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Film / Titanic (1943)

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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 1,500 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 — namely the drunken, rapey German troops who were serving as extras — director Herbert Selpin complained a little too much 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, and has proven to be surprisingly influential on future Titanic films. 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) —suspected theft 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 with the aid of an emergency axe; 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 concept 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.


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    A - M 
  • Action Girl: Sigrid becomes one once the ship starts sinking. She leads a group of children into a lifeboat and helps the crew evacuate the passengers. She doesn’t get into a lifeboat until Officer Petersen forces her to board the last one.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Petersen finds a helpless little girl left to drown in her flooding cabin just as the ship begins its final plunge.
    • Crying children are seen ripped out of their mothers' arms during the botched evacuation of the steerage passengers.
  • Age Lift:
    • Teenage Madeleine Astor is portrayed here as a much older icy Femme Fatale.
    • Senior wireless operator Jack Phillips was only 25 years old at the time of the sinking, but in the film he is portrayed as a middle aged man with gray hair.
  • 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 endless quest for profit." The image of Britain as a land of greedy plutocrats was a frequent staple of Nazi propaganda films.
  • All for Nothing: All of the backstabbing and intrigue between Ismay and Astor results in Titanic striking an iceberg and going to the bottom of the ocean, rendering their struggle for control over White Star Line and its new flagship meaningless.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Lord Astor is hellbent on financially destroying Ismay and ruining the White Star Line just For the Evulz.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: When Officer Petersen argues with Ismay over sailing Titanic at a dangerous speed in ice infested waters.
    Ismay: Danger? That's ridiculous. The Titanic is unsinkable.
    Petersen: Proof of that has not yet been provided.
  • Arranged Marriage: Hedy the manicurist has been committed to marry the neighbors' son, but she refuses him after meeting Franz 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 released by 20th Century Fox.
  • Artistic License – Ships:
    • Most of the film was shot aboard the German luxury liner SS Cap Arcona, which was actually only half the size of the Titanic and only had three funnels.
    • Like most Titanic films made before (and even after) A Night to Remember, the interior sets have virtually nothing in common with the interior design of the actual Titanic.
  • 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's construction and how it resulted White Star Line stock price to plummet, all things that the board would already have known.
  • Big Damn Heroes: First Officer Petersen, the sole (fictional) German crew member, is the only one who knows it's dangerous to sail full speed through an ice field and, later, single handedly organizes the evacuation of the ship. He only survives the sinking because he rescues a little girl by swimming with her to the nearest lifeboat.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: The English subtitles on the Kino Video DVD & Blu-ray have some bizarre errors, the strangest of which is the spelling of Officer Murdoch's name as "Morlok.”
  • Canon Foreigner: The heroic Officer Petersen, the only German Officer onboard.
  • Cassandra Truth: No one takes Petersen’s warnings about sailing full speed through an ice infested area of the North Atlantic seriously.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Petersen’s ex-lover Sigrid just happens to be traveling on the Titanic.
    • At the end of the film, when Petersen jumps into the water with a young girl he saved, they are rescued by the same boat his ex-girlfriend occupies.
  • 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.
  • Dances and Balls: The First Class passengers are shown dancing endlessly in the (fictional) huge ballroom/dining saloon.
  • 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 lifeboat. This was actually a common belief regarding Ismay's survival amongst the general public after William Randolph Hearst used the sinking as an opportunity to run a smear campaign against Ismay via his media empire due to a long running feud between the two men, so this film is hardly unique in this portrayal of Ismay and his subsequent survival. In Astor's case, the historical record clearly establishes him as facing his fate with dignity after ensuring his pregnant wife's survival in a lifeboat.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Stone faced crew members are seen barking orders at the confused and frightened steerage passengers, who are then forced apart and lined up according to age and gender.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Anne and John survive the sinking against all odds and are reunited at the inquiry.
  • Exact Words: Petersen does arrange a seat for Ismay in the last lifeboat, but only so he could be arrested and held accountable for the disaster.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Captain Smith
    • Wireless Operator Phillips
    • The ship's orchestra
    • Professor Bergmann
  • 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.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Nazi Propaganda or not, it's still a Titanic movie after all.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Like the subsequent Titanic films that followed it, the 1943 version showcases the First Class female passengers wearing various glamorous gowns, fur coats and stoles, elaborate hats and headdresses, while the male passengers strut around in expensive tailored tuxedos and leisure suits.
  • Grand Dame: The Duchess of Canterville is a rather harmless example of one.
  • Historical Downgrade: First Officer Murdoch suffers this because his officer rank and heroic behavior during the night have been usurped by the fictitious German First Officer Petersen. It is left ambiguous what exact rank Murdoch has been demoted to in this film version.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Just like all other film versions, Captain Smith is portrayed as a kind and gentle grandfatherly figure who is mercilessly bullied by the greedy Bruce Ismay to disregard any ice warnings and sail the ship full speed into an ice field just to make newspaper headlines.
  • 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.
  • Hysterical Woman: Steerage passenger Anne spends most of the sinking running around the boat deck and shrieking for her husband John.
  • 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 both Captain Smith and Ismay to slow the ship down. When that fails he asks his ex-girlfriend Sigrid to use her charm to help influence Ismay, which she does. Their efforts fail.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Officer Petersen saves a little girl, while Phillips frees his pet canary moments before the ship sinks.
  • Infant Immortality: Sigrid helps a large group of children into a lifeboat and Petersen rescues a small child left to die in her cabin.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: As unfair as it may seem at the end that the British Board of Trade absolves Ismay of all blame for the sinking and officially holds Captain Smith responsible for the disaster, it is technically the correct verdict. According to international maritime law, while at sea, the Captain holds full power and discretion over the command and operation of the ship, so Smith had full right to disregard Ismay's influence and orders to go faster than the safety regulations required.
  • 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.

