4/9/12: A Night to Remember

“The first five compartments are flooding. She’s going to sink, Captain.” “But, she can’t sink. She’s unsinkable.”

Saturday April 14 marks the 100th year anniversary of the tragic sinking of the passenger liner RMS Titanic. It’s no mere coincidence (as if something as mystical as ‘coincidence’ could possibly be described as ‘mere’) that Titanic 3D was released on 4/4/12 to allow it to be up & fully running in conjunction with the centennial. And a tip of the Captain’s Cap to Christine Packnick, Assistant Manager of Rave Motion Pictures Southington, who runs the theater’s Monday afternoon Cinema Classics series for scheduling A Night to Remember on the first Monday after the historic anniversary. A Night to Remember is a fine drama directed by Roy Ward Baker loosely documenting the widely publicized maiden & singular voyage of the “unsinkable” ship. The film was originally released in the U.S. for the Christmas season of ’58.

Baker directed 35 full length movies, including two TV movies, most of which are largely forgettable. The most notable are A Night to Remember and The Snows of Kilimanjaro. He was an uncredited Co-Director of Kilimanjaro along with Henry King, who was credited for directing the 1952 release. The Snows of Kilimanjaro, which  stars Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward & Ava Gardner, was nominated for the 25th Academy Awards’ Color Cinematography and Color Art Direction Oscars. It’s based on the 1936 Hemingway short story and is a great film but for embarrassing performance turned in by Gardner. A Night to Remember is, to my mind, a better film. It wasn’t nominated for any Oscars, but won a Golden Globe for Best English Language Foreign Film.

A Night to Remember has an ensemble cast featuring: Kenneth More as Second Officer Lightoller, who before the ship launches proudly proclaims to his wife that he’d “rather be Second on the Titanic than First, or even Chief on any other ship”; Lawrence Naismith as Captain Smith; and Tucker McGuire as Molly Brown, to name just a few of the fine performances turned in on this motion picture. Lightoller, the highest ranking officer to survive the disaster, was called up from the Royal Naval Reserves in World War I and further distinguished himself as a retired war hero saving British soldiers with his private yacht during the Second World War’s evacuation of Dunkirk. As Molly Brown in Cameron’s Titanic, Kathy Bates’ resemblance to Tucker’s portrayal is striking & seemingly an homage to A Night to Remember, especially considering that the role was originally was offered to & accepted by Reba McEntire until scheduling conflicts prevented her from doing the film.

The special effects and cinematography are top-notch for 1958. Early in the film, footage of what seems to be the actual Titanic docked in & departing from Southampton ENGLAND is blended into the film nicely, if not transparently. The quality discrepancies are so striking that the viewer is fully aware of the inclusion of the segments of the “news reels”. The footage, however, is not of the Titanic because no such film existed then nor has been located since. It’s actual footage of the ships Queen Elizabeth and Mauretania, and a segment culled from the 1943 Nazi propaganda film Titanic.

A Night to Remember makes no apology for the inadequacies of the safety precautions on the Titanic, nor the Upstairs Downstairs distinction between & treatment of the two classes of passengers aboard it. It’s been reported by a number of survivors that the last song the band performed was Nearer My God to Thee. As in both Jean Negulesco’s 1953 version and Cameron’s Titanic, A Night to Remember documents this little known fact as the ship is fast approaching doom with a fine rendention of Nearer My God to Thee performed & sung by the ship’s band. The ship goes down in one piece in the movie because it wasn’t known until 1985, when the wreckage of the Titanic was discovered, that it split in two while sinking.

So, if you get a chance, go to the Rave Southington on Monday April 16 at 3:00 and check out Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember. It’s only $3 and comes with a small popcorn & a small soft drink!!


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