Titanic! (1943)

review by John W. Herbert

Titanic! The story of a ship and an iceberg and the ruinous gluttony of the British Empire!
Titanic! The story of the heroic German first officer who saved the day!
Titanic! The story of the obviously Jewish ship owner, who bet his fortune on the speed of his ship and almost paid with his life!
Titanic! In the original German with subtitles!
No, this isn’t James Cameron’s epic 1996 Titanic, it’s a 1943 German propaganda film of the same name.
Unlike Cameron’s film which puts fictional characters into the story while remaining true to historical facts, this version uses the basic story of iceberg meets ship to hang a propaganda-filled, greed-driven plot on.
Bruce Ismay and the other owners of Titanic and the White Star Line have hatched a plot where they will buy millions of shares of White Star stock before and during the voyage. Ismay will force Captain Smith to speed up and make the crossing in record time, and they’ll make a killing when the stock value goes up. An interesting idea to be sure, but it’s not the least bit factual. (And it doesn’t help that Ismay is portrayed as Jewish when he wasn’t.)
Newly arrived on Titanic is First Officer Peterson, newly transferred from Germany, and lucky for the passengers he did, because he seems to be the only competent officer on the ship. The heroic Peterson manages to dress down the Captain, reconcile with an old flame, launch lifeboats single-handedly, survive the sinking, rescue a child from the water and denounce the British Empire at a Parliamentary inquiry into the sinking. Not bad for an 85 minute film. At least he isn’t blonde.
Despite the questionable taste of the propaganda aspects of the film and its wild historical inaccuracies, Titanic does manage to hold its own as a film. Its lavish sets and costumes (many inaccurate, but nonetheless spectacular) can only make one wonder how a country paying for a war against the rest of the world could afford a production like this.
The sinking sequences are well done and exciting, and the special effects are fine for its time. (In fact some shots were nicked and used in 1959’s A Night To Remember.)
An interesting oddity, the 1943 version of Titanic is worth a look. And Titanic buffs should note the DVD contains an excellent collection of actual 1912 Titanic newsreel coverage.

No comments: