“We have no time to catalog our regrets. All we can do is pretend 20 years didn't happen. It's June again. You were walking under some Elm trees in a white muslin dress, the loveliest creature I ever laid eyes on. That summer, when I asked you to marry me, I pledged my eternal devotion. I would take it as a very great favor Julia, if you would accept a restatement of that pledge.”
- Richard Sturges
The lavish, big budget Fox melodrama Titanic was released to theatres in 1953. It went on to be nominated for two Academy Awards, winning the Story/Screenplay Oscar for writers Charles Brackett (Ninotchka), Walter Reisch (Gaslight) and Richard L. Breen (A Foreign Affair). Starring Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb as warring marrieds with decidedly different views on how to raise their two young children, the movie takes a simplistic story of familial squabbling and places square on the deck of the 20th century’s most agonizing maritime tragedy, somehow doing both tales justice in what feels like an over-before-you-know-it 98 minutes.
The script truly is something else. The almost Douglas Sirk-level melodrama comes off nowhere near as heavy-handed or as trite as it potentially could have (I’d be amazed if elements didn’t inspire James Cameron’s take on the same events 54 years later), the trio of writers mixing fact with fiction, real life and fantasy, with startling ease. It’s also a little surprising how complex they manage to make these characters in such a limited amount of time, Webb’s haughty Mr. Sturges nowhere near the cad his wife, beautifully underplayed by Stanwyck, makes him out to be while she’s not at all the loveless simpleton he in turns wishes she was. Their mutual stories take on weight and meaning as the film progresses to its inevitable conclusion, the sight of one sitting helpless in a lifeboat as they watch the other sink to their almost probably doom aboard the Titanic as heartbreaking as it is, in its own way, heroic.
There are some fun supporting turns throughout, not the least of which is the imitable Thelma Ritter playing a character named Maude Young but who is almost certainly the one and only Molly Brown, the veteran scene-stealer as magnetic as ever enlivening each and every scene she finds herself no matter what it might be. An incredibly young Robert Wagner is also quite good, his brief, if poignant, love affair with the Sturges’s spoiled teenage daughter, the beauteous Audrey Dalton, giving the movie an additional heartbeat making the final moments ring with even more catastrophic majesty.
Webb dominates, however, and as good as the rest, most especially Stanwyck, are, he is the one I found I couldn’t take my eyes off of. There are sequences between he and his costar that crackle with the kind of dramatic electricity I simply was not anticipating, while the nuances of his relationship with his adoring young son Norman (Harper Carter) shift believably throughout leading to a heart-stopping reunion that had me fairly close to drowning in tears.
The movie isn’t as classic as A Night to Remember, made only five years later and presented the details of the Titanic tragedy in a more journalistic fashion. It also, it sort of goes without saying, doesn’t have anywhere near the same spectacle as Cameron’s eventual Oscar juggernaut would showcase over a half-century later. But that doesn’t make this Titanic a lesser enterprise, this mesmerizing drama a suitable showcase for its entire cast (especially Webb, Stanwyck and Ritter) and one that does the story of the doomed ocean liner all kinds of justice.
Titanic is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.37:1 1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono soundtrack along with a Spanish Dolby Digital Mono track and features optional English SDH, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Spanish subtitles.
Extras here (mostly) mirror the previous DVD release and include:
· Audio Commentary by Film Critic Richard Schickel
· Audio Commentary by cinematographer Michael D. Lonzo, actors Audrey Dalton & Robert Wagner and historian Silvia Stodard
· Titanic Aftermath – Audio Essay by Silvia Stodard (11:24)
· Fox MovieTone News (2:22)
a. “Titanic” Premiere Thrills in South
b. CinemaScope and “The Robe” Win Oscars
· Still Gallery
· Original Theatrical Trailer (2:29)
Gone is the A&E documentary Beyond Titanic, but considering that was a 98-minute extra it’s understandable why Fox would decline to include it on the Blu-ray, wanting to keep the majority of the space for the film itself. As for the rest of the extras, historian Stodard’s audio essay is extremely interesting, and considering her comments are kept to a relative minimum in the commentary track (thus to allow Lonzo, Dalton and Wagner more opportunities to reminisce) the fact one doesn’t entirely mirror the other is relatively refreshing. As for those commentaries, as nice as the second one is it’s the track featuring Schickel which truly shines, the seasoned critics thoughts on the movie vibrant, informative and entertaining making listening to it a total breeze start to finish.
The 1953 version of Titanic may not have the intense spectacle of the 1997 James Cameron epic or the magnetic realism of 1958’s A Night to Remember but that doesn’t make it any less essential an entertainment. Stanwyck and especially Webb are magnetic, while the soapy melodrama never gets in the way of the intense human tragedy at the center of everything. Fox’s Blu-ray borders on stunning, and fans of the film (or of the actors) owe it to themselves to give this disc an immediate look.