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Film / A Night to Remember

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Lucas: I'd like you to tell me something. I... I have a wife and three children on board. Just how serious is it? I'm not the panicking kind.
Andrews: The ship has about an hour to live. A little more, if some of the upper bulkheads hold, but not much more. Get your wife and children into the boats.

Before James Cameron's Titanic, there was A Night to Remember, a 1958 black-and-white British docudrama film about the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, directed by Roy Ward Baker and based on Walter Lord's nonfiction book of the same title chronicling the maritime disaster which claimed the lives of 1,517 of the 2,223 people on board.

Shot in a docudrama style and using groundbreaking special effects for the time, the film follows the stories of several of the ship's passengers and crew, from before her departure to her ultimate fate at the bottom of the Atlantic. It's as historically accurate as it could have been for the time, and it pretty much cemented the format for all disaster movies made from that point onwards.

Not to be confused with Remember the Night.

This film contains examples of:

  • Abandon Ship: Naturally, as this movie is a depiction of the most infamous example of this trope in human history. Captain Smith explicitly starts shouting this through his megaphone as the ship takes the final plunge.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Walter Lord's book opens moments before lookout Frederick Fleet spots the iceberg, but the film begins with Titanic's launch in 1911, the departure from Southampton on April 10th and the entire afternoon and evening of April 14th preceding the iceberg collision.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Second Officer Charles Lightoller becomes a bit softer in this adaptation than his real life counterpart. When Captain Smith gave the order of women and children first when lowering the boats, Lightoller took that order to mean women and children ONLY, whereas Murdoch, on the opposite side of the ship, was more relaxed, and allowed men into the boats if there were no women or children to put in them. In the film, when the father pushes for his son to enter the boat, stating he's only 13, Lightoller smilingly says the boy can look after his mother. His real life counterpart also let the boy in the boat, but grumbled "No more BOYS." The film accurately depicts the boarding of male passenger Major Arthur Peuchen. He was the only male passenger Lightoller willingly allowed to board a boat, due to his sea experience and a lack of crew members to man the lifeboat.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: Bruce Ismay is portrayed as a short and pudgy middle aged man with a pencil mustache. The real J. Bruce Ismay was a good deal more attractive.
  • Adapted Out: Mabel Francatelli, Lady Duff Gordon's personal secretary, is not featured boarding the infamous lifeboat #1, incorrectly bringing its number of occupants to eleven. (Though it's still mentioned by other characters that the boat has a "dozen" people in it.)
  • Age Lift: Edith Evans, who is seen being refused a seat in collapsible D (she was one of only five women and children in First Class who died in the sinking), is shown to be an elderly woman, but the real Edith Evans was only 36 at the time of her death.
  • Alcohol Hic: Given at one point by the drunken baker.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Inverted with the Strauses, who are portrayed as an elderly Hassidic couple with heavy Yiddish accents. In reality, Isidor and Ida (renamed Rachel in the film) were assimilated wealthy New Yorkers, who lived in the United States since childhood and would have spoken with an American accent.
  • Anyone Can Die: ...and 1,500 of them do.
  • Artistic License – History: While mostly accurate to real life, there are some errors here and there. Some are mistakes from the book the movie is based on, some are from Rule of Drama.
    • The film opens with Titanic being christened at her launch, which didn't happen as White Star never christened their ships.
    • While Titanic is at sea, smoke can be seen coming out of all four of her funnels. Only the first three were connected to the boiler rooms. The fourth was a dummy installed to make the ship look grander and also to provide ventilation to the kitchen and engineering spaces.Fun fact! 
    • Captain Lord remarks that Californian's passengers are "in no hurry - they wouldn't be with us if they were." While his ship was capable of carrying both passengers and cargo, Californian did not have any passengers on board during this voyage.
    • Titanic did not have a children's playroom.
    • The dramatic moment when Carpathia's wireless operator first overhears the distress call didn't happen. In reality, Carpathia learned of the disaster when their operator contacted Titanic, not the other way round. They were politely trying to let Titanic know Cape Race had messages for them.
    • When Ismay turns his back on the ship during its final moments, he is on the port (left) side. He departed the ship in Collapsible C, which was on the starboard (right) side.
    • Due to the expansion of Lightoller into the film's lead, he's made a bit softer than his real-life counterpart, and some of the things we see him do, such as firing the gun to prevent it from being stormed by panicked passengers, were actually done by other officers. Most of them are small however, and author Walter Lord admitted that he had no problem with the artistic licenses, since they were minor, and he understood that Lightoller needed a few extra moments to solidify himself as the film's lead.
