Sunday, December 28, 2014

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER


I have it in my mind that I first saw A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1958) on the CBS Thursday Night movie sometime in the late 1960s. I believe I was still in elementary school at the time so this would have been no later than 1968. I had previously checked out from the school library and read Walter Lord's book of the same name that the film was based on. I also recall reading Lord's A DAY OF INFAMY, his minute-by-minute account of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Both of Lord's books were essential reading for almost every young boy enrolled at Brykerwoods Elementary School in the 1960s.

With a running time of 123 minutes, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is a sober, measured account of the most famous maritime disaster of the 20th century. With no CGI effects, no Jack and Rose romance subplot, no action-adventure style race-against-time-to-escape-the-sinking-ship finale, Roy Ward Baker's film packs more of a punch than James Cameron's bloated 194 minute behemoth TITANIC (1997).

Screenwriter Eric Ambler (who wrote some first rate spy novels in his time), does a great job adapting Lord's book for the screen. Filmed at Britain's Pinewood studios and utilizing both full scale sets and finely detailed miniatures, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER takes us on that fateful voyage from April, 1912. By sticking to the known facts of the tragedy, Baker gives us a broad canvas of characters each of whom react to the disaster in their own way. Since we all know how the story ends, it's hard to generate much suspense but Baker orchestrates a compelling, moving and exciting narrative that shows men and women at their best and some at their worst.

The cast reads like a who's who of the mid-century British cinema. Kenneth More, as Second Officer Charles Lightoller is the nominal star and gets the most screen time. Future MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. star David McCallum is a wireless operator, and three stars of GOLDFINGER appear in the film: Honor Blackman, Desmond Llewelyn (uncredited as a crew member) and Sean Connery (uncredited as a steerage passenger).

A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, which I watched again for the first time in years a few night back (recorded off of TCM), is a gripping, first rate production that sticks largely to the facts. It's not 100%  historically accurate but it's highly regarded by Titanic buffs and historians as getting more of the story right than wrong. Recommended.

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