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Titanic in the movies


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#1 miliosr

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 04:07 PM

I happened to stumble across the 1953 version of Titanic on television today and really got caught up in it. Directed by Jean Negulesco, this version tells the tales of several passengers on the ill-fated liner, most memorably Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck as an estranged couple warring over their two children (one of whom is romancing a very young Robert Wagner.) Also along for the ride/voyage is that old trouper Thelma Ritter as a tart-tongued Molly Brown-like character.

The 1997 James Cameron version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet is better in terms of depiciting the actual sinking (inexplicably short in the Negulesco version) BUT the acting and the script are much, much better in the 1953 version. (Don't get me started on the script for Cameron's Titanic.) For the first two-thirds of the movie you forget that you're even watching a disaster movie because the drama between Webb and Stanwyck is so absorbing. (And Ritter is a hoot with her one-liners: "Don't send a baby to delivah the bee-ah!")

Even if you don't find the drama or disaster interesting, the camp aspect of 1950s-style, big budget melodrama has it charms. As Barbara Stanwyck watches the ship go down (with -- SPOILER -- her husband and son on-board) from her lifeboat, she is ridiculously well-coiffed, made-up and lit. (Funny, I didn't know they had key lighting at night in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.) Hey -- a sinking luxury liner is no reason for a Hollywood leading lady to look anything less than her best!!!!

#2 bart

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 05:44 PM

As Barbara Stanwyck watches the ship go down (with -- SPOILER -- her husband and son on-board) from her lifeboat, she is ridiculously well-coiffed, made-up and lit. (Funny, I didn't know they had key lighting at night in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.) Hey -- a sinking luxury liner is no reason for a Hollywood leading lady to look anything less than her best!!!!

Remember Tallulah Bankhead in Lifeboat? Maybe flattering lighting was included in the standard survival kit on these boats. :pinch:

#3 Mashinka

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 02:19 AM

The 1958 film A Night to Remember starring Kennneth More has always been the best film about the sinking of the Titanic as far as I'm concerned. Based on the autoritive book by Walter Lord, the sets were based on original blueprints of the ship and one of the surviving offficers worked closely with the director to ensure authenticity.

The film appeared to be a near exact recording of events, but most importantly the cast retained the manners and mores of the time and in particular they spoke with the accents of their parent's generation. More modern films have never convinced me that I'm watching Edwardians.

#4 dirac

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 11:47 AM

Thanks, miliosr. I suspect they didn't give much time to the sinking for financial reasons. But then all the Titanic feature films until Cameron's give relatively short shrift to the logistics, I expect because not many details were known about them until relatively recently and also the special effects available at the time were both costly and not terribly convincing. As Mashinka notes, A Night to Remember, with More featured as a crew member and written by Eric Ambler, follows the facts around the sinking more faithfully and contains some suspenseful circumstances omitted by Cameron, obsessed as he was by the travails of Jack and Rose. On the other hand, the ship looks as if it is going down in a bathtub.

The 1953 movie is entertaining, although as miliosr says you're not going to find out much about the Titanic.

There's also a Titanic curio from the Forties, a movie made in Nazi Germany in which a German crew member plays the hero's role and the sinking is mainly due to the greed and perfidy of the Brits. It looks as if Cameron borrowed some useful bits from it, too.

I'll stick up for the 1997 Titanic, though. It's melodramatic, with some unintentional giggles, but it does have, especially in the last hour or so, an unusual emotional intensity. As for the acting, DiCaprio and Winslet are terrific, amazingly fresh and direct. Jack and Rose dominate so completely that there's barely room for supporting actors to register, but I liked Victor Garber and Billy Zane.

There was a TV miniseries made about the same time as the Cameron movie, but I didn't see it and don't know what it's like.

