Movie Review: Titanic (1943)

By Monica Sullivan
Movie Magazine International
Whenever a new movie is made about an historic disaster, it is perfectly reasonable to ask: "Why THIS movie? Why THIS disaster? Why NOW?" Movies about the past aren't really about the past, they always say something about the year in which they were made. Even though "Saved from the Titanic" was released on May 14, 1912, barely a month after the White Star liner met her doom, it was light years away from the promotional films hyping the unsinkable ship prior to her maiden voyage. Dorothy Gibson was a professional actress and a Titanic survivor. Other well-known movie people were also aboard: Daniel Marvin, the son of Henry Marvin, the Biograph president, and Pathe's newsreel cameraman Noel Malachard, but Dorothy Gibson survived them both. 1912 audiences were already grumbling about the phony newsreels rushed to theatres with footage of the Olympic masquerading as the Titanic. Dorothy was a genuine first class passenger, wearing the identical outfit she had worn on the lifeboat. Her ten minute film was about a thwarted romance between Miss Dorothy and Ensign Jack, played by John G. Adolfi. After her ordeal, she is reluctant to marry a man of the sea, but Jack is determined. Her father (played by Alec B. Francis) is proud to have a Naval Ensign in the family and gives his enthusiastic blessing. The not-so-subtle moral for post-Titanic audiences?: So what if you nearly lost your life on the Titanic? Be a patriot and marry that man in uniform! Life goes on, tra, la, la..."Saved From The Titanic" is a lost film, but those phony 1912 newsreels will play forever.

In 1929, "Atlantic", a very slow, very boring British version of the disaster was filmed, released and dismissed as a creaky early talkie, in spite of the fact that 23-year-old Madeleine Carroll was in it. Fourteen years later, the German film industry tackled two huge projects: "The Adventures Of Baron Munchhausen" starring Hans Albers in Technicolor & "Titanic" starring Sybille Schmitz and Hans Nielsen as a brave German officer named Petersen. Production values for both features are so lavish it's hard to believe that a near-destitute Germany was losing World War II while it was being made. On August 1, 1942, its writer/director Herbert Selpin, accused of "verbal treason" by his co-writer Walter Zerlett-Olfenius, reportedly "committed suicide." Not true, UFA head Wolfgang Liebeneiner told director Veit Harlan many years later: Selpin was "eliminated" in prison by the Gestapo. In 1947, the co-writer who ratted him out was sentenced to hard labor for five years, but he left Germany before the sentence could be imposed.

In many ways, the story behind the movie completed by Werner Klingler seems more interesting than the fake story onscreen unless you realize that this artistically terrible film is a reflection of the false system under which it was made. The German First Officer is the only one who knows what's wrong with the Titanic and what to do about it. Mr. Bruce Ismay (promoted to British Knight Sir Bruce Ismay for this movie only) is obsessed with winning a Blue Ribbon, whatever that is or whatever it means, for the Titanic's maiden voyage. He is in every way a slimy skunk, but he is often seen that way in print and onscreen, the cheapest of cheap targets, obsessed with saving his own behind, gold and glory, in no particular order. Next up is Mr. & Mrs. Astor (promoted to British Baron Lord and Lady Astor for this movie only). Astor went down with the ship, his teenaged bride was expecting a baby, but the middle-aged couple in the film are only concerned with out-finagling Ismay. Captain Smith is Ismay's willing slave, who makes a series of terrible decisions and dies. "Titanic", in short, is a film about failure in the midst of corruption and incompetent leadership. Hey, wait a minute, wasn't Germany in 1943, losing the war in the midst of corruption & incompetent leadership? The film was banned less than nine months after the director's death and banned again in 1950 by the Allied Censors, although East Berlin audiences could see it. "Titanic" 1943, unlike the American-made "Titanics" in 1953 and 1997 and the British "Night To Remember" (probably the best of all the versions), is liitle-seen or remembered today and is discussed, if at all, only in a political context. KINO has released it on DVD, along with newsreels and promotional materials. The best parts of "Titanic 1943," the rescue operations, were inserted intact into "Night To Remember". The 1943 version highlights a wild dance by a beautiful girl named La Jana on the Titanic deck. The background materials, imperfectly translated, suggest that Josef Goebbels had an interest in her, a dastardly fate for any girl.
More Information:
Titanic (1943)
Germany - 1943