In a new occasional series, Mick Jordan looks at films that have been remade on several occasions, beginning with ‘Titanic’


The very first film about the Titanic disaster came out in May 1912 just 29 days after the actual sinking! Not only that, it starred one of the survivors – Dorothy Gibson, who was actually an actress and had several films under her belt already. The film was a short called Saved from the Titanic and Miss Gibson even wore the same clothes she was wearing when she was rescued. Ironically, the film itself is now also lost with all copies destroyed in a fire in 1914.

The first feature length version was released in 1929. Atlantic was a British film and was the first to tell the story of the Titanic as a story.

There are characters on board to identify with and follow right up to the disaster. In fact it sets the template that most other Titanic films were to follow. There are the tragic young lovers, the elderly multi-millionaire and the calm and heroic ship’s first officer. Unfortunately this film was made at the very start of the sound era and it shows.

The actors all speak very very slowly and then pause for a very very long time before continuing – very very slowly. Having nothing else to do while waiting for each other to speak the actors grimace and gasp in horror to fill the time. This was in fact a deliberate decision by the director, to convey a dread of what is happening to the ship. Even at the time critics felt it conveyed a dread of what was happening to the film.
1943’s Titanic (see film poster) was the first film to treat the story as an epic drama. A major project, it had a big budget, was filled with grand expensive sets and had ground-breaking special effects. Unfortunately this film was made in and very much by Nazi Germany.

The whole production was supervised by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels and its sole purpose was not to make a film about the tragedy of the Titanic but to show how the greed and inhumanity of the British and the Americans led to – the tragedy of the Titanic.

In this version the ship strikes the iceberg because the owner J. Bruce Ismay (evil Britisher) forces the captain to travel too fast through an ice field so that he can win the Blue Ribbon prize for his company, something his rival Jacob Astor (evil American) is trying to prevent so that he can then take over the bankrupt company.
The only person on board who sees this as insanity and desperately tries to stop it all is the calm and heroic ship’s First Officer, newly arrived – from Germany. Ironically after all the expense and effort thrown into the film it was never shown in Germany.

By the time it was ready for release the Nazis were losing the war and it was felt that audiences were not going to feel inspired to fight on if confronted with a film about a sinking ship! Perhaps someone saw the obvious metaphor.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own