Customer Reviews: A Night to Remember (The Criterion Collection)
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on December 9, 2002
Cameron's film has its moments, but in truth I only liked it for the chance it gave me to see a great old ocean liner brought to life again on screen. In "A Night To Remember", the effects are not nearly so impressive, but the story is far better. It's very much in the style of a docudrama, but its a docudrama about one of the most fascinating and enduring stories in all of history. I don't quite know why Cameron felt it necessary to tell a soap opera melodrama about two fictional lovers and use one of the most dramatic stories in all human history as nothing more than a backdrop. "A Night To Remember", based on Walter Lord's outstanding book of the same name, tells the story of the disaster itself. Kenneth More plays a heroic Second Officer Lightoller, and the film actually makes him out to look a little better than he did in reality - he lowered several of the lifeboats less than half loaded, and permitted no men at all to get in, even when the boats were ready to lower and no more women were nearby to board. Still, this bit of dramatic license doesn't hurt the film.
The account of Titanic's loss has something in it to appeal to everybody. For the lovers of a great story it has incredible drama and suspense. For lovers of nostalgia it is far the best documented voyage of any ship from the golden age of the great ocean liners. For those interested in tragic irony there is the story of a great ship, regarded as unsinkable going down after ominous warnings were ignored. For those interested in stories with a moral, there is the cautionary tale of placing blind faith in any work of human hands, or thinking that the things of men are impervious to the forces of nature. For students of human nature, Titanic was a microcosm of society, with the full range of human strength and weakness on display, from acts of inspiring heroism to those of despicable cowardice. For those interested in social history, there is the huge gulf between the first class passengers with their vast wealth, and those in steerage with little more than the clothes they stood up in.
Few stories have proven so enduring and so fascinating as that of the Titanic. This movie remains the best, and most faithful film version of it to this day.
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For all the special effects and color cinematography of recent years, few films in the disaster genre have been able to top this amazing film of the fateful voyage of the Titanic; it is smartly written, with extraordinary cinematography (by Geoffrey Unsworth) and brilliantly acted by a cast of mostly unknown actors, although the star, Kenneth More was famous in England. American audiences will probably only recognize David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin in the Man from U.N.C.L.E. series) who plays a radio operator, and Honor Blackman, who gained fame as the Bond Girl with the naughty name in Goldfinger, who has a small part as the wife of a brave and stoic man, and the noted British actor Laurence Naismith, who is marvelous as Captain Smith.

Even though one knows the end, the tension runs high, and we get caught up in lives of the people aboard "the floating palace", and how they handled their dreadful fate. The characterizations are beautifully developed, which is rare in this type of film.

The scenes of the inner workings of the ship are intense, and very well re-created. When compared to documentaries made about the Titanic, this film would seem to be quite accurate, in the physical aspects of the ship, and of the people who sailed her, as passengers and as crew.

I find this 1958 version far superior to the 1997 Oscar winning "Titanic", mostly because the script and acting are much more believable, making the events of that dreadful night come to life and stir the emotions in a deeper way than the newer film ever could.

Adapted for the screen by Eric Ambler from the book by Walter Lord (which I read many years ago and also found fascinating), the direction by Roy Ward Baker is superb, and the almost symphonic score by William Alwyn terrific.

"A Night to Remember" won a 1959 Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film.

