There Is No Cause For Alarm!

Posted: 01/06/2013 in 1953

titanic_1953_1

Jean Negulesco’s “disaster film” Titanic is one that suffers from a bit of an identity crisis. It is supposedly one part disaster story of the sinking of the Titanic, a story that as the introductory moments of the film tell us are based on actual records of the event. The film is also one part human drama, a story of a family coming apart at the seams. As a human drama, Titanic is actually very engaging. The story of the Sturges family’s matriarch Julia, played by the great Barabara Stanwyck, attempting to pull her children away from European high society (and their father, played by Clifton Webb) and to bring them to the American middle class via the Titanic is an engrossing one indeed. A love story Negulesco’s film certainly is not. This is an uncomfortable family drama with some rather uncomfortable twists and turns along the way. All things considered, when the story is focused on the Sturges family’s issues, the film as a whole works quite well.

Where Titanic fails is regarding the actual story of the Titanic. The sinking of the ship (no spoilers here, we all know what happened) is rushed and rather anti-climactic. While I was not anticipating a special effects driven film (although the set designs were gorgeous), Negulesco does very little to engage the audience in the supposed main character of the film, the unsinkable ship. Surprisingly, in this film based on actual congressional records (as we are told at the outset), everyone is very well behaved and orderly throughout. Sure there was some cowardice, but where was the panic, where was the chaos? In the Negulesco version of this story, such things did not take place. In the end, the viewer is more interested in knowing the fate of the Sturges family, and the sinking of the Titanic becomes a bit of a side point.

While this is not an actor’s showcase by any means, Barbara Stanwyck (not surprisingly) does deliver a standout performance as Julia. In a year that has brought us rather weak female characters so far, Miss Stanwyck gives us a woman who holds her ground, takes control of her own destiny as well as her family’s, and she relies on no man to get her there. For that alone, Miss Stanwyck deserves our awards consideration towards the end of the year. As for the rest of the films merits, from writing to directing, I fear Titanic will be overshadowed by other greater films and see its overall chances sunk by year’s end.

**1/2

Up next… we’re going back to the Elizabethan period with Young Bess.

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