Thursday, 6 January 2011

Titanic 1953

It is possible to describe the past 96 hours as days original and remakes, given the number of films which have enabled me to forget the constant blowing of nose and coughing although I have managed to sleep, albeit at an assortment of times.

I went out early on Tuesday morning January 4th to the return of biting coldness for a brief shopping expedition to the nearest supermarket and to use up the £5 voucher bonus from the Christmas New Year give away and a £5 voucher from the petrol station. It main purpose was to restock on toilet rolls and toothpaste. There was an excellent offer of tins of grapefruit in juice at 29p and the tubs of prepared rice for 74p instead of £1 or more. I purchased some salad and grapes. Special offer diet coke and an extra or two, a tin of anchovies and two half price individual Christmas puddings. Apart from milk I am well stocked for two weeks if necessary. I plan to use up the freezer and fridge contents for defrost and clean if the snow keeps away.

On returning home the Green wagon was in the lane so I had to park and wait. I only need to clear my blue (green) wheelie bin every four weeks but neighbours bins were bulging with celebration cans and bottles as well as Christmas cardboard. The ordinary waste wagon had also cleared the bins leading mine in front of the garage door so I had to get out in the cold to move before being able to park. I remember back to the days of the round metal waste bins in which it was possible to burn waste as well as putting in the embers from the coal fires. Its seems a lifetime ago and it was, although the memories are vivid.

One of the films was the 1953 Titanic, made in black and white it created a great sense of horror than the more recent popular award winning version, despite its preoccupation with the trivial life of one family, the Sturges with Barbara Stanwick playing wife Julie who has decided to rebel against her purposeless life, following her husband around Europe to the social events of the seasons while he plots a good marriage for his adoring 17 year old daughter and worshipping son. She has sneaked off while he is occupied elsewhere using the excuse of the Titanic maiden voyage to take the children home and then keep them there hoping to change them into more likeable and socially aware young people.

The husband, played by Clifton Webb, finds out but arrives at the Cherbourg stage to find there are no tickets left. This is dishonest film trick as the vessel sailed half full of wine growers travelling third class fortunately, otherwise the number of deaths would have been significantly greater. He persuades a Spanish family of wine growers travelling third class to give up the male parent’s ticket after offering to add the purchase of 100 aces for their trouble. As if the family on their way to California would have agreed to separated and in this way, but this aspect is essential for the particular ending.

Their ten year old son is delighted to see his father and immediately plans how they will spend part of the day together entering the Shuffleboard competition, when there was no such game on the ship. Similarly Clifton is away luggage finds himself sporting day wear and an evening suit from the Ship’s Tailor and shop, another feature not on the Titanic.

The 17 year old Annette is appalled to learn she has missed the opportunity to attend a major social event at which Clifton has planned to arrange her marriage to one of Europe’s wealthiest families. She rejects the attention from a talented, and attractive young man, part of the USA Tennis team on their way home, and played by a very young Robert Wagner. He is encouraged by the mother and after a dance the two fall in love just as the iceberg opens the ship below the waterline rather like a tin opener on the former of corned beef tins. The relationship between husband and wife reaches its climax fighting over the future of the two children when mother recognising she is rejected by her daughter in favour of her father, ensures she will keep the boy by revealing he is the child of a brief encounter one summer. However Clifton reacts by saying he wants to have nothing more to do with her or the boy and spends the time playing bridge with an assortment of other First class socialites including a character based on Molly Brown played by Thelma Ritter.

The ending has its sentimental aspects similar to the more recent version, as first the daughter realises she has behaved badly towards her mother and that she has fallen for Wagner and then the reality that he and her father are unlikely to survive when having to remain on the ship because their are insufficient lifeboats. After saying goodbye and not expecting to see him again, Wagner heroically climbs down the winding gear of another boat which has become entangled and falls hitting his head into the water by the sudden release of the boat into the water. He is picked up and unbeknown to his new love, will be rescued along with her.

The discovery about his son results in Webb taking an interest in the Spanish family and getting the mother to sign what appears to be a Will or deed of settlement of some kind prepared which she is asked to hold for him. He therefore makes sure she gets onto a lifeboat and witnessing this act although unaware of its significance and they way he had ensured that she and their children are safe knowing he is likely to perish, makes Barbara see her husband in a new light and they are reconciled at the moment of permanent separation. Then out of sight of mother and sister, the boy gives up his seat in the boat to an old women to go in search of his father. Father is horrified on seeing the boy and finding that there are no lifeboats left tells the boy how much he is proud of his son and they die together. Apart from the Molly Brown character who we see surviving in another boat the only other story of merit is that of a priest, unfrocked because of his alcoholism is finding it difficult facing the family who gave up much to enable him to achieve his calling. He(Richard Baseheart) dies going to spiritual aid of trapped men below decks. “For God’s sake don’t go in there” says a crew member. to which he replies For God’s sake I am going in there.

There is a host of historical inaccuracies in the film with some already mentioned. The boilers explode in the film when in reality they did not and the interior of the ship was very different. The wealthy travellers of the Captain’s table, first class would have had staff with them and occupied substantial suites whereas the Sturgis family occupy two fairly basic cabins and there are no staff other than Ships crew. Wikipedia has an extensive list of other errors, although in the opening credits there is reference to the authentic city of the basic facts of what happened. Yet having said all this why do I still feel that the film showed the horror more effectively than the recent version. There are two reason, both subjective. The first is a film in black and white struck me as communicating the cold more effectively. The second is seeing the film at an ice cold time of the year. I was struck by the awareness of the death of so many men, the small number of women and the one child, a girl of a family who went in search of their baby son who had already been taken onto a lifeboat by its nurse, the horror of their actual death by drowning suffocation and what would have been the impact of the immediate surviving and other family members.

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