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A Night to Remember Movie Review

film ship macquitty world

1958 – Roy Baker –

William MacQuitty was six years old on May 31, 1911, when he watched the launch of the Titanic in Belfast. He was also on hand when the ship started its fateful first voyage on April 10, 1912. For years he tried to produce a film about the sinking of the ship, but it was not until Walter Lord's 1955 bestseller that interest was renewed once again. MacQuitty took the book to the Rank Organization and eventually oversaw one of the largest budgets for a British film to that time. MacQuitty's great insight was to view the event as a symbol, like World War I, of the end of the old world of privilege and the myth of invincibility and as the start of the modern world of chaos and uncertainty. In a real sense, the Age of Anxiety began on April 14, 1912.

MacQuitty and director Roy Baker adopt the approach of docudrama. They use composite characters to represent first-, second-, and third-class passengers, but the focus is always on the ship rather than the various human dramas. Minutes before the ship scrapes the iceberg, Baker arranges a series of haunting wordless shots: the nearly-empty grand salon, the second officer bedding down, a second-class passenger slipping into the room of his mistress, a mother tucking in her young son, and a slow track into a rocking horse in the ship's spacious toy room. When the ship hits the iceberg, the only initial sign in the luxury quarters comes when a champagne glass on a table jiggles ever so slightly. (MacQuitty's technical advisor for the film, one of 64 survivors who met with Walter Lord and the Rank Organization, reported that he was walking on deck at the fateful moment and that the impact did not even cause him to break stride.) The film is filled with fine details like the moment the first-class husband tells his wife (Honor Blackman) to prepare to take their children to the lifeboats and then slips around her neck a glittery necklace. The dignity and controlled passion of the scene suggests the aristocrat's love of wealth but also his perception that his wife will need the income from the jewels to live on during her widowhood.

A number of distinguished names worked on the film behind the cameras. Eric Ambler, the author of a number of respected espionage novels, adapted Lord's book for the screen, and Geoffrey Unsworth, one of Britain's most esteemed cameramen, shot the film. Others also addressed the need for authenticity. Clips from the making of the film show Kenneth More, who played the second officer, conferring with the real-life widow of his character. These filmmakers did not have a hundred million dollars at their disposal, but they produced a dramatic, authentic film with the considerable talent they had.

Cast: Laurence Naismith (Capt. Smith), Kenneth More (Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller), Ronald Allen (Mr. Clarke), Robert Ayres (Major Arthur Peuchen), Honor Blackman (Mrs. Lucas), Anthony Bushell (Captain Arthur Rostron), John Cairney (Murphy), Jill Dixon (Mrs. Clarke), Jane Downs (Mrs. Lightoller), James Dyrenforth (Colonel Archibald Gracie), Michael Goodliffe (Thomas Andrews), Kenneth Griffith (John G. Phillips), Harriette Johns (Lady Richard), David McCallum (Harold S. Bride), Alec McCowen (Cottam), Tucker McGuire (Molly Brown), Harold Goldblatt (Benjamin Guggenheim) Screenwriter: Eric Ambler Cinematographer: Geoffrey Unsworth Composer: William Alwyn Producer: William MacQuitty Running Time: 123 minutes Format: VHS, LV, DVD Award: Golden Globes Award 1959: Foreign Film; National Board of Review Awards 1958: 5 Best Foreign Films of the Year.

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