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A Night to Remember: The Criterion Collection

Some 40 years before James Cameron offered us his epic experiment in low-quality content on a high-end budget, the true story of the H.M.S. Titanic had already been chillingly, masterfully rendered on the big screen in A Night to Remember, and instead of Yankee audaciousness, director Roy Ward Barker approached the tragedy with the appropriate English reserve. The Titanic was, after all, a British ship built as a testament to the proud accomplishments of the Empire — that the ship would sink (as well as the Empire), was a blasphemous consideration. But this bold self-assurance mixed dangerously with several small-yet-overlooked details, resulting in both grand tragedy and indelible history. Based on Walter Lord's book of the same name (adapted for the screen by Eric Ambler), A Night to Remember gives a nod to all of the famous (and infamous) participants — Captain Edward Smith, designer Thomas Andrews, Molly Brown — and several insignificant ones, from crew to steerage. What Barker captures in his detailed study is a complex and heart-wrenching verité portrait of fear, fate, bravery, selflessness, panic, and pride — and gracefully lacking Cameron's trite After-School Special melodrama. After all, this is a story about 1,500 real people who died, along with 700 real people who struggled to survive, and for some reason that is vastly more resonant than whether fictional Jack and Rose will escape evil Cal and find true love as thousands of digitally created pixels are thrust into the icy north Atlantic. It's also important to note that, only 40 years after the real tragedy occurred, many survivors of the Titanic were able to contribute their memories to both Lord and Barker. Even in 1997, the event was perhaps still too recent for a Cameron-style desecration. Fans of the '97 Titanic may be — somewhat rightfully — awed by that film's $200 million budget, but that sort of attitude is what brought the big boat down in the first place. This 1958 classic is a stirring recount of an horrific event, and if you're still fuming about the lack of extras on Paramount's Titanic release, you should buy this excellent Criterion disc as a more-than-worthy bookend. Presented in a solid black-and-white 1.66:1 widescreen transfer and the original 1.0 mono. Includes an audio commentary by Titanic experts Don Lynch and Ken Marshall, U.K. and U.S. theatrical trailers, and a 60-minute documentary on the film's creation. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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