Film / Titanic (1943)

Titanic (1943) is, as the name implies, an adaptation of the Real Life story of the RMS Titanic, which sank in the early-morning hours of April 15, 1912, at the cost of some 1500 lives. What makes this version unique is that it was a German production made by Those Wacky Nazis, right in the middle of World War II, as a piece of anti-British propaganda. In this version, White Star Line president Bruce Ismay is pushing Captain Smith to sail at unsafe speeds because Ismay wants the Titanic to win the Blue Ribbon award for the fastest Atlantic crossing. This will push up the price of White Star stock and help Ismay, who is deep in debt, fend off a hostile takeover from John Jacob Astor. Capt. Smith ignores both the ice warnings and the advice of his honest, brave, and entirely fictional German First Officer Petersen, and the Titanic sails to its doom.

The backstory behind the production of this film is almost as unfortunate as the real story of the Titanic. Frustrated with the massive production troubles and uncooperative actors, Director Herbert Selpin mouthed off a little too much about the German war effort during production, and wound up getting arrested by the Gestapo. Werner Klingler finished the film, while Selpin was found hanged in a prison cell, probably murdered. The film itself had some brief theatrical runs around Nazi-occupied Europe but was banned in Germany itself, after Goebbels decided that scenes of people running around in panic would not be good in a Germany that was being punished by Allied bombing. The ship used for filming, the SS Cap Arcona, was sunk by Allied bombers on May 3, 1945, while transporting German concentration camp prisoners. About 5,000 prisoners died, over three times the loss of life in the sinking of the Titanic.

The heavy-handed, crude propaganda keeps this from being a very good movie, but it is of historical interest for anyone studying Nazi cinema or cinematic portrayals of the Titanic disaster. A few brief clips from this film were used as stock footage in the vastly superior A Night to Remember. James Cameron has never admitted taking any inspiration from this movie, but some of the plot points in his Titanic (1997) —a suspected jewel thief of a blue diamond, an innocent man being locked in the master-at-arms' cabin, where he sees water flooding in before he's liberated by his comrade chopping down a door; a woman headed for an Arranged Marriage who rejects that idea after falling in love on the ship; a First Class couple arguing in their cabin over the woman's alleged infidelity before being interrupted by a steward informing them to put on lifebelts; an arrogant first class passenger trying (and failing) to bribe his way onto a lifeboat; and a scene where the female lead is forced by the hero to board the last lifeboat, where she dramatically watches her lover disappear behind the railing as the lifeboat is lowered— resemble moments in this film. Additionally, this film's idea of interweaving fictional stories of passengers with the true story of the sinking and designating J. Bruce Ismay as the villain solely responsible for the disaster have been repeated in many subsequent dramatizations of the sinking.


  • An Aesop: Greed is bad! Capitalism is bad! Stock speculation is bad! And the British are bad! The closing title card calls the sinking "an eternal condemnation of England's quest for profit." The image of Britain as a land of greedy plutocrats was a frequent staple of Nazi propaganda films.
  • Arranged Marriage: Hedy the manicurist has been committed to marry the neighbors' son, but she refuses him after meeting Fritz the violinist and falling in love.
  • Artistic License History: Obviously, for the sake of propaganda and the simple fact that the filmmakers had little access to historical research materials. Still, this film is surprisingly not as bad at it as the 1953 Hollywood version.
  • As You Know: The film opens with Ismay addressing the board of the White Star Line and explaining a lot of things about the cost overruns of Titanic construction and White Star Line stock price, all things that the board would already have known.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: The English subtitles on the Kino Video DVD has some bizarre grammatical errors, the strangest of which is the spelling of Officer Murdoch's name as "Morlok."
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Bruce Ismay, who pushes the weak-willed Capt. Smith into sailing at full speed. Ismay thinks that winning the Blue Ribbon and getting all that good publicity will jack up the price of White Star Line stock and fend off John Jacob Astor's takeover.
  • Crash-Into Hello: Franz and Hedy collide with each other while going down a corridor in opposite directions.
  • Crying Little Kid: Petersen saves the life of a child that he finds abandoned in a First Class stateroom.
  • Dated History: In addition to all the deliberate errors made for propaganda, this film shows the Titanic going down in one piece. This was the commonly accepted version of events until the discovery of the wreck in The '80s proved that the Titanic broke in half.
  • Dirty Coward: John Jacob Astor and all the other First Class men who try to buy their way onto lifeboats. Also Ismay, who demands and gets a place on a boat (this was how people reacted in Real Life upon hearing that Ismay survived).
  • Fallen Princess / Riches to Rags: Sigrid Olinsky, Officer Petersen's old girlfriend, is a Russian aristocrat who finds out while on board that all her property and assets have been seized by the tsar. She loses her haughtiness and becomes more sympathetic after this.
  • Fanservice: The peasant girl in steerage, dancing in a see-through blouse.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Bruce Ismay, portrayed in this film as responsible for the disaster, when in reality it was Captain Smith who decided to ignore ice warnings. This is a trope that this film shares in common with the James Cameron film and many other films based on the sinking.
  • Idle Rich: The First Class passengers who aren't greedy stock market speculators are this. The contrast between the idiot aristocrats and the salt-of-the-earth Third Class passengers isn't subtle.
  • Ignored Expert: Petersen tries to convince Captain Smith to slow the ship down, and tries to convince Ismay to slow the ship down. Then he asks his ex-girlfriend Sigrid, a Russian countess that Ismay has been trying to get money from, to ask Ismay to slow the ship down. His efforts fail.
  • Intro Dump: The ship's detective and a ship's officer watch several characters descend the grand staircase, while the detective tells the officer (and the audience) who each of them are.
  • Jerkass: Bruce Ismay is an all-around dick. He browbeats Capt. Smith into sailing into the ice field, and he admits to his lover that he's going to romance Sigrid because he wants her money.
  • Karma Houdini: Despite the testimony of Officer Petersen, the British inquiry holds Bruce Ismay blameless in the sinking.
  • Money Is Not Power: Astor and the other aristocrats trying to buy their way onto lifeboats find this out.
  • Rich Bitch: Played straight with Madeleine Astor.
    • Subverted with Sigrid Olinsky, who is kind and loving, but also recently bankrupted.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Officer Petersen's reaction when British fat cats try and buy a place on a lifeboat.
  • Tempting Fate: Multiple references to the ship being unsinkable.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Captain Smith! Remember those ice warnings? Maybe slowing down would be a good idea.
  • Translation Convention: In full effect. Watching the story of the Titanic in German is a little disconcerting.
  • Trope Codifier: Arguably the first feature film about the Titanic disaster to have a fictional love story in the center of the historical plot, establish J. Bruce Ismay as the man responsible for the disaster, portray the stark differences between First and Third class passengers, and fictionalize various historical passengers aboard the ship for various melodramatic subplots. All of those conventions would later be emulated by other dramatizations of the sinking.
    • Also qualifies as an Unbuilt Trope, since this film doesn't romanticize the sinking and portrays it with gritty realism, showing horrific scenes of terrified passengers rushing about on deck in a panic and struggling in the freezing water. The Hollywood version that was produced by 20th Century Fox only a decade later would greatly sanitize the horror that went on as the ship sank, ironically making this Nazi Propaganda film the more historically authentic of the two.
  • Vehicle Title: First film ever based on the disaster to use the simple title Titanic.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Hopefully it goes without saying that a propaganda film made by Nazis isn't very historically accurate.
    • The White Star Line was a subsidiary of a private company, so it did not offer any stock and therefore did not have a stock price to worry about.
    • The model used to represent the Titanic has cowl vents and a very modern (by 1940s standards) looking stern.
    • Titanic sailed out of Southampton, not Liverpool as stated in the film. In fact, one of the reasons White Star Line chose Southampton as their main terminal was due to the fact that their newest ships were too big for Liverpool's harbor.
    • The real Mrs. Astor was 18 years old and heavily pregnant, not the older lady having an affair that the movie portrays.
    • There was no First Officer Petersen; inserting a German officer who vainly tries to save the greedy British from their destruction is one of the cruder propaganda elements in film. The First Officer of the Titanic was named William Murdoch, and he went down with the ship.
    • The idea that the Titanic was trying to break the Atlantic crossing speed record is a myth that arose well before the making of this film. The Titanic was too slow to break that record and everyone knew it.
    • Nothing remotely similar to the scene where a bunch of Third Class passengers go to First Class to find out what's going on ever happened.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Mrs. Astor has a boyfriend.