Directed by: Jean Negulesco (The Mask of Dimitrios)
Starring: Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck, Brian Aherne, Robert Wagner, Audrey Dalton, Thelma Ritter
No, it’s not the 1997 movie, but rather the 1953 version of the story about the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Titanic in 1912. This one is no more authentic than the more recent film, but it manages to tell its tale in a compact 98 minutes. That’s nearly 100 minutes less than it took James Cameron, and there’s something to be said for that. It also dresses the story in the clothes of personal dramas. Chief among these is the tale of estranged husband and wife, Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck, and their children. There’s also the disillusioned drunk (Richard Basehart), the young man (Robert Wagner) in love with Webb and Stanwyck’s daughter (Audrey Dalton), and, of course, a Molly Brown-ish character (Thelma Ritter). No matter how you dress it up, though, it’s ultimately the story of a big ship that hits an iceberg and sinks. The effects are surprisingly good—maybe because the movie doesn’t dwell on them. (There’s almost exactly one hour of build-up and 30 minutes of sinking.) This was the third film to be shown on NBC Saturday Night at the Movies back in 1961, and the first one I saw. I was barely 7 years old at the time, and this was my introduction to the Titanic story—and I admit it has colored my view of the whole thing. I found the business of there not being enough lifeboats for everyone hard to understand, and I found the whole story incredibly depressing. Honestly, I still do, and have never really understood why anybody wants to watch a movie about it.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show Titanic at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 15, in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.
In Brief: Yeah, it’s from 1953, it’s in black and white with monophonic sound, and it’s certainly not widescreen, but it’s a perfectly respectable movie about the titular doomed ship. Romanticized and mythologized as it is—and with technical errors that wouldn’t have been known at the time—it gets the job done. And it’s a lot more compact and efficient about it than later versions of the story.