Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

TITANIC (1953)

TITANIC (1953). Director: Jean Negulesco.

NOTE: This review reveals various plot turns in the film.

The original Titanic of 1953 has always been considered inferior to the British A Night to Remember, but a fresh look at videos of both features -- plus the new 1997 Hollywood version -- proves it actually to be the best and most emotionally wrenching of all three versions. The main characters are played -- and played superbly -- by Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb (in what has to be one of his finest performances). They are a married couple on the verge of divorcing, who rediscover their love for each other, unfortunately, when it's far too late. Stanwyck has revealed that Webb is not the biological father of his son, and he shuns the boy, until the moving conclusion reunites them on the deck of the ship. "I have been proud of you since the moment you were born," Webb tells the young man and holds him close just before the ship goes down. Devastated, Stanwyck watches the sinking from one of the lifeboats. The victims are allowed their dignity; it's left to the imagination what their final moments are like. Stanwyck's daughter (a lovely Audrey Dalton) is also in the lifeboat, but the boyfriend she's met on the ship (Robert Wagner) doesn't make it. (This secondary love story between an upper crust girl and more rough-hewn boy became the main story line of the 1997 remake.) Because we have come to know and like these people, their deaths -- and the crushing loss their survivors feel -- make the film's conclusion almost unbearably moving. The screenplay won a well-deserved Oscar, and Jean Negulesco's direction is assured and solid.

Verdict: Strong and poignant. ***1/2.

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