Roy Ward Baker
On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set off from Southampton. The ship, a 400-yard Olympic-class liner, had 2,208 passengers, 885 crew members and lifeboats for only a third of them. There were several ice warnings and yet, late on April 14, she struck an iceberg, leaving a 300-foot gash below the waterline. Right away, it was a “mathematical certainty” she would sink. Less than three hours later, the ship went under and those onboard had either frozen, drowned or fought for a spot on a lifeboat.
All of this is known and presented in Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember, based on Walter Lord’s book. And though we know the ending and have seen other versions of the story, this one stands out and is considered the most accurate account of the sinking. The film takes facts and some assumptions and molds them into a full and compelling drama. We have artifacts of Captain Edward J. Smith, second officer Charles Lightoller, first officer Murdoch, and many passengers, but there is not much, really. Yet we believe this must have been how they reacted when word came over the radio and the iceberg came into the horizon.
They are all constructed and treated with real, human qualities. No one seems to be there simply to perish, and we understand who these people are. Two moments stick out. In one, a group of third-class males use a chunk of ice to play an impromptu game of soccer, as a tuxedo-clad man and his pearled wife watch and cheer from above. In the second, a young boy cries for his “mummy” as everyone competes and races for lifeboats. An elderly stranger picks him up and calmly assures the boy that they will soon find her. These people are given no names, but they are no less human than Edward Smith or Molly Brown.
A Night to Remember is tasteful and often terrifying and sad. Look at the scene where the band plays “Nearer, My God, to Thee” as the ship goes down and the passengers struggle to save themselves and their loved ones. It is the most genuine in the film; a cinematic moment of calm and embracement in a historic moment of panic and fear.
It has been a century since the disaster, and interest will no doubt be sparked on the subject. There have been many versions, from animated features and documentaries to TV movies and blockbusters. A 3D version of James Cameron’s epic is out now to cash in on the anniversary, but it is Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember that truly gets that moment in time right.
The Making of “A Night to Remember” (57:53): Directed by Ray Johnson, this feature-length documentary from 1993 offers a comprehensive look at the making of the 1958 film. Comments from producer William MacQuitty and author Walter Lord guide this account of A Night to Remember, which Johnson calls the “finest and most accurate film account” of the disaster ever made.
Eva Hart: Survivor (23:15): In this 1990 interview, Titanic survivor Hart recalls the disaster. She passed away in 1996.
En Hatt Att Minnas (32:25): This documentary, which aired on Swedish television in 1962 to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, pays tribute to the sinking and those lost, and includes accounts from a handful of survivors.
The Iceberg That Sank the “Titanic” (48:41): This documentary, from BBC’s Natural World series, looks at the villain of the story: the iceberg that led to 1,500+ deaths.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a 20-page booklet featuring an essay titled “Nearer, My Titanic, to Thee” by film critic Michael Sragow and archival photographs.