    • One member of the band plays a clarinet, even though they only had string instruments.
    • John Phillips is depicted as being the wireless operator who struck (and potentially killed) a random crewman trying to steal his life-belt. In real life, the fight was entirely between Harold Bride and the unidentified crewman, with Bride being the one to strike him down, while Phillips continued working.
    • Captain Stanley Lord is depicted as being asleep in in his cabin wearing Pyjamas during the sinking, while in real life Lord was asleep in the chart room in full uniform. This is one of many things which the real Stanley Lord took offence to in his portrayal for the film.
  • Badass Longcoat: The officers on all three ships featured (the Titanic herself, the Carpathia, and the Californian) all wear badass greatcoats as part of their uniforms.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Titanic has fallen and 1500 people were lost, but the film concludes with a hopeful message that the story isn't finished and their sacrifice wasn't in vain. The disaster led to sweeping reform for future designs of cruise ships, among them more lifeboats for passengers and crew, more capacity for their lifeboats, unceasing radio communication, and the international ice patrol to scout for icebergs, so a disaster of that caliber doesn't happen again.
  • Brits Love Tea: After the engineers are told to stay below decks to keep the lights running as long as humanly possible and that a rescue ship would be there Real Soon Now - ridding them of any chance to get to the surface where they might survive - we get this resigned response;
    "Let's hope they're right, boys. If any of you feel like praying, you'd better go ahead. The rest of you can join me for a cup of tea."
  • Bystander Syndrome: The crew of the Californian calmly watch the Titanic sink while barely lifting a finger to do anything. The watch officers see six distress rockets be fired before even bothering to inform their captain who in turns shrugs them off. The senior watch man hears frantic wireless messages coming from Titanic, but decides not to disturb their sleeping wireless operator. By the time they realize what's happened and send a message to the Carpathia they're ready to assist in rescue efforts, it's already far, far too late.
  • Call-Back: The list of the ship is dramatized by a scene where a serving tray on wheels, in a first-class dining room, slides a few inches. Later, as the ship is listing badly, the serving tray is seen careening through the dining room and colliding with a cupboard full of plates.
  • Captain Oblivious: The crew of the Californian ignores all distress calls by the Titanic. Even after the Titanic mysteriously vanishes, they don't seem to notice that anything out of ordinary is going on.
  • Contrast Montage: At the start of the film, we see an upper-class English lady and her entourage, a middle-class newlywed couple and some Irish emigrants preparing for their voyage.
  • Dated History:
    • Titanic is shown sinking in one piece, which was the received wisdom at the time the film was made and the conclusion of both the US Senate and British Board of Trade inquiries. The discovery of the wreck in 1985 proved that it actually broke apart as it sank. To be fair no one is known to have observed this for certain (the break probably occured when the section was already under water), so it's not surprising none of the film's characters witness this happening.note 
    • Thomas Andrews says that the ship has suffered a 300ft gash. In the 1990s, a series of sonar scans determined that Titanic actually suffered a series of small holes. Obviously as with the above event we don't know how much information the real Andrews had at that point (any witnesses who saw the internal damage don't seem to have survived and obviously the outer hull below the water line could not be observed) so its not too shocking he's incorrect. He's also urgently trying to make the point Titanic is doomed at that moment and could be playing to the crowd.
  • The Determinator: Captain Rostron of the Carpathia, who tries to reach the Titanic before it sinks with no regard to the hazards facing his own shipnote . The crew of Titanic also count as they work to save the ship and the passengers until the last second even knowing in most cases they haven't got a hope in hell of saving their own lives.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Quite a few:
    • Sir Richard when addressing the girls who wave him and his wife off. ‘The workhouse kids. Making sure of their Christmas turkey from home farm’
    • Thomas Andrews: ‘She can’t float’ when Captain Smith claims Titanic is ‘unsinkable’ and ‘Yes we may’ to Robbie Lucas on ‘being on the same boat later’
    • Yates as the ship lists during a poker game. ‘What shall we play now gentlemen? Happy families?’
    • Harold Bride arguably delivers the most famous one which he apparently joked in real life: ‘Try SOS the new distress call. It may be the only chance you ever have’.
  • Death of a Child:
    • Most poignantly with the waiter who takes a young boy who's lost his mother under his wing, stops him from being crushed by the crowd... only for them to both drown minutes later.
    • In a later scene (that gets cut for broadcast more often than not), two of the Irish steerage passengers make it to the overturned Collapsible B with a child in their arms. They pass the infant to Lightoller. Lightoller takes one look inside the child's hood, realizes it's dead and sets it adrift in the ocean.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Captain Smith and Mr. Andrews comment on the fact that the Board of Trade's lifeboat regulations were not at all well thought out.
  • Dirty Coward: J. Bruce Ismay is depicted in this fashion when he scurries into a lifeboat at first opportunity. It's one of the movie's few inaccuracies (albeit one justified by the time), since contemporary reports indicate that Ismay, far from being a coward, strenuously worked hard to get people into the boats, helped launch them and only took a seat in one of the last boats to leave the ship having made sure that there were no women and children nearby. However, in the film, he's definitely a Dirty Coward—he can't look Murdoch in the eye, and Murdoch looks at Ismay with utter contempt before calling to lower the boat.
  • Disney Death: As Titanic begins her final plunge into the ocean the main Irish third class passengers are amongst those performing last rites and it seemed they all died. But somehow the young Irish man and most of his friends and family miraculously survive the sinking as though God answered they prayers. However the young man's father is missing and when he is not present on the Carapathia at the end of the film it symbolises he died during the sinking. And another Irish passenger who survived the sinking dies of hypothermia.
  • Distress Call: The Carpathia's radio operator is on the ball, and his equally diligent captain turns the ship around to race to the Titanic. However, when the Titanic fires distress rockets, hoping to alert a nearby ship, the Californian wonders why the Titanic is firing rockets, and believes they may be signalling to another ship.
    • In a lifeboat, a man sets fire to a piece of paper, and a hat, to alert their presence to a nearby ship. This is foreshadowed by a lady haughtily berating a man for smoking at a time like this.
  • Downer Ending: Most of the cast end up dead. But you knew that already.
  • Dutch Angle: Used over and over again in interior shots in the latter half of the film, to demonstrate that the ship is listing, although in this case, it is the set which is being tilted, not the camera.
    • There is a subtle effect used for scenes involving both the Carpathia and the Californian. While all shots of the Titanic are steady (including the Dutch Angles), scene shots of the other two ships show a slow rocking back and forth, as these smaller ships are more affected by wave action than the massive Titanic.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: One shot shows a rocking horse and other child's toys in an abandoned play room. And the rocking horse is seen floating in the water at the end of the movie, right before the last shot of the life preserver with "TITANIC" printed on it.
  • Face Death with Dignity;
    Andrews: Mr. Guggenheim... your lifebelt!
    Benjamin Guggenheim: It was uncomfortable. We have dressed now in our best, and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.
    • Also the ship's band, who play to calm the other passengers, even though they had a chance to try to evacuate, and go down with the ship. Their being resigned to their fate is one of these scenes.
    • And we can't forget the Strausses, who stay together to the bitter end. As she says to her husband when he refuses to leave the ship while other men are aboard, urging her to go:
    • The crew in general do this almost to a man, they keep fighting until the last second to save the passengers and (especially the engineering staff) remained at their posts to keep the power on and pumps going to buy a few more minutes for everyone else.
    • At its most tragic with the older passenger forced away from the upturned lightboat by the panicking younger crewmembers. Accepting this, he merely calls over to Lightoller "good luck, and God bless", swimming away to his fate despite Lightoller's frantic calls for him to come back.
  • Foreshadowing: It's a foregone conclusion given the subject matter, but it's handled with subtlety; a character called William Stead who's briefly shown in the smoking room had, in 1886, written a story about two boats colliding with the loss of all hands. "This is exactly what might take place and will take place if liners are sent to sea short of boats."
  • Foregone Conclusion: It's a story about the RMS Titanic.
  • Gallows Humour: See picture quote.
    • The card sharps beginning to realize that they're in a tight spot. One of them sardonically asks, "Well, what shall we play now, gentlemen? Happy Families?"
    • One of the stokers commenting, "It's my birthday today as well", getting a big laugh from his fellows, all of whom are probably going to die within the hour.
    • Molly Brown talks a reluctant fellow passenger into donning a life vest by remarking that they're in season, "everybody's wearing them now". She then cancels an appointment she had the next morning by telling the steward that she's "gone boating".
  • Going Down with the Ship: Most of the passengers, but especially Smith and Andrews.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The firemen dormitory is nicknamed the “Glory Hole.”
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • We're shown several scenes where crewmen die trying to keep the ship afloat and operational for as long as is humanly possible. Several passengers are shown giving up their places in lifeboats so others may have them.
