There are those that will view this film and think about nothing about what may or may not have been historically accurate and those that will compare it to the version before and the versions that were still to come after this was released, but at the end of the day, Titanic from 1953 proved to be a mesmerizing experience. While much of this comes from the fact that the ending is already known, leaving viewers to see just how it would get there, it is also in part thanks to the excellent cast and crew helmed by Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck.
When the film begins, one might think it suspenseful and there is a slight air of it as that ending is always in the back of a person’s mind, but it does start off a little slowly as director Jean Negulesco introduces all of the main players who will carry this drama to its pre-ordained conclusion. From there, relationships are exposed and built and even torn down and for the first hour or so of the movie, it plays out in dramatic fashion with Webb and Stanwyck at the heart of it all. The two make a great pairing as they play off of each other perfectly and the audience feels for the both of them as their marriage crumbles on the big screen. Other storylines involve their children, a disgraced priest and the second officer of the ship as portrayed by Edmund Purdom who has concerns about a number of wires received that tell of icebergs along the route, missives that the captain ignores that he might please those who employ him. All of this leads to the disaster that is coming and when the ship hits the ice, that is when the pace of the film picks up and things change immediately in the lives of those who are aboard.
For the audience who observed this film upon its release, the special effects must have looked fairly decent and even today, they are not all that bad, but they are not as awe-inspiring as one would have hoped they would be. As it is, the makers of this feature do their best to have it all come alive as it were upon the screen and whether one thinks them good or bad, they serve their purpose during the final act of the picture. What really drives it all home though, are the performances of the cast, be that from Brian Aherne as the captain who has doomed them and realizes as such, to Thelma Ritter and her unmasking of the coward Meeker aboard the lifeboat to Stanwyck and her despair to Webb and his heroism and the love he feels for his son.
As a drama, Titanic works on every level and as a disaster flick, it manages to do so as well. There are moments where the film will make the audience believe that the ship will be able to avoid its fate, that somehow, by some way they will be able to traverse their course in safety and yet when that unavoidable scene hits, it is no less shocking despite knowing the outcome. Altogether, a satisfying tale of a ship that went down before her time, of those doomed to go down with it and those fortunate enough to survive.
4 out of 5