A Night to Remember

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"We've struck a berg. I think she's badly damaged. I would like to know how badly."

Captain Smith

Lucas: "I'd like you to tell me something. I... I have a wife and three children on board. Just how serious is it? I'm not the panicking kind."
Andrews: "The ship has about an hour to live. A little more, if some of the upper bulkheads hold, but not much more. Get your wife and children into the boats."


Before Titanic there was A Night to Remember, a 1958 movie about the 1912 sinking of RMS Titanic, based on Walter Lord's nonfiction book of the same title chronicling the maritime disaster that claimed the lives of 1,517 of the 2,223 people on board.

Filmed in a drama-documentary style and using groundbreaking special effects for the time, it follows the stories of several members of the crew and passengers from prior to the ship's departure to its ultimate fate at the bottom of the Atlantic. It's as historically accurate as it could have been for the time and it cemented the format for disaster movies from that point onwards.

Tropes used in A Night to Remember include:
  • Alcohol Hic: Given at one point by the drunken baker.
  • Anyone Can Die: ...and most do.
  • Contrast Montage: At the start of the film, we see an upper-class English lady and her entourage, a middle-class newlywed couple and some Irish emigrants preparing for their voyage.
  • The Determinator: Captain Rostron of the Carpathia, who tries to reach the Titanic before it sinks with no regard to the hazards facing his own ship. The fact that he fails to reach Titanic in time doesn't diminish the Crowning Moment of Awesome in the least.
  • Dirty Coward: J. Bruce Ismay is depicted in this fashion when he scurries into a lifeboat at first opportunity. It's one of the movie's few Critical Research Failures (albeit one justified by the time), since contemporary reports indicate that Ismay, far from being a coward, strenuously worked hard to get people into the boats, helped launch them and only took a seat in one of the last boats to leave the ship having made sure that there were no women and children nearby.
    • Massively debatable as he is often shown in the film helping, or at least trying to help, with the launch of the boats and getting the survivors into them. He only gets into the boats when there is no-one left to go on the side he was on, with First Officer Murdoch on the Starboard side, where he actually asks "Is there no-one else?" regarding a boat that was only leaving half-full (of which there were many on the actual sinking).
  • Face Death with Dignity:

Andrews: Mr. Guggenheim... your lifebelt!
Benjamin Guggenheim: "It was uncomfortable. We have dressed now in our best, and are prepared to go down like gentlemen."

    • Also the ship's band who play to calm the other passengers, even though they had a chance to try to evacuate, and go down with the ship. Their being resigned to their fate is one of these scenes.
    • And we can't forget the Strauses, who stay together to the bitter end. As she says to her husband when he refuses to leave the ship while other men are aboard, urging her to go: "We have been together this long. Do you think I will abandon you now?"
  • Follow the Leader: Cameron decided to make his film after seeing this one, and lifted several scenes from it.
  • Foreshadowing: It's a foregone conclusion given the subject matter, but it's handled with subtlety; a character called William Stead who's briefly shown in the smoking room had, in 1886, written a story about two boats colliding with the loss of all hands. "This is exactly what might take place and will take place if liners are sent to sea short of boats."
  • For Want of a Nail: The appalling death toll could have been prevented if lifeboats were provisioned on the basis of passengers and if ships had to maintain a 24 hour radio watch - a ship big enough to hold hundreds of people was visible on the horizon but had turned their radio off.
    • Then again, it was the Titanic's sinking that enabled those safety features to be codified in the first place. Had she not sunk, these features wouldn't have been added (or they wouldn't have been implemented as quickly) and there likely would have just been a worse sinking later.
    • On top of that, the radio operators were in the employ of Marconi, not the ship itself. Hence the priority was in relaying paid personal messages rather than weather reports.
  • Gallows Humour: See picture quote.
  • Going Down with the Ship: Most of the passengers, but especially Smith and Andrews.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: We're shown several scenes where crewmen die trying to keep the ship afloat and operational for as long as is humanly possible. Several passengers are shown giving up their places in lifeboats so others may have them.
  • Homage: Several scenes from this film were remade/reworked in Titanic; most notably, just after the ship goes down we see a brief shot of a young man and a young woman struggling to both climb on top of a floating box.
  • Honour Before Reason: In spades, and seen across all the social strata.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted, naturally; most poignantly with the waiter who takes a young boy who's lost his mother under his wing, stops him from being crushed by the crowd... only for them to both drown minutes later.
    • In a later scene (that gets cut for broadcast more often than not), a crew member (possibly the above-mentioned waiter) makes it to the overturned Collapsible B with a child in his arms. With the last of his strength he gives the infant to Lightoller, pleading with him to take care of the child. Lightoller takes one look inside the child's hood, realizes it's dead and sets it adrift in the ocean.
    • It's actually two of the Irish steerage passengers who swim up with the child. The two of them survive after being pulled on board; but the child didn't, despite their heroic effort to save it.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: We see the story unfold from the points of view of the crew, first class, second class and steerage passengers.
  • Men Are the Expendable Gender: Not that hundreds of woman and children don't die either.
  • Nouveau Riche: Molly Brown, conversing with the other "Old Money" first-class passengers.