    • Averted with the ship's baker, who gives up his place in the lifeboats for another passenger. Against all the odds, he survives thanks to the alcohol he consumed during the sinking.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: While there's no fair way to deny most of the crew and officers acted heroically (no matter what The Other Movie depicted) and while if even half Lightoller's autobiography is true the man was a certifiable hero, the movie takes it just a bit too far, showing him launching lifeboats he had nothing to do with and in places he couldn't have been. However, this was actually lampshaded by the author, Walter Lord, who noted that Lightoller is given additional moments as the film makes him the "star" of the large ensemble cast.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Surprisingly averted. This is the only Titanic film other than the 1979 mini-series S.O.S. Titanic (and not counting the 1953 film, which does not include him) that does not hold Bruce Ismay responsible for the sinking or portray him holding any type of influence over Captain Smith and forcing him to sail the ship full speed into an ice field just to "make headlines." His saving himself is portrayed as a bit of a cowardly act, but even then he doesn't jump into the lifeboat until after he calls for other passengers, and no-one steps forward.
  • Homage: Several scenes from this film were remade/reworked in Titanic (1997); most notably, just after the ship goes down we see a brief shot of a young man and a young woman struggling to both climb on top of a floating box.
  • Honour Before Reason: In spades, and seen across all the social strata.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: After giving up his spot in one of the boats, Charles Joughin, the ship's gourmet cook and baker, goes below and quietly downs a bottle of alcohol. He later drunkenly tries to go back for the bottle, but thinks better of it when he sees water rising on the deck. Also some of the other male passengers decide to deal with the situation by playing a game of who can down the most alcohol in one go.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Not that hundreds of women and children don't die either, but it's shown explicitly at the memorial at the end. There are men dotted in the crowd, but it's overwhelmingly made up of women. Also it's shown how the officers had different views in regards to this. Captain Smith gives the order for women and children to go into the boats. Lightoller takes this to be an absolute and doesn't allow any men, except for Major Peuchen (to help take charge of one of the lifeboats due to his experience as a yachtsman) and the designated crew, to get in. He even has to think about letting a thirteen-year old boy on (which he thankfully does). Murdoch takes this to mean women and children are the priority, but men are allowed if there's room available. Several married couples and single men realize this and deliberately go to Murdoch's boats to escape.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Sir Cosmo and his wife Lucy Duff-Gordon are replaced by a fictitious married couple, “Lord and Lady Richard.”
    • Neither Bruce Ismay nor Captain Lord are mentioned by name, the former only ever referred to at "Mr. Chairman" and the latter simply as Captain, so as not to offend the Ismay family or Stanley Lord (who was still alive at the time the movie was released). Lord sued for defamation anyway.
  • Nouveau Riche: Molly Brown, conversing with the other "Old Money" first-class passengers.
    "He built me a house and he had silver dollars cemented all over the floors of every room!"
    "I say, how very tiresome for you!"
  • Not Quite Saved Enough: Among others, the Irish steerage passenger who dies of hypothermia just as the Carpathia is arriving and firing off its rockets.
    • Also the young couple who were instructed by Andrews to lower themselves into the water by the ropes...only for both of them to be crushed by the collapsing funnel moments later.
  • Oh, Crap!: Several people's faces on hearing the news the ship is sinking. Mrs. Lucas gives a wonderfully understated look when her husband calmly, but firmly makes it clear just how serious the situation is. Also the reaction of the Carpathia wireless operator when he hears the distress call.
    • Also notable is Ismay's reaction, as well as Smith when Andrews gives him the news directly. Andrews himself gives a strong non-verbal reaction when he's on the stairway watching the water pour in as the crew below attempt to salvage things. You can see the horror of the realization in his eyes.
  • One Crazy Night: As the title suggests. Many of the passengers of the Titanic are seen saying goodnight... and the Titanic strikes an iceberg, and begins to sink. A steward is seen very politely asking first class passengers to put on lifebelts and go up on deck, and in the lower classes, another steward bangs on doors, militantly demanding everybody gets up.
  • One Last Smoke: How several passengers comfort themselves as they wait for the end.
    • The bell-boys are having a smoke when a steward passes. They ask him what they should do but he only berates them for smoking. They don’t appear to be consciously invoking this trope but they are not seen again. In the real disaster the bell-boys were indeed last reported smoking and larking about (the youngest was only 14), and all died in the sinking.
  • The Perfectionist: Thomas Andrews keeps making notes about various cosmetic improvements he feels are needed for the ship.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In a literal sense; the crew spend the ship's last hours trying, and failing, to communicate with the Californian, just visible on the horizon.
