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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fishing in the Discount Bin - A Night to Remember

Here we are again, on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  This entry from January 15 2017 expands upon my New Years tradition of watching Titanic by throwing A Night to Remember into the mix.

So, I've blogged before that I have my arbitrary and made up tradition of watching Titanic on New Years Day.  For a while now, I'd been thinking of spicing it up a bit.  So, this year, I finally sprung for the Criterion edition of A Night to Remember.  While there have been bigger and more glamourous films about the Titanic, A Night to Remember is still regarded as the most historically-accurate. 

I once mentioned that, when it comes to films of this nature, they tend to fall into two camps.  There are those that are more focused on re-creating the events, and as such we don't get to know the characters.  And there are those that are more focused on the characters, so we don't get a sense of the scope of the events.  This is definitely the first kind, as the focus is squarely on the event.  There is no main character or over-reaching story arc...this is focused on re-creation. 

If we do have a main character, it would have to be Charles Lightoller.  He was the second officer on the Titanic, and the highest ranking officer who survived.  There's some great moments with him in the beginning, as he says good-bye to his wife, and they're very much a couple in love.  And the moments after the sinking, where he shows his heroism, in which he takes command of an overturned lifeboat and starts hauling survivors out of the water. 

We don't see much of Lightoller in the James Cameron film.  Reading up on it, in the Cameron film, he's the guy who fires a few warning shots in the air to maintain order while loading the lifeboats and then, turning his back to the crowd, re-loads his gun with very shaky hands.  And yes, we do see him fire a few warning shots in this film. 

That's kind of the fun of watching this film so close to Titanic...seeing so many scenes and lines so close to the James Cameron film.  Whether Cameron did it as a knowing homage or in the name of historical accuracy is anyone's guess. 

Best example of that would be how the character of Thomas Andrews is portrayed.  He was the designer of the Titanic, and he was on its maiden voyage doing quality control...observing how the ship actually operated and making note of minor improvements that could be made.  He is regarded as one of the heroes of the Titanic, as he stayed on until the bitter end, making sure as many people got their life jackets on and off to safety.  The report of his final moment, where he settles down in a lounge to await the end, and someone asks him, "Mr. Andrews...aren't you even going to try?" is portrayed almost the same in both films.  In A Night to Remember, that question is given to an anonymous porter...in Titanic, it's given to Rose.  In fact, that's where I'm seeing the primary Titanic inspiration, in which Mr. Andrews encourages a young couple that the wife should try to get off the boat -- because the age of "women and children first" -- but they explain to him that they're going to go down together. 

It's also fun watching the differences.  Because this is a British film with a predominantly British cast, the panic isn't as big as it is in the James Cameron film.  All of the officers very much maintain that "stiff upper lip" as things start going to Hell. 

The special effects are quite good for 1958, and even in black and white with a model, it's still a fantastical sight to see that mighty ship go under.  And it shows the ship going down in one piece.  Despite its historical accuracy, there were still historical discoveries to be made.  Eyewitness testimony at the time had the ship going down in one piece...it wasn't until the wreck was discovered in the 1980s that they discovered it had broken in two. 

It was a very good film, and nice to see an alternate take on a tale I've watched many times.

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