Total running time is 123 minutes.
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Unlike other film versions of the famous maritime disaster, "A Night To Remember" does not attempt to romanticize the sinking of the Titanic via fictional characters playing out a superficial and often implausible story--and demonstrates that the basic facts are far more fascinating than any soap-opera-bubble that can be imposed upon them.
As frequently noted, the film has a somewhat documentary feel that adds considerably to its tension. Less frequently noted are the remarkable performances of the ensemble cast, playing characters who fight to retain their integrity in the face of rising panic. Unlike the soapy 1950s Stanwyck version or the overblown James Cameron film of the 1990s, there are no easy endings for those who are trapped, no love recognized at the last moment or sustaining memories of brief shipboard happiness to float them forward through life: at the end there is only darkness and death--mitigated, sometimes nobly, by the human kindness and sacrifice. Powerful stuff.
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on July 2, 2002
Walter Lord sadly died in May 2002 aged 85 and is justly famous for his meticulous research of the circumstances surrounding the sinking on Monday 15/4/1912 of the White Star liner,RMS Titanic and stirring the public's interest in this disaster.There are a few factual errors in this marvellous Rank Organisation 1958 film.The ship is seen to sink in one piece but this was the received wisdom in 1955 when the book was first published.The picture above the fireplace in the first class smoking room is seen to be "The Approach to the New World (by Norman Wilkinson).In fact this hung in the equivalent location on her earlier sister ship, RMS "Olympic".The correct painting should have been "Plymouth Harbour" by the same artist.Also White Star and the ship's constructors, Harland & Wolff just launched their liners at their Belfast shipyard without flowery speeches such as "....I Name this ship Titanic.May god bless her etc etc".The launching scene is actually of the "Olympic" which you can tell because of her light grey painted hull made more photogenic for the cine cameras of the day - Titanic's hull was black. with white superstructure and a gold band separating these two colours.Lord admitted these understandable errors in his sequel "The Night Lives On" (1986) after Dr Robert Ballard ( of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute ,Massachussets) at last found the final resting place of the ship, 2 1/2 miles down on the Atlantic floor in 1985.
That said, this is a riveting and unforgetable docu-drama of this historical event, arguably the most infamous maritime disaster (although loss of life has been greater in other shipwrecks).The fascination lies in the "if onlys".i.e. if only she had been going a few knots slower, if only she had had enough lifeboats for all instead of the maximum laid down by the British Board of Trade in their already out of date 1894 regulations, when the maximum tonnage was deemed to be up to 10000 tons.Titanic came in at 46000 tons.If the weather had been rougher, waves would have broken over the base of the iceberg thus making it more visible.If the crow's nest crew had been given binoculars (they were removed at Southampton).If the Titanic had not been delayed in her construction (and therefore her 31/5/11 launch) by her shipworkers being transferred to the repair in September 1911 of the RMS Olympic following a collision in the Solent with HMS Hawke.If 1st officer Murdoch had steered straight at the berg instead of trying to avoid it the ship may have stayed afloat (although deaths would have occurred by the crumpling of the bow).If the "California's" captain, Stanley Lord had raised wireless operator, Cyril Furmston Evans who had just retired for the night, instead of trying to contact the mystery ship with a Morse lamp.If Alexander Carlisle, marine architect who originally planned 32 lifeboats had not been over-ruled by White Star because it made the boat deck look "cluttered".In fact RMS Titanic ended up with 16 lifeboats, the regulation number required by law, but then White Star actually exceeded the quota by the provision of an extra two Englebert collapsible sided lifeboats with a further two lashed on top of the officers' quarters.If a vital ice message from the "Caronia" sent on behalf of Capt. Barr and received by senior Titanic Marconi operator John Phillips, had gone to the bridge in good time, warning of icebergs directly in the path of the ill fated vessel.And so the "if onlys" go on.
The fascination is of a small Anglo Saxon floating town set in 1912 with all the social classes represented from the aristocratic and rich (first) class, to the professional middle (second) class down to the emigrant and poor (third/steerage) classes - and "never the twain shall meet".The "gilded age", as termed by Mark Twain, had begun in about 1890 and society was marvelling at the wit of man and the many technological innovations and inventions.Perhaps Mankind could outdo Nature but a Greek tragedy was waiting in the wings to punish man for his rash hubris and arrogance.
