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A Night to Remember (film)

A Night to Remember is a docudrama film adaptation of Walter Lord's book of the same name, recounting the final night of the RMS Titanic. It was adapted by Eric Ambler, directed by Roy Ward Baker, and filmed in the United Kingdom. The production team, supervised by producer William MacQuitty, used blueprints from the ship to recreate sets, and Titanic's fourth officer, Joseph Boxhall and ex Cunard Commodore Harry Grattidge both worked as a technical advisors on the film.


In Harland and Wolff shipyard, at the naming ceremony of the Titanic, the ship is christened and a bottle of champagne is smashed against the hull. Immediately afterwards, Charles Lightoller (Titanic's Second Officer and the main character in the film) is shown on a train with his wife, Sylvia, preparing to report for duty. He jokes with his wife about a newspaper advertisement for soap for the Titanic's first class cabins, which offends a fellow male train passenger who mistakenly assumes Lightoller is poking fun at the ship itself. However, the man apologizes when Lightoller reveals his assignment on the ship.

At Southampton, the Titanic is ready for launch. As it leaves, many people say their goodbyes, including those joining the ship in steerage at Queenstown. Once in the open sea, the Titanic receives a number of ice warnings from nearby steamers. Captain Edward J. Smith is unconcerned and the ship continues on.

At about 11:40 p.m. on April 14 1912, lookout Frederick Fleet spots an iceberg. Fellow lookout Reginald Lee warns Sixth Officer James Paul Moody by telephone that there is an iceberg dead ahead. Moody thanks Lee and shouts, "Iceberg right ahead!" First Officer William McMaster Murdoch orders the engines reversed, the ship turned hard to port (with the ship's wheel turned to starboard as the steering linkage was configured that way at the time), and the watertight doors closed. Despite these efforts, Titanic collides with the iceberg on its starboard side, opening the first five compartments to the sea, below the waterline. Captain Smith immediately calls for Thomas Andrews, the ship's builder, to inspect the damages. Andrews explains the ship will sink in about an hour and a half.

Captain Smith tells Jack Phillips, the telegraph operator, to send out the distress call CQD. Phillips and his assistant, Harold Sydney Bride, continuously send distress calls. The closest ship is the SS Californian, which is a mere 10 miles away. Earlier that night however, frustrated by the Californian's ice report interfering with the spate of personal messages he was tasked with sending to the wireless station at Cape Race, Phillips had told her to shut up, which caused the Californian's operator to shut down for the night. By contrast, the radio operator on the Carpathia receives the distress call, understands the emergency and immediately alerts Captain Rostrom who promptly orders the ship to head to the Titanic at maximum speed.

Captain Smith orders Lightoller and Murdoch to start lowering the lifeboats. He instructs them to put women and children into the boats first, but Lightoller takes this to mean, "Women and children only". Chief Baker Charles Joughin, put in charge of a boat, relinquishes his seat to a woman whose child is already on board. He returns to his room, where he drinks whisky as the ship sinks. The ship is now going down by the bow fast.

Many women and children are reluctant to get in a small, cramped lifeboat, and Murdoch and Lightoller must use force to put them in. Many men try to sneak into the lifeboats, but Lightoller will not allow them. As the stewards struggle to hold back women and children holding third-class tickets ("steerage"), most of the women and children from second and first class climb into the lifeboats and launch away from the ship. Chief Officer Henry Wilde distributes guns and ammunition to the officers in case of emergency. The bow of the ship is taking in a lot of water and there are only two collapsible lifeboats left. Lightoller and other able seamen struggle to untie them and, unable to take the time to put passengers into the boats, leave them in the hope that the boats will save more lives.

The RMS Carpathia is four hours away and is racing to the site, in hope of saving more lives. A drunk Joughin throws deck chairs overboard. The ship sinks and Lightoller and many others swim off the ship. The ship sinks deeper into the water suddenly a smokestack breaks lose and crashes into the water and the ship goes down. One of the overturned collapsibles is floating, so Lightoller and a few more men balance on the boat and wait. Joughin is found in the water, not minding the cold, and pulled up on the boat. Lightoller spots another lifeboat and the men are saved. The Carpathia comes and rescues the survivors. A memorial service is dedicated to the Titanic and her victims.


Kenneth More recalled the production of the film in his autobiography, published 20 years later in 1978. He had served in the Royal Navy in World War II as a gunnery officer aboard the cruiser HMS Aurora and took on the naval officer's crisp and confident air of command when a crisis arose in the film-making. There was no tank big enough at Pinewood Studios to film the survivors struggling to climb into lifeboats, so it was done in the open-air swimming bath at Ruislip Lido at 2 o'clock on an icy November morning . When the extras refused to jump in, More realised he would have to set an example. He called out: "Come on!"

I leaped. Never have I experienced such cold in all my life. It was like jumping into a deep freeze. The shock forced the breath out of my body. My heart seemed to stop beating. I felt crushed, unable to think. I had rigor mortis, without the mortis. And then I surfaced, spat out the dirty water and, gasping for breath, found my voice.

'Stop!' I shouted. 'Don't listen to me! It's bloody awful! Stay where you are!'

But it was too late ....

The character of the baker, seen drinking after giving up his seat in a lifeboat to a female passenger, is based on Chief Baker Charles Joughin, who on that night drank some whisky, threw deck chairs overboard, rode the stern all the way down, swam in the freezing water for hours and was eventually picked up by the overturned collapsible boat B, surviving the disaster.

During the sinking, a man pauses as he flees through the first-class lounge to ask ship's designer Thomas Andrews, "Aren't you even going to try for it, Mr Andrews?" This sequence was replicated essentially word-for-word in the 1997 Titanic film, substituting that film's protagonists Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater instead of the man. In reality, it was a steward, the last person to see Andrews alive, who asked him that.


Cast notes:

  • Sean Connery makes an uncredited appearance in the film, playing a crew member assisting passengers into lifeboats during the later stages of the sinking.
  • Desmond Llewelyn also appears uncredited in the film as a crew member reassuring the panicking steerage passengers.
  • Bernard Fox who appears uncredited as the lookout who utters the famous words "Iceberg, dead ahead, sir" also appears as Colonel Archibald Gracie in the 1997 Titanic film, making him a cast member of two films about the sinking of the Titanic.


A Night to Remember won the Golden Globe for the "Best Picture - Foreign" category in 1959. It was also nominated for the Laurel Award for "Best Cinematography - Black and White".

Historical inaccuracies

Although at the start of the film the ship is christened with a bottle of champagne, the real Titanic was never christened – standard White Star Line practice was not to have a christening – nor was there a great ceremony when the ship touched water in Belfast, although White Star did host a lunch. Otherwise, the inclusion of Edwardian archive film of liners gives a docudrama feel at times, despite the use of models for long-shots of the Titanic itself.

As with most pictures about the Titanic, filmed before the discovery of the wreck in 1985, A Night to Remember portrays the Titanic sinking in one piece. The discovery revealed that the ship had broken in two and most films since then (e.g. the 1996 TV mini-series Titanic, and the Oscar-winning Titanic), have reflected this point, although authorities debate whether the break-up happened while the ship was under the water and out of the view of survivors. Eyewitness testimony is not unanimous, meaning that A Night to Remember's portrayal of the ship's sinking intact may still be accurate.


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