“Iceberg — straight ahead!”
On a fateful night in April of 1912, a wealthy expatriate (Clifton Webb) secures a ticket on board the Titanic, where his estranged wife (Barbara Stanwyck) has whisked away their daughter (Audrey Dalton) and son (Harper Carter) in an attempt to give them a life of normalcy in America. The couple quickly begin bickering — but little do they know that even greater drama lies ahead for their family, and everyone else on board the ship.
Jean Negulesco directed Hollywood’s first attempt to portray the tragedy of the luxury passenger liner RMS Titanic. An elaborate fictional storyline takes up the first hour of the narrative, focusing heavily on marital strife (Stanwyck and Webb’s relationship couldn’t be more tense), young love (between Dalton and Robert Wagner), and class relations — the latter of which which makes sense, given the infamy of what was to come in terms of disproportionate deaths amongst the passengers and crew. Stanwyck and Webb are fine in the central dramatic roles, though supporting work by (among others) Brian Aherne as stalwart Captain E.J. Smith; Richard Basehart as an alcoholic priest returning home in shame after being relieved of his position; and Thelma Ritter as the Unsinkable Molly Brown are equally noteworthy. The film really comes to life once the ship hits the iceberg, and we’re given an impressive (albeit truncated) rendering of what occurred thereafter. While not quite as impactful or historically accurate as the next cinematic rendition to hit the screens, this early disaster flick remains worthy viewing in its own right.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Barbara Stanwyck as Julia Sturges
- Clifton Webb as Richard Sturges
- Fine supporting performances
- A highly effective early recreation of the infamous ship and disaster
- Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography
Yes, as a worthy early disaster flick.