Winner of three Academy Awards, the 1953 "Titanic" (dates are important
because of the plethora of identically titled films about the great
disaster), was recently re-released by 20th Century Fox as part of their
important DVD Studio Classics series.
Fascination with the fate of the huge and opulent liner is as strong as
ever, especially since improved technology has led to more breathtaking
visits to the ship's resting spot on the floor of the Atlantic where
state-of-the-art robots with cameras explore the crumbling interiors of the
still eerily majestic but rapidly decaying wreck.
The first film dramatizing the fate of the White Star Line's greatest ship
came out very soon after the 1912 sinking. Since then there have been many
movies and several Broadway shows about the loss of over 1500 lives ("The
Unsinkable Molly Brown" and, of course, "Titanic").
20th Century's contribution to the genre came before the historically much
more accurate "A Night to Remember," based on Walter Lord's bestselling book
of that title. And of course it can't begin to match the special effects
and wizardry, to say nothing of a cloyingly popular tune, of James Cameron's
international top money grosser.
But Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb bring a dramatic and impelling story
to the screen that remains powerful and, really, very sad decades after the
movie's release. Directed by Jean Negulesco, "Titanic" has major (and what
could have been easily avoidable) errors about the April 1912 collision with
an iceberg. That doesn't matter because this film is about the relationship
of rich, haughty, upper class European (no nationality specified) Webb and
his estranged American wife of some two decades, Barbara Stanwyck. They
have an ingenue teenage girl who is a Parisian snob and a younger boy who
adores his dad. The feeling is mutual until Stanwyck reveals that her
husband, from whom she's fleeing so the kids can grow up in darkest rural
Michigan as Americans, isn't the boy's father. The ship is the setting for
a family in dissolution with every first-time viewer knowing the matter
won't be resolved when the ship docks in new York.
Of course the tempestuous exchanges between Webb and Stanwyck, strongly and
believably acted, must give way to the exigencies of dealing with a mortally
stricken vessel. Stanwyck and Webb are at the height of their acting
careers.. The last dialogue between Webb and his son as drowning approaches
is among the most moving and heart-wrenching I have ever experienced in a
movie (maybe it's just a guy thing).
Barbara Stanwyck said in an interview that when her lifeboat scene ended she
burst into uncontrollable tears, so strongly had she felt the experience of
DVDs frequently have extra features which can and do run from the inane to
the outstanding. I have yet to encounter a more valuable and fascinating
extra than the documentary "Beyond Titanic," a ninety-five minute film only
a bit shorter than the movie itself. While many Titanic documentaries focus
on the causes of the maritime debacle or the exploration of the sunken ship,
this film is about the social and cultural significance and heritage of one
of the world's most consistently engrossing and endlessly studied
"Beyond Titanic" presents the cinema history of the voyage from the first
silent reels emerging soon after the event to the most recent movies.
Authors of outstanding books on the Titanic are interviewed and film clips
from movies and newsreels bring the story to life.
While watching the movie before we saw the documentary, my teenage son
turned to me and cynically asked why women and children should have had a
right to available lifeboat seats before men were debarked from the listing
vessel. "Beyond Titanic" tackles the social mores of the time and quickly
but clearly shows that the heroism of men who yielded the opportunity to get
into the boats, and thus forfeited their lives, was a standard that those
opposed to woman's suffrage applauded. Fighters for women's rights were
embarrassed, indeed appalled, and many clearly felt that no such
consideration should have been extended on the basis of gender. Probably no
one disputed that children should have been saved before adults (at least I
There are more extra features including newsreels.
And to think that this new release cost but $9.95.
For the movie, 8/10. For "Beyond Titanic," 10/10.