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.