There is a companion video available called "The making of A Night To Remember" which goes behind the scenes at Pinewood studios and shows the locations used.Actual Titanic survivors were invited as advisors to the Irish producer, William MacQuity, among them were Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, Lawrence Beesley, the science master from Dulwich College (who wrote the book "Titanic Its Story and Its Lessons, published by Houghton Mifflin 1912)- a second class passenger who escaped in boat 13.Captain Edward John Smith's daughter Helen stated that the actor Lawrence Naismith who played him, was uncannily like her father as evidenced in contemporay photographs of the two men at approx. the same age.Captain Smith died aged 62, (probably on his last voyage before retirement although this can never be proved).Actor Kenneth More is seen chatting to Sylvia Lightoller the widow of Charles Herbert Lightoller who was second officer,- read his biography "Titanic Voyager".The convincing creaking sound you hear as Andrews tries to sit down in the first class smoking room just before the end, was the actual sound of the hydraulic lifting gear in the studio as it progressively raised the floor.MacQuitty was very careful to ensure the accuracy of the film set angles (of the ever slanting deck as she sank by the bow and rose by the stern), were always matching the dramas recorded by witnesses, so there is a marvellous sense of continuity in the filmed sinking.The B&W photography merges seemlessly with the authentic period film and all the actors convincingly say their lines many based on actual speeches said by the principal characters as remembered by witnesses.This is a superb film.Watch Cameron's "Titanic" 1997 only for the special effects.
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on February 24, 2008
I have seen all the movies made of the Titanic tragedy (except any silent movies) and recommend "A Night To Remember" to anyone wanting to watch a true story of the actual people who were on board the ship on that terrible night. I don't think any movie can ever match the final scenes of Cameron's "Titanic" starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, when the ship splits in half, the stern bobs in the ocean for moments and then sinks taking all those trapped within to the ocean floor 2 miles below. The screams and cries for help of the 1500 people who did not make it into a lifeboat, but were left to freeze or drown still haunts me. Sadly, I think Cameron missed his chance to make a true classic. He recreated the ship brilliantly and accurately to the smallest detail. Unfortunately he decided to ignore the stories of most of the actual passengers on the voyage to tell a fictional love story. "A Night to Remember" cannot match Cameron's movie for grandeur and thrilling images of the sinking ship. However, in staying true to the actual events of that cold April night on board the "unsinkable" Titanic; events told to the author of the book from which the movie was made by 70 of the Titanic's survivors, I was drawn into the story on a deeper, more poignant level. The final scenes of this movie are not as exciting or emotionally draining as those in Cameron's "Titanic", but they have a reverence and respect for the people who died that night that was lacking in Cameron's telling. "A Night to Remember" was based on Walter Lord's book of the same name which he wrote after interviewing 70 surviving crew and passengers. His book melded their stories into an accurate depiction of the Titanic's maiden voyage. In one of the final scenes, the camera lingers on the desolate face of the Captain as he listens to the band playing "Nearer My God to Thee" and hears the desperate cries of the passengers. Helplessness, sorrow, guilt...all so evident in his haunted face. At the end of "A Night to Remember", one of the ship's officers, Lightoller, who was instrumental in saving many lives, says to the captain of the rescuing ship, the Carpathia, that "We were so sure. I don't think I'll be sure of anything ever again." This movie, unlike any other made of this tragedy, made me understand why the night of April 14, 1912 has been called the event that marked the end of an era.
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on September 21, 2004
Long before James Cameron's "Titanic" became a box office hit, "A Night to Remember" told the story of the great liner Titanic and her ill-fated maiden voyage. It was called unsinkable, but only five days after leaving port on her maiden voyage to New York, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, taking over 1500 souls to their death in the North Atlantic.

