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.

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

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