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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 movie 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 that claimed the lives of 1,517 of the 2,223 people on board.

Filmed in a docudrama style and using groundbreaking special effects for the time, it follows the stories of several members of the crew and passengers from prior to the ship's departure to its ultimate fate at the bottom of the Atlantic. It's as historically accurate as it could have been for the time and it cemented the format for disaster movies from that point onwards.

Not to be confused with Remember the Night.

This film contains examples of:

  • 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.)
  • Alcohol Hic: Given at one point by the drunken baker.
  • Anyone Can Die: ...and 1,500 of them do.
  • Badass Longcoat: The officers on all three ships featured (the Titanic herself, the Carpathia, and the Californian) all wear badass greatcoats. Justified, in that it was part of their uniforms and that it was a very cold the night the Titanic sank.
  • 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.
  • 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 emmigrants 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. The discovery of the wreck in 1985 proved that it actually broke apart as it sank.
  • 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 ship. The fact that he fails to reach Titanic in time doesn't diminish the Crowning Moment of Awesome in the least.
  • 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 Critical Research Failures (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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 ships 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 Strauses, 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: "We have been together for many years. Wherever you go, I go."
  • 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."
  • For Want of a Nail: The appalling death toll could have been prevented if lifeboats were provisioned on the basis of passengers and if ships had to maintain a 24 hour radio watch - the Californian was visible on the horizon but their only radio operator had finished his shift and gone to bed.
    • Lightoller muses about the "If onlys" towards the end of the movie, citing the failure to provide lifeboats for everyone, and the failure of the Titanic to slow down.
  • 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.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: There is some graffiti on the crew quarters door in the scene where a steward tries to rouse his sleeping cremates and is met with derision. It's barely readable while the door is open but as it swings shut it's just about legible. It says THE GLORY HOLE.
    • The Carpathia's radio operator and officer of the watch are apparently having a discussion about whether they would rather go out with a female passenger, or her daughter just before the first distress call from the Titanic comes in.
  • Going Down with the Ship: Most of the passengers, but especially Smith and Andrews.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted, naturally; 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.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: We see the story unfold from the points of view of the crew, first class, second class and steerage passengers.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Not that hundreds of women and children don't die either.
  • 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.
  • One Last Smoke: How several passengers comfort themselves as they wait for the end.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In a literal sense; the crew spend the ships 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.)
  • 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.
  • Spot of 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."
  • 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 twigs what's up when she sees him nearly break into tears after telling his son to look after her mother. It's heartbreaking to watch.
  • Stock Footage: Scattered throughout the film. The christening is a Stock Footage clip (the real Titanic didn't have one). Most interestingly, four clips—two shots of the ship sailing in calm waters, and two shots 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.
  • 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, sir?" Andrews shoots him an absolutely terrifying one of these.
    • 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
  • 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."
  • 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.