanic will sink. Lifeboats are readied and filled with first class women and children, generally against their will. The men, left behind, become gradually agitated as the lifeboats diminish in number and it becomes obvious that the ship will soon sink. Soon there is nearly a panic, though a few noble souls wait for their doom placidly or with alcohol.
Meanwhile, officers on the nearby ship California ignore the telegraph messages and rockets dispatched by the doomed Titanic. Instead, the Carpathia steams to the rescue, though it arrives two hours late and can only pick up the 700+ survivors of the initial 2,000+ crew, mostly from lifeboats.
How others will see it. A Night to Remember was the most costly J. Arthur Rank production to date, and boasted a screenplay by heralded mystery writer Eric Ambler. It was a box office success in England. Nonetheless, it was ignored by BAFTA and the Oscars, managing only a Golden Globe nomination for Best English-Language Foreign Film.
Critical appraisal has improved over the years, and the film was purportedly the inspiration for James Cameron's spectacular cinematic success some four decades later. Today, at imdb.com, A Night to Remember has an exemplary 8.0 user rating, though there is a spread between women under 30 and over 45. The younger age group gives it an 8.3, while the older women grade it a still high 7.6.
Compared to Cameron's more famous version, any love stories in the 1958 version are very minor subplots, and no woman commands more than a dozen or so lines.
How I felt about it. There is much inherent drama in the sinking of the Titanic, and the production takes a semi-documentary approach to its demise. Many human interest stories are presented, mostly based on Walter Lord's exhaustively researched book on the sinking. We see, for example, a young woman leaving her cabin for the lifeboats with her "lucky pig" of nominal value in place of more valuable jewelry. There are various scenes with a gallant husband trying to convince a doubtful, clinging wife that she must go on the lifeboat without him.
We also see steerage passengers become irate when they are not permitted to enter the higher first class areas, even as the nearly freezing seawater is seeping into their compartments. Eventually the scene becomes chaotic as men attempt to force their way into lifeboats reserved for women and children.
A Night to Remember tries hard to be realistic, and mostly succeeds, though accounts of minor infractions can be found on the internet. It benefits from the absence of Celine Dion's dire vocals and the dubious DiCaprio-Winslet subplot of the Titanic blockbuster. The 1958 shows people at their best and worst, whether they are men or women, or rich or poor. The crew are almost always depictedly favorably, manning the engine rooms and telegraph until the final moments.