Roy Ward Baker
Kenneth More, Ronald Allen, Robert Ayres, Honor Blackman, Anthony Bushell, John Cairney
Walter Lord (from the book by), Eric Ambler
TITANIC ... The greatest sea drama in living memory told as it really happened!
On April 14, 1912, just before midnight, the unsinkable Titanic struck an iceberg. In less than three hours, it had plunged to the bottom of the sea, taking with it more than 1,500 of its 2,200 passengers. In his unforgettable rendering of Walter Lord’s book of the same name, A Night to Remember, the acclaimed British director Roy Ward Baker depicts with sensitivity, awe, and a fine sense of tragedy the ship’s final hours. Featuring remarkably restrained performances, A Night to Remember is cinema’s subtlest, finest dramatization of this monumental twentieth-century catastrophe.
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
Runtime: 123 min.
Release Date: 3/27/2012
• Audio Commentary with Titanic: An Illustrated History Author Don Lynch and Illustrator Ken Marschall
• “The Making of A Night to Remember” Documentary
• “Eva Hart: Survivor” Featurette
• “En Natt Att Minnas” 1962 Swedish Documentary
• “The Iceberg That Sank the Titanic” Documentary
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A Night To Remember: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1958)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 29, 2012)
We live in an “either-or” world that seems to leave little room for compromise. Coke or Pepsi? New York or LA? Some folks feel that it you enjoy one, you can’t care for the other.
This applies to many movies, where you don’t seem “allowed” to like both of them. Ever since James Cameron’s hugely-successful Titanic appeared in 1997, a small crowd has crowed that the film was no good and that 1958’s A Night to Remember provided the vastly superior offering. It can be tough to find someone who doesn’t act as though you have to enjoy one or the other, which I don’t understand. It’s as though one’s preference makes any positive thoughts about the other completely invalid. Can’t we like them both?
Maybe not, but I’m going to try to do so. Although it’s become quite fashionable to disparage Titanic over the last 15 years, I remain on the record as someone who really liked it and who thought it was a fine film. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t also appreciate Night. Honestly, I still prefer the more recent epic, but the older flick also offered a very solid piece of work.
For rather obvious reasons, much of the material found in both films is very similar. Night also covers the 1912 sinking of the Titanic. However, it gets to the point much more quickly than did Titanic. The latter ran 194 minutes, and the boat didn’t hit the iceberg until roughly halfway through the flick; prior to that, we had a romantic story in which two kids fell in love.
At 123 minutes, A Night to Remember doesn’t have the same luxury of time, so after some quick and perfunctory introductions to the main characters, it’s straight to the sinking! Frankly, I thought this was the weakest aspect of the film. It portrayed a fairly large catalog of characters but did little to let us get to know them.
Actually, if I wasn’t already cognizant of many of the participants - such as boat’s designer Thomas Andrews, White Star Boat Line chairman Bruce Ismay, and “Unsinkable” Molly Brown - I might have felt less in-tune with them here. The characters aren’t given many details, and we get a lot of participants piled into a small amount of time.
For the first 30 minutes or so of the film, I had trouble connecting with it mainly due to these elements. The pacing seemed rushed, as though the producers just wanted to be done with all the exposition and show us some sinking. However, once the impact occurs, the movie really starts to come to life, and it ultimately provides a very satisfying experience.
Since I liked Titanic, the strong temptation is to directly compare the two films, and that’s easy to do. However, it’s probably not fair to either work, as each features a different emphasis.
Titanic took the more personal view to the tale. Sure, we get a good look at the greater picture, but Cameron clearly felt that the impact of the disaster would be better felt through the eyes of two compelling protagonists, and I can’t disagree. As was the case with the brilliant Sophie’s Choice, sometimes huge cataclysms pack a stronger punch when seen on a smaller, more human level.
Night plays more like a documentary. There really are no lead characters, though Second Officer Lightoller (Kenneth More) comes closest to matching the criteria. Nonetheless, the movie focuses on the general events of the evening and relates a lot of information not discussed in Titanic, such as the involvement - or lack thereof - from two nearby ships.
Those elements of Night were especially compelling to me because they hadn’t received much attention in Titanic. As such, the information was new to me. I understand that some of it may not be completely correct - our understanding of the events is clearer today than it was in 1958 - but I was interested to learn more about the subject.
Even when the two films overlap, I still really like Night. It’s a drier, less emotional exploration of the sinking, but that doesn’t mean it lacks drama or resonance. Indeed, the disaster still seems tragic and horrific, even through a semi-objective undertaking such as this. Director Roy Baker keeps the tone fairly even but the movie still offers a powerful impact.
Actually, one viewing of Night makes it clear that Cameron also had seen the film. Some scenes from Titanic seemed to come straight from the earlier movie. During my initial screening of Night, I saw at least five sequences that looked directly copied in the 1997 flick, with the most blatant being the sheepish lifeboat departure of Ismay; Cameron made the shot look almost identical to the one in Night.
The 1958 film also features a couple of characters who may have been prototypes for Titanic’s Jack and Rose. This young newlywed pair only pop up in a few scenes, and honestly, I can’t even recall their names since they make such brief appearances. In any case, they display some of the same attitudes seen in the stars of Titanic, and I don’t think the resemblance is a coincidence.
