Titanic (1953) – Don’t Get on That Boat! week

This is Don’t Get on That Boat! week. Titanic is currently available on instant Netflix.

Titanic

WATCH: Titanic (1953) – NR – Not rated

“An unhappily married couple, Julia and Richard Sturges (Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb), board the Titanic, while one of their daughters falls in love with a boy from the underclass. Once they set sail, Richard never allows Julia out of his sight, and unsuccessfully begs for reconciliation. But when the iceberg looms and disaster strikes, the Sturges must set their differences aside … for themselves and for the sake of their children.”

“May I bone your kipper, Mademoiselle?”

Okay wait – that quote makes the film seem like a sex comedy. Let me try again.

“If you get a good omelette, who cares whether the chicken likes you or not?”

Hrrrm. That’s not much better. One last try:

“Twenty years ago I made the unpardonable error of thinking I could civilize a girl who bought her hats out of a Sears-Roebuck catalog.”

The story of the Titanic is almost perfect. It contains pride, hubris, tragedy, cowardice and heroism by its very nature. It is also easy to serve as a backdrop for romance and/or an examination of our class system. A bygone way of life can also be researched and examined.

James Cameron successfully did all of this in the first half of his epic version of Titanic (1997). He then grafted an entire action film into the second half. His meticulous research helped make every detail of the film authentic. This is not that film.

This version of Titanic is still quite good for its time. It won an Oscar for Best Writing, Story and Screenplay. It has strong dialogue in a number of places as witnessed by the final two quotes. The first quote is not an innuendo – it is literal. Titanic was also nominated for Best Art Direction – Set Direction, Blank and White.

Factually it is a mixed bag. As noted in the beginning of the film, “All navigational details of this film – conversations, incidents and general data – are taken verbatim from the published reports of inquiries held in 1912 by the Congress of the United States and the British Board of Trade.” The lack of a traditional music score also lends some authenticity to the proceedings.

On the other hand, there are innumerable factual mistakes regarding the ship and incident. These range from inconsequential things (no shuffleboard on Titanic) to oddities such as the ship being sold out and the White Star chairman indicating that he wouldn’t be going with them on the voyage. The central characters are fictional as well.

Jean Negulesco directed this film and did a very good job. There is one wonderful foreshadowing shot where a character tosses his hat overboard. The hat is followed into the ocean where it lands next to some ice.

Acting is quite good. Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck play our central couple, the Sturges. The Sturges used to be in love but now a vast emotional chasm exists between them. Their daughter Annette (Audrey Dalton) is pursued by a very young and energetic Robert Wagner as Gifford Rogers.

One of the highlights of the Titanic story is of course ‘Unsinkable’ Molly Brown. Here, apparently due to legal issues, her name is changed to Maude Young. Thankfully her character is as brash as ever and is played very well by Thelma Ritter.

This is a very good film and well worth a watch recommendation. On the other hand if you have watched James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) or Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember (1958) then there isn’t much here that you haven’t already seen.

People Watch: Michael Rennie (The Day the Earth Stood Still) is the narrator at the end of the film. Richard Basehart (ironically best known as Admiral Nelson in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) plays a defrocked priest in a minor subplot.

Prince Valiant

In 1954, Hal Foster’s comic Prince Valiant was adapted into a movie. This feature by Henry Hathaway is currently available on Netflix instant play.

Prince Valiant

WATCH: Prince Valiant (1954) – Rated PG

“The tale from the Sunday comics about a Viking prince under the reign of King Arthur is brought to life with Robert Wagner in the title role. A mentor to young Valiant is Sir Gawain (Sterling Hayden), who has trained the young warrior for the Round Table. Also coloring the screen are Princess Aleta (Janet Leigh), Valiant’s love, and Sir Brack (James Mason), the ominous villain.”

First let me state that I’m not qualified to judge whether this is a faithful adaptation of Hal Foster’s iconic strip. It is fun to watch a very young Robert Wagner as Valiant, especially in his cute pageboy haircut. James Mason is wonderfully villainous as Sir Brack but Sterling Hayden is quite upright and stilted as the stalwart Sir Gawain. Janet Leigh and Debra Paget are equally lovely as Aleta and Ilene though clearly Gawain is bewitched by blond hair as he doesn’t even notice that Debra Paget is throwing herself at him.

The sets are quite colorful and design makes good use of the Cinemascope process. The castle shots are wonderful using both Alnwick and Warwick castles. There’s a wonderful shot as Valiant looks up from his bed at Aleta whose head is framed halo-like by the chandelier. Having listed all of that, the rest of the cast and production seem lifeless so I’m recommending this as a Watch but with reservations.

People Watch: Michael Rennie does the narration, Neville Brand plays a viking chief, and boxer Primo Carnera plays Sligon though none are listed in the credits.