Night to Remember, A (1958): Barker’s British Film about the Titanic, Starring Kenneth More

A Night to Remember was adapted to the big screen by Eric Ambler from Walter Lord’s book, which was published in 1955, revolving around the last night of the RMS Titanic.

Directed by Roy Ward Barker, the film stars Kenneth More, a popular actor of the era, surrounded by an ensemble that includes Ronald Allen, Robert Avres, Honor Blackman, Michael Goodliffe, and Laurence Naismith.

The story focuses on the events leading to the sinking of the ship, portraying the major incidents and players in a black aand white documentary-style mode, marked by impressive attention to detail.

The team, supervised by producer  William MacQuitty, had access to ship’s blueprints, which helped made the sets more realistic.

Fourth Officer Joseh Boxhall and ex-Cunard Commodore Harry Grattidge served as technical advisors on the film.

At the time, A Night to Remember was the most expensive film ever made in British cinema.

Elizabeth Dowdell, one of the Titanic survivors, attended the U.S. premiere in N.Y. on December 16 1958; the U.K. world premiere in London was earlier, July 3.

The film received critical acclaim upon release, and it is regarded as more accurate and truthful account of the tragedy than other versions.

Production values of the b/w movie are good.

Detailed Plot

In 1912, the luxurious Titanic is the largest vessel afloat, widely believed to be unsinkable–the only ship close in luxury and size is sister ship Olympic.

Passengers aboard for her maiden voyage are the elite of American and British society. Boarding are first class passengers Sir Richard and Lady Richard, second class passengers Mr. Clarke and Mrs. Clarke, a young newly wed couple, and steerage passengers Pat Murphy, Martin Gallagher and James Farrel. Second Officer Charles Lightoller is readying for the voyage.

On April 10, Titanic sails out to sea. On April 14, the ship receives ice warnings from other steamers, but only a few of the messages are relayed to Captain Edward J. Smith, who orders  lookout, but does not slow the ship or consider changing course.

Late that night, the SS Californian spots a distant float, and tries to send a message to the Titanic.

On the Titanic, the steerage passengers enjoy their time at a party in Third Class where Murphy becomes attracted to young Polish girl.

In the wireless room, wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Sydney Bride are changing shifts. Phillips receives an ice warning, but when more messages arrive for him to send out, it is lost under them.

On the Californian, field ice is spotted, and the ship stops, for it is too dangerous to proceed, and a message is sent to the Titanic. Because the Californian is so close, the message is very loud, and Phillips cuts off the message. Titanic’s passengers begin to settle in for the night, while some, including Mr. Hoyle and Jay Yates stay up to gamble. Suddenly, the vessel collides with an iceberg. Captain Smith sends for Thomas Andrews, the ship’s builder, to inspect the damage. Andrews determines that the ship will sink within two hours, and it lacks sufficient lifeboat capacity for everyone on board.

A distress signal is sent out, but the Californian’s radio operator is off duty.

The radio operator on the RMS Carpathia receives the call and alerts Captain Arthur Rostron, who orders the ship to head to the site. Unfortunately, the ship will take around four hours to reach the Titanic.

Seeing the Californian, visible on the horizon 10 miles away, Titanic begins efforts to signal the ship, but the Californian’s crew fails to comprehend why the ship they are in sight of is firing rockets. Captain Smith orders Lightoller to start lowering the lifeboats. On Lightoller’s side, men are not allowed on board, but First Officer William Murdoch, working the other side of the ship, is far more lenient, letting men board lifeboats. In the Grand Staircase, Robbie Lucas runs into Andrews who tells him the truth. Lucas gets his children and wife safety in a boat. Murphy, Gallagher and Farrel help the Polish girl and her mother find their way through the ship, and get them in a boat. The Richards, and Hoyle are admitted to a boat by Murdoch. Yates gives a female passenger a note to send to his sister. Ida Straus and Isidor Straus refuse to be separated, inadvertently setting an example for Mrs. Clarke, who first decides to stay with her husband, until Andrews advises them on how to survive. As the stewards struggle to hold back women and children in third-class, most of those from first- and second-class board the lifeboats and launch away from the ship. The passengers begin to realise the danger, as the ship lists.