Speaking of coincidences, here’s a fun one. You get no points for spotting Goldfinger’s Pussy Galore in the film. Although Honor Blackman looks fairly different here than in the 1964 Bond epic, her name appears prominently in the credits, so her presence becomes more noticeable. However, make sure you keep watch for the film’s second Bond legend, as Desmond “Q” Llewellyn offers a “blink and you’ll miss him” performance as a seaman. When I observed him, I had to stop for a second and think, “Did I just see who I thought I saw?” Yup - I did!
Even without these fun appearances, A Night to Remember offers a powerful experience. The movie presents a solid recreation of the sinking of the Titanic that holds up well against the more famous 1997 telling of the tale. I still prefer Cameron’s Titanic, but there’s room enough in the sea for both movies, and Night deserves to be seen by all fans of the later flick.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+
A Night to Remember appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite some unavoidable flaws, this was usually a glorious presentation.
Sharpness looked nicely crisp and detailed. At no time did I discern any significant softness that marred the presentation, though some process shots appeared a little hazy; since that fell into the “unavoidable flaw” category I mentioned earlier, I didn’t mind. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and both edge haloes and noise reduction seemed to be absent from this decidedly “film-like” presentation.
Black levels appeared dark and rich, as the picture displayed good contrast and a pleasantly-gray image. Shadows were clear and smooth, and print defects were minimal. Actually, I’d be hard-pressed to name a source flaw that stemmed from the “standard” photography. The film featured a moderate amount of archival/stock footage, and those clips accounted for the majority of the lines, specks and marks. In addition, some effects shots showed minor issues as well.
However, all of these concerns did remain minimal, so I considered this to be a virtually immaculate presentation. There’s not much that could be done about the print flaws on display, so I didn’t think I should dock the transfer for those. The vast majority of the film looked spectacular, so I felt it deserved its “A-“ rating.
While not as impressive, the film’s monaural soundtrack was fine and seemed representative of its era but it offered nothing better than that. Dialogue appeared clear and intelligible; the lines lacked great warmth, but they were relatively natural. Some shouting got a little rough, though.
Effects were reasonably clean and accurate; again, they didn’t show much breadth, but these elements appeared more than acceptable, and they lacked prominent distortion or other concerns. As for the score, it was more of the same; the music seemed acceptably full given the limitations of the source. Nothing here dazzled, but I thought this was a “B-“ track for its period.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the Criterion DVD from 1998? It improved on the DVD in all ways. Audio was clearer and less shrill, and visuals delivered radical growth. The Blu-ray looked much tighter, richer and cleaner. This became a tremendous step up in quality.
The DVD’s extras reappear on the Blu-ray along with some new ones. We start with an audio commentary from author Don Lynch and illustrator Ken Marschall, the men behind a book called Titanic - An Illustrated History. Recorded in 1995, the two were taped simultaneously on this fairly screen-specific track. While they occasionally touch on issues related to the making of the film - such as the source of the creaking sounds heard as the ship sinks - the vast majority of the commentary discusses factual aspects of the disaster.
Marschall and Lynch talk about how accurate Night was and fill in a lot of the details. As such, it’s a very interesting and informative piece that seemed like a valuable addition. They make this a likable and engaging discussion.
Less stimulating was a 1993 documentary titled The Making of A Night to Remember. Hosted by Ray Johnson, this 57-minute, 53-second program features interviews with Night producer William MacQuitty and author Walter Lord and it provides a large amount of “behind the scenes” shots from the filming of the picture.
Overall, I found this to be a dry program. It was mildly interesting to watch the archival footage and hear a little about the production, but I didn’t think it offered a terribly compelling discussion of the project.
A few new pieces appear on the Blu-ray. Eva Hart: Survivor goes for 23 minutes, 15 seconds and offers comments circa 1990 from a woman who made it off of the Titanic alive. Hart discusses her life at the time, how she ended up on the ship, and the events she experienced during the disaster. Hart presents her tale in a pretty logical, non-emotional manner and allows us a fine first-person take on the situation.
En Natt Att Minnas runs 32 minutes, 25 seconds and provides a 1962 Swedish documentary. In it, we get a Scandinavian emphasis on the tragedy, as we hear from survivor Agnes Sandstrom and her daughters Beatrice Sandstrom and Margit Pettersson. The show ties in to the Night movie, so expect plenty of clips from it. Nonetheless, there’s good material to be found here, mainly from the recollections offered by Agnes Sandstrom; she gets a bit more emotional than Eva Hart, but not in an excessive manner, and she delivers an interesting first-person narrative. (Her daughters accompanied her on Titanic but were too young to remember much.)
Another documentary arrives via the 48-minute, 41-second The Iceberg That Sank the Titanic. Created for the BBC’s Natural World series, it discusses exactly what the title implies: facts about the iceberg that the Titanic hit. We get some interesting notes here, but almost 50 minutes of this topic seems like way too much. I think this’d be an intriguing featurette, but as it stands, the show drags and doesn’t keep me involved the whole way.
Lastly, the disc offers the film’s original American theatrical trailer. (There’s also a British trailer found toward the end of the documentary.) We find a booklet as well. In this 24-page piece, we get an essay from journalist Michael Sragow as well as images of archival materials like a ticket to the ship’s launch and a life preserver. It’s a typically solid Criterion booklet.
A Night to Remember provides a compelling look at the Titanic disaster. I feared that James Cameron’s big-budget version would spoil me for other renditions, but that isn’t the case, as Night works well in its own right. The Blu-ray provides excellent picture as well as more than adequate audio and a nice selection of supplements. I recommend this fine release, as it treats the film well.
Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars
| Number of Votes: 4