Classic Movies Remembered: Hard to find the real Titanic story

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The Brits triumphed with A Night to Remember in 1956, which is usually regarded as the best account to date.

The sinking of the Titanic has been shown in around 50 movies and docu-movies over the years. They started in 1912 with a short silent film which appears to show a small model in a bathtub hitting an ice cube. The first sound movie Atlantic was made in 1929 and was filmed aboard the White Star liner Majestic: the ownership company refused to allow the name Titanic to be used in the script.



Dr Goebbels ordered the first Titanic “blockbuster” in 1943. It showed the British ruling class recklessly steaming into an icefield at full speed and being more interested in buying and selling shares and partying all night rather than seeing to passenger safety. Inevitably, there’s a Jewish first officer held responsible for the actual collision with the berg. But the film was never shown to German audiences as the panic scenes towards the climax were thought to be an unpleasant reminder of allied bombing attacks on German cities.


In 1952 Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck stepped forward to star in the American drama Titanic. But the disaster itself is almost a sideline as most scenes, prior to the accident which occurs more than half the way through, either showed the duo family-quarreling or Clifton Webb playing bridge in the first class lounge. In 1956 the Brits triumphed with A Night to Remember, based on the book by Walter Lord, which is usually regarded as the best account to date. It did show the captain and officers of the nearby Californian ignoring distress rockets in the distance, setting off a renewed dispute amongst Titanic fans which survives until today.


The Germans made the first Titanic film, but it was banned in Germany because the panic scenes were thought to be an unpleasant reminder of allied bombing on their cities.

Raising the Titanic was a popular idea before the wreck was actually discovered. In 1980 movie mogul Lew Grade produced a film of that name but it was an awesome disaster at the box office. People just didn’t believe the story line. Indeed, he was moved to remark, “It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic”. In 1985 the wreck was actually found and, contrary to expectations, was found to have split into two just prior to disappearing below the waves. The split ending of the doomed liner is portrayed in the 1997 film Titanic starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, a highly romanticized version of the world’s most famous disaster at sea.

Since then, there have been a few half-hearted attempts such as Titanic Two, a rubbish American offering simply trying to cash in on the name. The debate about the Californian, and whether or not it was culpable, has figured in several documentaries. In 2011 there was My Heart Will Go On in which an angel intervenes to prevent the sinking with unforeseen consequences. The anniversary of the sinking in 2012 saw a new television series on the sinking with the emphasis on individual passengers and crew. It remains to be seen whether or not the tragedy of the submarine Titan at the site in June 2023 will create another excuse for Titanic mania. The answer is almost certainly yes.


The latest highly romanticized version of the world’s most famous disaster at sea starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.