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A Night To Remember (1958)

Criterion

Cast: Kenneth More, Honor Blackman, David McCallum.

Rating: PG

Run time: 118 mins

Genre: Drama

Verdict: Brilliant (see rating system)

Rightfully lauded as the most accurate dramatization of the Titanic disaster, this classic 1958 British movie withstands the test of time (and James Cameron's more technically proficient 1997 version).

The star here is the ship and its story, not a bunch of preening movie stars in a fictional, sappy romance (sorry all you Leonardo DiCaprio/Kate Winslett fans).

To recap the factual events: The supposedly unsinkable Titanic was a technological marvel of its age, almost 900 feet long and weighing more than 46,000 tons. The liner boasted state-of-the-art luxury accommodation, dining rooms and entertainment facilities, but also cramped conditions well below decks for third-class passengers. On her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York, Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in the early hours of April 15, 1912, 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. 1,513 people died and only 711 survived.

The how and why of the disaster is brilliantly told in this version: iceberg messages that never reached the captain, thus allowing the ship to steam full speed into an ice field; the splitting of Titanic's side by the berg, when a head-on impact wouldn't have sunk her; failure of the nearby ship Californian to come to the rescue, too few lifeboats and lifeboats allowed to leave the sinking Titanic half-empty.

Because this movie closely follows the brilliant Walter Lord book on the Titanic disaster, it has a feel of authenticity about it. And director Roy Ward Baker maintains a crisp documentary style. Notable among the cast is British matinee idol Kenneth More as Second Officer Charles Lightoller, and the very young Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore in Goldfinger) as a passenger and David McCallum (Illya Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E) as a radio operator.

The ingenious special effects (well before computers) on a modest budget work well, and exterior scenes filmed during a cold British winter add the authenticity of steamy breath coming from the mouths of crew and passengers!

The bonus 61-minute documentary on the disaster is great, including interviews with author Walter Lord and film producer William MacQuitty (who saw the Titanic launching as a boy).

Criterion has done a superb job of mastering the black and white picture, which looks flawless.

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