  • Precision F-Strike: "I think the bastards must be asleep." Remember this is a 1958 film. (Wireless Operator Cyril Evans on Californian was asleep, and none of the officers on watch thought to wake him to see if there was any unusual traffic coming from the ship firing rockets.)
  • Say Your Prayers: Right before the ship goes under, one of the many passengers left on board suggest that they start praying, and many of them follow suit.
  • Shown Their Work: It's universally acclaimed at being not only a completely realistic portrayal of the disaster itself but also of the social/class structure of the time. The only major inaccuracy is that of the ship sinking whole — entirely forgivable given the lack of information to the contrary available at the time.
  • Sinking Ship Scenario: But of course, given that this is a film covering one of the most infamous sinkings of the 20th century, with the majority of the film's screentime depicting the Titanic in its final hours after striking the iceberg.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: In spades, and not just from the Brits. Absolutely personified by Robbie Lucas. After figuring out early on that the ship is going to sink and that there aren't enough lifeboats for all the women and children, let alone the men, he packs his wife, two daughters and a son onto a boat and bids them farewell without doing anything more extreme than raising his voice slightly... once. All so they won't be panicked, although his wife seems to twig what's up when he sternly tells her he thinks the captain's orders should be obeyed. His subsequently quietly ordering her into the boat when it dawns on her what's going to happen is heartbreaking to watch, especially his final farewell to his son.
  • Stock Footage: Scattered throughout the film. The fictional christening scene (the real Titanic didn't have one) is interspersed with clips of the 1938 launch of RMS Queen Elizabeth (the clothes on the women in the crowd is a dead giveaway this footage is not from 1911) and other ships. The scene of Titanic leaving Southampton is pieced together from footage of various large four funnelled ocean liners leaving port. Most interestingly, four clips—two shots of the ship sailing through the North Atlantic in daytime (if one looks closely, it becomes quite noticeable that the miniature of the ship in those shots looks almost nothing like the large model used in the nighttime and sinking shots) and two clips of a flooding engine room walkway—were recycled from the 1943 Nazi propaganda Titanic film.
  • Survivor Guilt: Most demonstrably in Ismay's face as he watches the boat go down from the safety of the lifeboat he sneaked onto.
  • Take That!: One of the taglines of the film was 'The Real Story of the RMS Titanic', a jab at the less-than accurate 1953 Titanic film. Sylvia Lightoller, widow of the real life Charles Lightoller, remarked in an interview that "the film is really the truth and has not been embroidered," though there is still some artistic licence made both for dramatic effect, to boost Lightoller as the film's lead, and to avoid legal action. Mrs. Lightoller also served as one of the film's consultants alongside Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall.
  • Tempting Fate: Famously, the ship was branded "unsinkable"... by the press, and the public went along with the hype. Averted with Andrews, the ships' head designer.
    Captain Smith: But... she can't sink. She's unsinkable!
    Andrews: She can't float.
  • Thousand-Yard Stare:
    • A steward finds Andrews alone just before the sinking and asks, "Aren't you even going to make a try for it, Mr Andrews?" Andrews shoots him an absolutely terrifying one of these.
    • Andrews has one earlier just after inspecting the damage from the iceberg. He knows right then and there the ship is going to sink.
    • Most of the survivors at the Monday morning memorial held aboard the Carpathia have haunted, blank expressions, except for the few who are quietly sobbing.
  • Together in Death: The Strausses and the young honeymooning couple in Second Class.
  • Truth in Television: The whole damn film.
  • Understatement: Several occasions, see also Gallows Humour and Stiff Upper Lip above. From Lucas, who's fully aware he only has a couple of hours to live but is trying to convince his wife to get into the boats with their children without worrying her:
    "It's very tiresome. We've struck an iceberg and damaged the ship. We may be a day late getting into New York."
  • Unwanted Assistance: Bruce Ismay does his best to help load and lower the first boats, but eventually Lightoller has to tell him stop because he's just getting in the way and causing confusion.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Averted; the first-class passengers are portrayed as being in the same boat as the other passengers and crew.
    • Ismay doesn't exactly escape unscathed on this front though.
    "Of course, I'm just a passenger on this trip... Oh, Andrews!"
  • Urban Segregation: First, second and third class passengers were kept separate which proved to be detrimental once the ship starts sinking.
  • Wham Line: The collision with the iceberg is treated as a minor hinderance at first, until Andrews assesses the horrifying weight of the situation to the Captain.
    Captain Smith: Well, what's the answer?
    Andrews: *grimly* She's going to sink, Captain.


Video Example(s):


"Every man for himself!"

With the "Titanic"'s sinking accelerating faster and faster, Captain Smith orders via loudspeaker that every crew member and passenger abandon ship any way possible, with any semblance of order going with it.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / AbandonShip

Media sources: