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The Best Titanic Movie

Is that an iceberg dead ahead? No, on April 15, 2012 it's just the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

Every year, on or around the anniversary of the disaster, April 15, 1912, I make a point of hauling out the DVD of what I think is the best Titanic movie ever made about the disaster - A Night To Remember.

Everyone has their favourite version. The Titanic tragedy has featured in at least a dozen theatrical movies, made-for-TV movies and docudramas, but three contenders for the title of "the best" are way ahead of the pack: A Night To Remember (1958), Titanic (1997) and Titanic (1953).


A Night To Remember (1958), starring Kenneth More, Honor Blackman, David McCallum. Fact-based account of the Titanic disaster that includes a brilliant 60-minute documentary.


Titanic (1997), starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett. The most technically superior version, thrilling to watch on a big screen with great CGI effects, but let down by a mediocre dialogue and a sappy love story.


Titanic (1953), staring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck. Compelling, glossy soap-opera version but hampered by less-than-convincing special effects.

Our biggest loss is that Alfred Hitchcock never did do the Titanic movie that legendary producer David O. Selznick planned for him in the late 1930s. But hey, we got the classic Rebecca instead, Best Picture of 1940.

The 1953 Titanic, which won an Oscar for its screenplay, is a credible, typically polished 20th Century Fox effort focusing on the complicated lives of the passengers. Webb and Stanwyck are a joy to watch and Titanic's interiors are faithfully reproduced, but the production is ultimately let down by its not-so-special effects - the ship really does look like a model.

Just five years later, the 1958 British Rank Organization production A Night To Remember also used a model of the ship, but the sinking and evacuation scenes are far more realistic. Some exteriors on a mock-up section of the ship were filmed outdoors on a lake just west of London during a bitter British winter and the steamy breath of the cast adds a delicious sense of realism to the show.

In addition, the production closely follows the celebrated Walter Lord book on the Titanic sinking, also called A Night To Remember. It includes many accurate details including why the nearby ship Californian didn't come to the rescue, despite her crew seeing Titanic's rocket distress flares. The ensemble cast, including Honor Blackman (later one of the James Bond "girls") and popular British actor Kenneth More, does an admirable job and the clincher for me is the inclusion of a superb 60-minute documentary on the Titanic tragedy.

On to 1997, and while James Cameron's computer-aided, multi-Oscar winner production is a mighty spectacle, I find the whole Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslett romance hugely distracting and the cheesy dialogue annoying. All that nonsense about Billy Zane running around a sinking ship gunning for his love rival with a pistol makes me reach for the "fast forward" button.

That said, the Titanic itself is brought vividly to life and the sinking scenes and desperate struggle of passengers and crew to survive the frigid water are amazing. Also, this movie corrects the one big inaccuracy of A Night To Remember that the ship sank in one piece. In fact, the ship broke in two, with the bow going down first followed by the stern. Cameron's 3-D version of the movie will no doubt be a spectacle in its 2012 theatrical release and subsequent Blu-ray. For those reasons, I wouldn't want to be without this version.

Thus, A Night To Remember first, Titanic (1997) second and Titanic (1953) third.



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