A Night to Remember

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #7: Roy Baker’s A Night to Remember.

208e.jpg This is a film where I’m go­ing to talk nearly as much about the Criterion DVD as much as the film it­self. Or maybe not. But it bears men­tion­ing that the com­men­tary on this re­lease comes from two Titanic ex­perts and dis­cusses the ac­tual events in com­par­ison to the Walter Lord book and the film adap­ta­tion of that book. This is the type of high qual­ity and novel film ex­pe­ri­ence that only Criterion could sup­ply. A movie based on a book based on one of the most mem­o­rable events of 20th cen­tury an­a­lyzed by two ex­perts of the ac­tual event.

Dramatic reen­act­ments don’t do a whole lot for me, but A Night to Remember sup­plies enough snarky so­cial com­men­tary on pre-World Wars Britain that the film only drags slightly. We watch the boat sink in ap­prox­i­mate real time, and it tor­tur­ously takes forever. I mean, we know what hap­pens. The boat sinks, most of the peo­ple die. Roy Baker makes the film in­ter­est­ing by us­ing it as hind­sight fore­shad­ow­ing of the end of Britain’s golden age, though none of the Brits seem to re­al­ize that this is the case. Class dis­tinc­tions are still sup­pos­edly quite marked in present day Britain, but I find it un­likely that they are even close to be­ing as seg­re­gated as they were in 1912. I could be wrong, how­ever, since as a dra­matic reen­act­ment it is likely Baker ex­trap­o­lated the gap. The tragedy is em­pha­sized again and again by the prox­im­ity of the Californian and the sim­ple missed com­mu­ni­ca­tions and brief fits of piqué that ul­ti­mately re­sult in the deaths of 1500 folks.

Baker para­dox­i­cally seems to yearn for the feel­ing of con­fi­dence that suf­fused the pas­sen­gers at the start of the voy­age and si­mul­ta­ne­ously shred the ar­ro­gance of many of the aris­toc­racy who re­fuse com­mon sense in fa­vor of their ap­pear­ance and com­fort. The steer­age pas­sen­gers be­come in­no­cent vic­tims and the sur­vivors un­wor­thy in this par­a­digm. The busy­body fi­nancier of the voy­age es­capes on a lifeboat like the rat he re­sem­bles, and the brave-faced fa­tal­ist good­byes num­ber in the dozens. Most of the sailors are gal­lant, and a cook who gets drunk when he re­al­izes all is lost [and brings a bit of lev­ity to the film] ul­ti­mately saves someone’s life and is res­cued him­self. The cul­mi­na­tion of all this blame-throw­ing is a gen­eral re­sent­ment for the rich pas­sen­gers, pity for the vic­tims, grudg­ing re­spect for the sailors and a strong feel­ing that “this should never have hap­pened” which is ad­mirable nearly 100 years af­ter the ill-fated voy­age. Most ill-will is di­rected to­ward the pas­sive Britishers and this is high­lighted by the gauche but spunky and warm-hearted to­ken American pas­sen­ger; she’d be in steer­age if her hus­band hadn’t struck it rich in California.

The spe­cial ef­fects, mostly mod­els and clever edit­ing, are rel­a­tively well done and ef­fec­tive. The only real crit­i­cism I have is that I wish Baker would have killed every­one a half hour sooner.


Criterion Essay by Michael Sragow.
The Titanic Archive.
The Criterion Contraption’s re­view.

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