    N - Z 
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: The Duchess who befriends Sigrid seems to be based on a real life First Class passenger named Edith Corse Evans, an American socialite who was terrified of water because she once received a fortune reading that stated she will die on water. Because of this, she refused to board a lifeboat and was one of only four women in First Class who perished in the sinking.
  • Oh, Crap!: Ismay when he realizes the ship is sinking and all the stock speculation was for naught. Also Astor, when he finally gets that the sinking isn't just a ruse by Ismay and there is not enough lifeboats to accommodate the men onboard.
  • Old Flame: Petersen runs into his Russian socialite ex-lover Sigrid Olinsky on the Titanic and they gradually rekindle their relationship as the ship sails towards disaster. This trope tends to frequently pop up in Titanic fiction.
  • Opening Scroll: Opens with a brief scroll introducing the audience to the subject matter (this was before the Titanic mania started and the ship would become embedded within international pop culture.) Also ends with one that clarifies the propaganda message about "England's endless quest for profit."
  • Pretty in Mink: Madeleine Astor wears a gorgeous mink stole.
    • Hedy the manicurist wears an elegant ermine cape when she boards the lifeboat.
  • Race Lift: The American Astors are turned into British Royalty for some reason.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Petersen gives a big one to Ismay after Titanic collides with the iceberg.
  • Rich Bitch: Played straight with Madeleine Astor and Ismay’s fictional mistress Gloria. (“Gloria” was a common name given to villanous or wanton British female characters in German films at the time.)
    • Subverted with Sigrid Olinsky, who is compassionate and kind, 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.
  • Shown Their Work: This is actually the first Titanic film to portray the incident with the nearby SS Californian, a subplot which would be omitted from several subsequent dramatizations of the sinking.
    • Captain Smith is shown attending a party in First Class on the night of the sinking, something that actually happened in real life.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Petersen and Sigrid are a particularly dull example.
  • Tempting Fate: Multiple references to the ship being unsinkable.
    • During the first night gala dinner aboard the Titanic, Ismay stops the ship's orchestra to proudly announce that Titanic is "the safest ship ever built." Hilarity Ensues.
    • While taking tea in the lounge, the Duchess of Canterville tells Sigrid that she was always terrified of dying in the ocean and only booked a passage on the Titanic because it happens to be "the world's first unsinkable ship." Three guesses, no prizes, as to whether she makes it onto a lifeboat.
  • 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: The first official feature film about the Titanic disaster (previous films were heavily fictionalized and usually changed the ship's name to avoid legal problems) to have a fictional love story in the center of the historical events, establish J. Bruce Ismay as the man responsible for the disaster, portray the stark differences between First and Third class passengers, and feature various historical figures onboard entangled in soap opera-like subplots with the fictional characters. 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.
  • Ur-Example: Set up the template all future Titanic movies would follow.
  • 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 cruiser stern, whereas the actual ship had a more old fashioned counter stern and did not require cowl vents for ventilation due to new electrical fans and the dummy fourth funnel functioning as a giant vent on its own.
    • 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 Madeleine Astor was 18 years old and heavily pregnant, not the older, more sophisticated woman having an affair that the movie portrays. She and her husband John Jacob Astor were a wealthy American couple, whereas the film reimagines them as a pair of conniving British aristocrats.
    • Bruce Ismay never held the title of "Sir" or any other honorable titles during his lifetime.
    • Bruce Ismay was married to a woman named Julia Florence Schieffelin and they had several children. He traveled alone on Titanic's maiden voyage and most definitely was never in a relationship with a social climbing harpy named "Gloria." He was also a shy soft-spoken man who usually kept to himself, and not a pompous arrogant businessman as portrayed in this film (and many others.)
    • 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 why the engines have stopped after the iceberg collision ever happened.
    • Titanic's actual First Class dining room was not as grand as the one portrayed in the film. It didn't have a dome and was only one tiered. There was no dance floor either.
    • Contrary to what the film shows, only one lifeboat attempted to rescue the people in the water, and they made their rescue attempt after the ship went down, not during the actual sinking.
    • None of the launched lifeboats got stuck in the falls and then crashed down while spilling the passengers into freezing water.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Many of the supporting characters barely show up during the sinking scenes and are not present during the final inquiry scene, leaving their respective fates completely unknown.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Madeleine Astor contemplates having an affair with Lord Douglas.


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