"He built me a house and he had silver dollars cemented all over the floors of every room!"
"I say, how very tiresome for you!"

  • Not Quite Saved Enough
  • Oh Crap: Several people's faces on hearing the news the ship is sinking.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In a literal sense; the crew spend the ships last hours trying, and failing, to communicate with the Californian, just visible on the horizon.
  • Precision F-Strike: "I think the bastards must be asleep." Remember this is a 1958 film.
  • History Marches On: Titanic is shown going down in one piece. Since the discovery of the wreck in 1985, it's generally accepted that the ship broke in two before it sank.
  • Shown Their Work: It's universally acclaimed at being not only a completely realistic portrayal of the disaster itself but also of the social/class structure of the time.
  • Stock Footage Failure: Footage of multiple ships was cobbled together to portray the Titanic departing Southampton, yet they don't even resemble each other, let alone the actual Titanic.
  • Spot of Tea: After the engineers are told to stay below decks to keep the lights running as long as humanly possible and that a rescue ship would be there Real Soon Now - ridding them of any chance to get to the surface where they might survive - we get this resigned response;

"Let's hope they're right, boys. If any of you feel like praying, you'd better go ahead. The rest of you can join me for a cup of tea."

  • Stiff Upper Lip: In spades, and not just from the Brits.
    • Absolutely personified by Robbie Lucas. After figuring out early on that the ship is going to sink and that there aren't enough lifeboats for all the women and children, let alone the men, he packs his wife, two daughters and a son onto a boat and bids them farewell without doing anything more extreme than raising his voice slightly... once. All so they won't be panicked, although his wife twigs what's up when she sees him nearly break into tears after telling his son to look after her mother. It's heartbreaking to watch.
  • Survivor Guilt: Most demonstrably in Ismay's face as he watches the boat go down from the safety of the lifeboat he sneaked onto.
  • Take That: One of the taglines of the film was 'The Real Story of the RMS Titanic', a jab at the less-than accurate 1953 Titanic film.
  • Tempting Fate: Famously, the ship was branded "unsinkable"... by the press, and the public went along with the hype. Averted with Andrews, the ships' head designer.

Captain Smith: But... she can't sink. She's unsinkable!
Andrews: She can't float.

  • Thousand-Yard Stare: A steward finds Andrews alone just before the sinking and asks, "Aren't you even going to make a try for it, sir?" Andrews shoots him an absolutely terrifying one of these.
  • Together in Death
  • Truth in Television: The whole damn film.
  • Understatement: Several occasions, see also Gallows Humour and Stiff Upper Lip above. From Lucas, who's fully aware he only has a couple of hours to live but is trying to convince his wife to get into the boats with their children without worrying her:

"It's very tiresome. We've struck an iceberg and damaged the ship. We may be a day late getting into New York."

  • Upper Class Twit: Averted; the first-class passengers are portrayed as being in the same boat as the other passengers and crew.
  • Urban Segregation: First, second and third class passengers were kept separate which proved to be detrimental once the ship starts sinking.