#5 sidwich

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 04:13 PM

I'll stick up for the 1997 Titanic, though. It's melodramatic, with some unintentional giggles, but it does have, especially in the last hour or so, an unusual emotional intensity. As for the acting, DiCaprio and Winslet are terrific, amazingly fresh and direct. Jack and Rose dominate so completely that there's barely room for supporting actors to register, but I liked Victor Garber and Billy Zane.


I have to stick up for Cameron's "Titanic," as well. The screenplay is laughable at parts, but Cameron is still an excellent director and I think he does some of his most elegant work on "Titanic." I really like the super-closeups that he does of DiCaprio's eyes while he's sketching, and the tranformation of the wreck back into the brand-new ship is superbly done. And although DiCaprio has done much more heavyweight work since "Titanic," I actually think "Titanic" is some of his best work. (I find most of his work to be terribly labored since then.)

#6 miliosr

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 05:08 PM

The film appeared to be a near exact recording of events, but most importantly the cast retained the manners and mores of the time and in particular they spoke with the accents of their parent's generation. More modern films have never convinced me that I'm watching Edwardians.


Fair enough. The 1953 Titanic does feel like it's occurring in the 1920s or even the 1930s rather than 1912.

I'll stick up for the 1997 Titanic, though. It's melodramatic, with some unintentional giggles, but it does have, especially in the last hour or so, an unusual emotional intensity. As for the acting, DiCaprio and Winslet are terrific, amazingly fresh and direct. Jack and Rose dominate so completely that there's barely room for supporting actors to register, but I liked Victor Garber and Billy Zane.


I have to stick up for Cameron's "Titanic," as well. The screenplay is laughable at parts, but Cameron is still an excellent director and I think he does some of his most elegant work on "Titanic." I really like the super-closeups that he does of DiCaprio's eyes while he's sketching, and the tranformation of the wreck back into the brand-new ship is superbly done. And although DiCaprio has done much more heavyweight work since "Titanic," I actually think "Titanic" is some of his best work. (I find most of his work to be terribly labored since then.)


DiCaprio's performance has always been a big impediment to my liking the 1997 Titanic. I always felt he was too modern. But then I used to feel the same way about Michelle Pfeiffer as the Countess Olenska in The Age of Innocence. I thought she was too modern and California. But then the day came when I realized that maybe that was why Martin Scorcese cast her. Ellen Olenska was of the 20th century and Newland Archer was of the 19th century and Pfeiffer, whether done intentionally or not, conveys that through her manner. So, maybe one day, I will come to view DiCaprio's performance the same way.

My favorite scene in the 1997 Titanic is when DiCaprio and Winslet, after escaping from the bowels of the sinking ship for the second (!) time, encounter Victor Garber. I love the quiet emotion between Winslet and Garber when she realizes he won't try to survive the impending catastrophe.

#7 dirac

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 05:59 PM

And although DiCaprio has done much more heavyweight work since "Titanic," I actually think "Titanic" is some of his best work. (I find most of his work to be terribly labored since then.)


I'm inclined to agree, alas. It looks like the DiCaprio-Scorsese partnership is a settled business but I'm not sure they're really right for each other.

miliosr, opinions do tend to differ sharply on DiCaprio, but I think his performance, along with Winsletís, does much to lend credibility to the film. I suppose he is too contemporary, but period ambience is not Titanic Ď97ís strong point, so he didnít stick out like a sore thumb for me.

#8 bart

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 06:22 PM

There's also a Titanic curio from the Forties, a movie made in Nazi Germany in which a German crew member plays the hero's role and the sinking is mainly due to the greed and perfidy of the Brits. It looks as if Cameron borrowed some useful bits from it, too.

dirac, this is fascinating. It's also related to a topic (Axis homefront propaganda) I've been interested in for a long time. Do you have the title or any other information I can use to try to locate details?

#9 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 07:48 PM

bart, try this link:
http://en.wikipedia....nic_(1943_film)

#10 GWTW

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 11:46 PM

miliosr, opinions do tend to differ sharply on DiCaprio, but I think his performance, along with Winsletís, does much to lend credibility to the film. I suppose he is too contemporary, but period ambience is not Titanic Ď97ís strong point, so he didnít stick out like a sore thumb for me.


