The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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Film Data

Country: United States
Release date: 11 April 1953
Director: Jean Negulesco
Cast: Clifton Webb, Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Wagner

Plot: Unhappily married and uncomfortable with life among the British upper crust, Julia Sturges takes her two children and boards the Titanic for America. Her husband Richard also arranges passage on the doomed luxury liner in order to let him have custody of their two children. Their problems soon seem minor when the ship hits an iceberg.

Trivia: All navigational details of this film-conversations, incidents and general data-are taken verbatim from the published reports of inquiries held in 1912 by the Congress of the United States and the British Board of Trade.

Titanic (1953)
Barry Bernard

Barry Bernard as Murdoch

In the American 1953 film Titanic, Murdoch, played by Barry Bernard (who is too old and his looks dissimilar from the true Murdoch) is portrayed as spotting the iceberg on the port wing bridge, rather than the starboard, a possibility that has been generally ruled out in favour of starboard. As the iceberg is spotted, he seems to have his back turned, then rushes up to the wing bridge wall and stares at the berg in surprise.

Above, left to right: Spotting the iceberg; closing the watertight doors; still closing the watertight doors (!) and -now with a lifejacket on- talking with the captain.

As for the rest of the film, he is seemingly resigned to only operating the watertight door controls, an elaborate device which looks like an archaic version of a Star Trek set. Individually closing each door, it is depicted as a complicated task that takes place over several hours, as he is still flicking switches much later in the film! It is not until the remaining crew and passengers gather together on the decks singing “Nearer My God To Thee” that he actually steps out of the bridge. He is last seen mumbling the words of “Nearer My God to Thee” taking off his officer’s cap as he does so, before the ship sinks.

Of course, this depiction is highly inaccurate as he was one of the most active officers aboard Titanic, launching all the starboard boats –no time to wear a bulky, restrictive lifejacket or to even think about stopping, let alone singing! This idealist view of everyone singing while the ship sinks goes against all eyewitness evidence, the last moments of Titanic being the most horrific, with 1500 scrambling for their lives. But it is poignant and thought provoking nonetheless.