"A Night to Remember" is told through the eyes of second officer Lightoller, played by veteran British actor Kenneth More. When the unthinkable occurs, Lightoller contends with disbelief, desperation, and finally the horror of the inevitable. As the band played on, the poor and the wealthy stand aside as the lifeboats carrying women and children are put to sea.

I found this to be a very interesting and exciting adaptation of the Titanic disaster. The cast does a fine job and the special effects, although old, and historical authenticity make this movie exciting to watch. Great care was taken to ensure that the story of the Titanic was told completely and correctly. From the "Californian"'s unbelievable lack of action to the heroic efforts of the captain and crew of the "Carpathia", each detail of the disaster is told. The separation and class distinction between passengers is also described. First-class passengers generally looked down on the others on board, and in one scene a first class lady refers to the third class passengers as "only steerage". Other aspects, such as Mr. Andrews' refusing to leave his ship, and Bruce Ismay's infamous decision to save himself (a decision that haunted him until his death) are also told in the film.

I highly recommend this movie. Although the special effects are nowhere near what they are in "Titanic", this film still does a good job of explaining the Titanic disaster. You'll never forget this true story of hope and dispair, courage and cowardice, and dignity and dishonor in the face of human tragedy.
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on January 13, 2002
Forget Cameron's TITANIC. Roy Ward Baker's A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is the real thing. Cameron definitely has the older film licked in the special effects department, and the kiddies who demand state-of-the-art visuals above all else will undoubtedly be disappointed by the model work in Baker's film. But the Titanic tragedy is hardly a "special effects story." It is a powerful human drama, and on that level, Cameron's film is much inferior to Baker's 1958 triumph.
This is not to say that Cameron's TITANIC is without emotional impact. But nearly every good scene in TITANIC was lifted - in some cases almost word-for-word - from the older film. To give but one example: the musicians on deck decide that enough is enough, and split up. As the others walk away, the leader begins to play a hymn. The other musicians rejoin him, and as they play, we cut to a dramatic montage. Sound familiar? Of course, the two films are telling the same story, so a certain amount of overlap is surely to be expected. But it's difficult to escape the impression that the meticulous research for which Cameron's team are praised really consisted of repeated viewings of A NIGHT TO REMEMBER.
But enough of Cameron. Suffice it to say that Baker's masterpiece stands up perfectly well next to the more recent blockbuster, and is in many ways the superior film. For one thing, we are spared the sappy love story and scenery-chewing bad guys. Based closely on Walter Lord's meticulously researched bestseller, Eric Ambler's script sticks almost totally to the known facts. Composite characters are used in some cases, to cut down on the number of faces we need to keep track of (still quite a few), but the events of the disaster are generally protrayed as they actually happened. In fact, quite a few Titanic survivors were consulted during the making of the film, and the Titanic's Fourth Officer Boxhall served as a technical adviser. Walter Lord himself was also involved, so it need scarcely surprise us that the film is more accurate than any other Titanic dramatization.
On this score, however, commentators inevitably feel obligated to point out that Baker's film shows the ship sinking in one piece, instead of breaking in two as we now know it did. As a matter of fact, we should have known it even then - many witnesses reported that the ship had done just that. For some reason, however, the prevailing wisdom in the 1950s was that the ship went down in one piece. I just can't get too bothered by this inaccuracy in the film; the point is, the ship went down. The film gets the human details of the disaster largely correct, and that's really what counts, isn't it? Besides, this is one of only a very few technical elements that the filmakers didn't get right.
Speaking of getting things right, it's curious to note that while it plays an important role in A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, the Californian is not even mentioned in Cameron's film. This ship was actually within sight of the wreck, and its crew either couldn't or wouldn't realize what was happening right in front of them. Baker's film leaves no doubt in the viewer's mind that these men acted reprehensibly; the DVD commentary gives a slightly more charitable presentation of the case. By today's standards, there is no excuse for the Californian's failure to act; but then, many of our modern conventions concerning disasters at sea were brought into being precisely because of the Titanic tragedy. At the time, things were far less cut and dried. Still, it's hard to look at the scenes involving the crew of the Californian without feeling a great deal of anger.
So much for the facts - what about the movie? It is full of unforgettable scenes, although many of them, unfortunately, may have been spoiled for modern viewers by Cameron's "borrowing." Ambler's script is gripping, building slowly to an intense climax. There is very little music in the film, apart from what the on-screen orchestra plays; this lends a certain verisimilitude, but more importantly, it helps the film to steer well clear of melodrama. The special effects, to no one's surprise, are fair at best - though it must be added that they stand up far better than a lot of special effects work from the same period. Otherwise, the film's technical merits are outstanding. The sets are magnificent, the cinematography equally so.
Baker's direction is outstanding - to his credit, the movie almost totally avoids the overheated melodrama that mars so many films from the 1950s. He has drawn understated, believeable performances from a very large cast, and nearly every note rings true. In keeping with the meticulous attention to detail that charcterized this entire project, Baker and his team employed some brilliant (and yet deceptively simple) technical tricks to achieve the realism they insisted upon. For example, their external set of the Titanic consisted only of the port side of the ship, but there were several important scenes set on the starboard side. To capture these scenes, Baker and his superb camerman, Geoffrey Unsworth, filmed them through a mirror. They had the actors salute and shake hands with their left hands, the Titanic emblem was done mirror-fashion so it would look right through the camera, the men's double-breasted coats were buttoned the wrong way round, and so on. The ruse worked quite well: even the best gaffe-spotters will have a tough time finding anything amiss in the starboard scenes!
Given the superb technical craftsmanship of the film, the DVD extras are somewhat disappointing, especially from Criterion. In addition to the usual theatrical trailer, the extras include a weak "making of" documentary consisting of the reminiscences of Walter Lord and producer William MacQuitty, along with MacQuitty's home movies from the set. Somewhat interesting, but not what it could have been; conspicuously absent is any input from director Roy Ward Baker. The commentary track (from Don Lynch and Ken Marschall, author and illustrator of "Titanic: An Illustrated History") is very informative, and sheds light on the factual basis of so much of the film's action. Here, too, however, a commentary track from Baker and members of his technical team would have been wonderful.
In fact, Baker is scarcely even mentioned in the extras. This is all the more shameful in light of the fact that this is not only his best film, but one of the best films of its time. Surely a director's commentary track would have been valuable? I suppose Baker's subsequent "decline" into the realm of Hammer horror (where, by the way, he made both some awful and some outstanding films) may have tarnished his reputation as a director, but if Criterion can find room for kitchen-sink, two-disc sets covering the oeuvre of Michael Bay, they can surely honor the work of a director who had his ups and downs, but still made a number of very fine films.
The picture quality is generally very good, though there are occasional moments (usually no more than a couple of seconds) where the print looks worn. Sound is about what you'd expect from a good print of a movie from the 1950s.
In all, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is marvelously understated and compelling cinema. The film holds up remarkably well today - but then, it should. Movies that are based on great acting and superb craftsmanship tend to wear far better than sappy romances and special-effects extravaganzas.
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on March 15, 2008
This is the same old movie you have seen over and over on tv (it used to be a late-night tv staple)...but this ISN'T the print you have seen --