This may be a minority opinion, but IMO Winslet has a very 'modern' sensibility despite her 'period' looks - more so than DiCaprio. Her best work has been in more contemporary movies, like Hideous Kinky and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (just thinking about the luminosity of Winslet and Dunst (and where has she disappeared to :wink: ) in that movie makes me happy).
Disclaimer: I haven't seen either The Reader (and I don't intend to) or Revolutionary Road, so maybe this opinion is just based on older work.

#11 Helene

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 07:44 AM

I thought most of them were playing dress-up in "Titanic", but I didn't go in expecting BBC.

#12 bart

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 08:14 AM

Many thanks, Cristian, for that link. This is one of the the most interesting and thought-provoking Wikipedia articles I remember reading. We know that Nazi ideologists were vicious, but sometimes forget how strange and convoluted was their thinking!

Titanic was the most expensive German production up until that time and endured many production difficulties, including a clash of egos, massive creative differences and general war-time frustrations. All of this resulted in Joseph Goebbels arresting the film's director, Herbert Selpin, for treason and ordering him to be hanged in his cell the very next day. The unfinished film, the production of which spiraled wildly out control, was in the end completed by Werner Klingler.

Makes the big Hollywood studio bosses seem positively lamb-like.

By the way, did you notice that the film -- having failed at the box-office in German-occupied Europe and having been banned in the West after the war -- had a successful run in the Soviet Union in the fifties? Apparently the powers that be liked its anti-capitalist bias.

#13 dirac

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 10:20 AM

All of this resulted in Joseph Goebbels arresting the film's director, Herbert Selpin, for treason and ordering him to be hanged in his cell the very next day.


Imagine what he would have done to Michael Cimino.

The Nazi picture is watchable, allowing for the Bizarro World plotting, and youíll find out where Cameron probably got the idea for the ďstolenĒ necklace and a couple of his visuals. Itís not much odder than Errol Flynn saving Burma singlehanded, when you think about it.

My favorite scene in the 1997 Titanic is when DiCaprio and Winslet, after escaping from the bowels of the sinking ship for the second (!) time, encounter Victor Garber.


Apparently something like that actually happened Ė he was last seen in that room, watching the clock. A Night to Remember has the same scene, sans the young lovers.

......... (just thinking about the luminosity of Winslet and Dunst (and where has she disappeared to (IMG:http://ballettalk.invisionzone.com/style_emoticons/default/ohmy.gif) ) in that movie makes me happy).


Off topic Ė I think Dunstís last major effort was in the Coppola Marie Antoinette, where she looked lost. I donít think she has a Winslet-like future ahead of her, which is too bad.

For the first two-thirds of the movie you forget that you're even watching a disaster movie because the drama between Webb and Stanwyck is so absorbing.


I guess I had a hard time getting my mind around Webb and Stanwyck as a married couple. (I remember seeing a movie where Glenn Close was married to James Woods and had the same problem.)

#14 sidwich

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 02:47 PM

Apparently something like that actually happened Ė he was last seen in that room, watching the clock. A Night to Remember has the same scene, sans the young lovers.


I think this is based on the reports of survivors that after attempting to evacuate as many passengers as possible, Andrews was last scene in the room with the clock and the painting. I think it is in the mini-series as well. Garber does a beautiful job with it.

#15 miliosr

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 04:17 PM

For the first two-thirds of the movie you forget that you're even watching a disaster movie because the drama between Webb and Stanwyck is so absorbing.


I guess I had a hard time getting my mind around Webb and Stanwyck as a married couple. (I remember seeing a movie where Glenn Close was married to James Woods and had the same problem.)


The idea of Clifton Webb fathering children (let alone fathering them with a "tough broad" like Barbara Stanwyck) does push the willing suspension of disbelief close to its limit! :wallbash:


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