A Night to Remember - Criterion #7


A Night to Remember (1958) dir. Roy Ward Baker | DP. Geoffrey Unsworth

It's been some time since I've yelled panicked instructions at characters in a film. Although I had several pieces of advice with my knowledge of what was to come, the main thing that kept spilling out of me was something to the effect of, "Stop being so civilized!"

With that said, I feel as if A Night to Remember gave me two to three personalities to emulate if I ever find myself in such a situation either on the sea, or equally applicable, if in the air or on rail.

Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller (Kenneth More) - This is the obvious choice for how one would hope to behave. Calm, cool and collected. A leader with nothing to prove. His objective is crystal clear: save lives at all costs and don't think for a second about your own. But on the flip side, have the instincts of one who survives, effortlessly.

Chief Baker Charles Joughin (George Rose) - The baker serves as my most realistic option to follow. Nobly and respectably give up your seat on the life boat which you were ordered to guide. Become immediately aware that your chance of survival is now quite low. Proceed to your cabin where you're stowing a fine bottle of whiskey. Drink it. Then serve as comic relief as you hiccup your way to survival.

Benjamin Guggenheim (Harold Goldblatt) - And if you find yourself in this situation as an individual advanced in years, one only need to follow the example of Mr. Guggenheim. Become immediately aware that your chance of survival is extraordinarily low and consider his outlook as his final minutes of life approach, "We have dressed now in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen. If anything should happen to me, I would like my wife to know that I behaved decently."

I'm aware these examples are all men, and the film is not without heroic women, specifically, Mrs. Margaret 'Molly' Brown (Tucker McGuire) who was instrumental in turning a life boat around to rescue people in the water. But with many of the women departing on life boats, the film spends a large amount of time following some specific men and how they respond. Even though I was surprised by how civilized many handled themselves, I think this film will continue to be a relevant example of how it's never out of place to behave decently.  —ML


I haven’t felt so terrible watching a film, so much like turning it off to stop the end from coming, as I did during A Night to Remember. The sense of mounting dread worked precisely because this British production never reaches for it. The score never swells. No musical cues drive the horror. It tells the story in the simplest terms, lingering on one missed opportunity after another to avoid the catastrophe or rescue more passengers. The dialog repeatedly feels dead-on, even when the small talk between clueless crew mates is maddening. Run! Take this seriously! Do something!

By comparison, James Cameron’s 1997 Titanic is a melodrama crossed with a fun house. Sure, a lot of people died, but what a ride! This version, in gorgeous black and white, asks viewers to provide our own emotional reactions while the stoic Brits on screen mostly keep theirs buttoned up and duty-bound. It works to an exquisite, terrible degree. So impressive.  —CL