The Criterion print is painstakingly recreated and is crystal clear and sharp, especially on large screen tv's. The black and white photography has been adjusted and is rich and deep. Blacks are black, whites are white, and grays are beautifully rendered in digital grayscale. Stars are apparent in the black sky overhead - long washed out and gray on older worn-out tv prints. The boiler room sequences look crisp and recognizable, unlike the long blurry reels on older worn-out prints.

Sure, it costs triple what the bargain-bin version costs, but you will be richly rewarded with this amazing print.

There is an interesting "Making of" video attached as an extra -- it shows interesting home footage of the making of the sets, and the magic of the movies that put drowning sequences filmed in a 4 foot deep millpond into the stunning images you see in the final movie. A fun look at the world of special effects in 1958.
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on November 1, 2005
OK, I have probably seen every TITANIC movie ever made (just ask my long suffering mum and friends) and far and away, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is still the best!

The black-and-white format gives the film a nice "period feel" to it, and the acting is basically pretty excellent. Yes, there is a bit of a tendency to make Lightoller look better than perhpas he was, but chalk that up to the presence of Mrs. Lightoller as one of the consultants to Kenneth More (there is a nice film clip in the documentary which accompanies the film, one of Mrs. Lightoller chatting with Kenneth More).

Suprisingly, for me, this film packs more of an emotional punch than does Cameron's "Titanic"--especially moving for me is the final scene in which Captain Rostron, when told that the CALIFORNIAN is asking if there is anything that they can do, replies, "No. Tell them nothing. Everthing that was humanly possible has been done". Then the last scene is Lightoller gazing at what is left from the ship. The narrative scrolls down the screen, telling us that "Their sacrifice was not in vain..."

One can only hope so.

By far I consider this the best...and it is certainly my most watched...Titanic film.
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on October 14, 2005
A night to remember, being a black and white movie with fewer special effects (compared with the recent Titanic movie), allows the audience to stay focused to the tragedy.

Passengers were ordinary people who were oblivious to the imminent danger because the impact of the iceberg (30 minutes into the movie) was hardly felt, even though the water flooded the cabins quickly but stealthily. While the crew did their best to seek help outside, the one ship who could help was not listening while another which did listen was too far away, even though it rushed to the scene as fast as it could.

There was no first sight romance, there were relationships instead. A well-off father did not need to break the truth to his wife (who understood soon enough) and 3 kids and saw them secure places in the saving boat. There were old and young couples who chose to stick to each other. A professional gambler gave up his chance and made a noble decision to swim away from the last saving boat of the crew. There was a baker who gave up his seat to another lady. Knowing there was not enough room for everyone, including him, he indulged his last hours on Titanic into drinking. Yet who knows? The movie gave him a second chance for his heroic sacrifice. Of course, the class divide made the third class passengers disadvantaged from the outset. But the movie also highlighted that there were good people regardless of their class.

The movie delivered thought-provoking messages. The nearby ship which did finally know what happened, was not needed for help in the end. It was too late and hence too little it could help. The movie also tried to console the living by stating that the unfortunate did not die in vain. This is a down-to-earth movie about real people. The facts were not romanticised to attract the audience - the truth just speaks for itself. In this era where natural disasters - floods, mudslides, earthquakes, hurricanes - were more frequent and ubiquitious, this movie is a constant reminder of how things went wrong when small mistakes made here and there could spin an avoidable disaster into an uncontollable catastrophe.
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