When the third-class passengers are allowed up, chaos ensues. White Star Line Chairman J. Bruce Ismay steps into one of the last lifeboats to save himself. The Titanic’s bow submerges, and only two collapsible lifeboats are left. Lightoller and other able seamen struggle to free them, as Captain Smith gives the order to abandon ship, and every man for himself.

The Clarkes use a rope to get down the ship’s side, as the orchestra performs the Horbury rendition of the hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee”, while Smith returns to the bridge and goes down with his ship. The ship begins its final plunge and Lightoller and many others are swept off. Andrews awaits his fate in the first class smoking room, while passengers, Murphy, Gallagher and Farrel among them, retreat towards the stern as it rises high into the air. A kindly steward comforts a lost boy separated from his mother. Lucas looks out towards the lifeboats, realising he will never see his family again, while The Clarkes, struggling in the water, are killed by a falling funnel. The passengers, including Murphy, Gallagher and Farrel, pray before the stricken liner rapidly sinks into the icy sea.

Many people, including Lucas and Farrel, die of hypothermia. One of the collapsibles is floating overturned. Yates, unwilling to overcrowd the upturned boat, swims away to his death.

Lightoller takes charge on the boat. Murphy and Gallagher make it to the collapsible, Murphy swimming about with the dead body of a boy in his arms, possibly the same lost boy that was being comforted by the steward on the ship. Chief Baker Charles Joughin, after giving up his space in a lifeboat, and turned to the bottle to ease his ailments, also climbs aboard.

The men are eventually saved by another boat. In the boat, a female passenger mentions her baby in a cracking voice, implying she was the lost boy’s mother. The Carpathia arrives and rescues the survivors.

On the ship, Murphy and Gallagher are reunited with the Polish girl and her mother, while Mrs Farrel and Mrs. Lucas mourn the loss of their husbands. After a group prayer, Lightoller is told by Rostron the numbers of the saved and lost: 1500 people were lost; 705 survived.

The Carpathia receives message from the Californian, which has finally heard of the disaster, but tells them that anything that was possible has been done.

Kenneth More as Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller
Michael Goodliffe as shipbuilder Thomas Andrews
Laurence Naismith as Captain Edward J. Smith
Kenneth Griffith as Wireless Operator Jack Phillips
David McCallum as Assistant Wireless Operator Harold Bride
Tucker McGuire as Mrs. Margaret “Molly” Brown
Frank Lawton as chai and managing director of the White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay
Richard Leech as First Officer William McMaster Murdoch
John Cairney as Mr. Murphy
Richard Clarke as Martin Gallagher
Patrick McAlinney as Mr. James Farrell
Anthony Bushell as Captain Arthur Rostron
Alec McCowen as Wireless Operator Harold Thomas Cottam, RMS Carpathia
Ronald Allen as Mr. Clarke
Jill Dixon as Mrs. Clarke
Geoffrey Bayldon as Wireless Operator Cyril Evans, SS Californian
George Rose as Chief Baker Charles Joughin
John Merivale as Robbie Lucas
Honor Blackman as Mrs. Liz Lucas
Robert Ayres as Arthur Godfrey Peuchen
Ralph Michael as Jay Yates
James Dyrenforth as Colonel Archibald Gracie IV
Russell Napier as Captain Stanley Lord
Jane Downs as Iowa Sylvania Zillah “Sylvia” Hawley-Wilson (Mrs. Sylvia Lightoller)
Patrick Waddington as Sir Richard
Harriette Johns as Lady Richard
Redmond Phillips as Mr. Hoyle
Joseph Tomelty as Dr. William O’Loughlin
Jack Watling as Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall
Michael Bryant as Sixth Officer James Paul Moody
Howard Lang as Chief Officer Henry Tingle Wilde (uncredited)
Cyril Chamberlain as Quartermaster Rowe
Bee Duffell as Mrs. Farrell
Harold Goldblatt as Benjamin Guggenheim
Gerald Harper as Third Officer, RMS Carpathia
Thomas Heathcote as Steward
Andrew Keir as Second Engineer Officer John Henry ‘Harry’ Hesketh
Howard Pays as Fifth Officer Harold Lowe
Harold Siddons as Second Officer Herbert Stone, SS Californian
Julian Somers as Mr. Bull

End Note:

I am grateful to TCM, which showed on March 25, 2018 two films about the disastrous sinking: The U.S. picture Titanic, made in 1953, and the 1958 A Night to Remember, which is superior.