The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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Film Data

Country: United Kingdom
Release date: 3 July 1958
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Cast: Kenneth More, Ronald Allen and Robert Ayres

Plot: An attempt at an even-handed portrayal of the R.M.S. Titanic's sinking from the standpoint of 2nd Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller, the most senior of the ill-fated ship's Deck Officers to survive the disaster. His own survival of the sinking, along with several others, is shown atop one of the liner's two "collapsible" lifeboats which was capsized in floating off the liner as it sank. The picture depicts then known facts (c.1958) as reported after the sinking; such as the woeful lack of adequate lifeboats, the ship's band playing to the very end.

Trivia: Producer William MacQuitty had been one of the spectators at the launching of the Titanic on May 31, 1911. He was 6 at the time and found the experience most impressive. Also the Titanic's Fourth Officer, Joseph Boxhall (portrayed by Jack Watling in the film), served as technical advisor to the film.

A Night to Remember (1958)
Richard Leech

Richard Leech as Murdoch.

The British version, A Night to Remember (1958), based on Walter Lord’s best selling book of the same name, had Fourth Officer Boxhall as technical advisor and was the most expensive British film made up until that time. The film focuses primarily on Second Officer Lightoller, played with almost over-the-top heroism by Kenneth More, while Richard Leech takes the minor role of First Officer. He plays the part admirably, displaying wide-eyed horror as collision with an iceberg threatens, seeing the iceberg in the enclosed navigation bridge, with a pair of binoculars around his shoulders. Prior to this the 10pm change over was seen, when Lightoller hands Murdoch a pair of binoculars and says that the lookouts had been “warned to keep their eyes skinned for ice”. Upon Moody’s relaying of the “Iceberg right ahead” message, Murdoch shouts the astern” and has another crew member close the watertight doors. After the collision, he tells the Captain what occurred and then orders “Stop engines”. He is among the group of officers the Captain addresses, Smith saying that they are in a “precarious position”. The Captain then orders Murdoch to “muster the passengers”.

Above, left to right: At 10pm Murdoch relieves Lightoller (Kenneth More); sees the iceberg; tells the Captain (Laurence Naismith); and then realises what has happened.

Captain Smith speaks to his officers
(Murdoch is second from the right)

During one scene, Murdoch is wrestling with an old woman who refuses to get into a lifeboat. “Now come along Madam” he says. She resists him: “Please don’t put me in the boat. I’d rather die, I tell you! I’ve never been in an old boat in my life!” she protests. Looking down the side of the ship she shouts: “No I can’t do it, I shall fall!” Getting a firm grip on her, Murdoch forces her into the lifeboat saying: “You’ve got to go madam, so you might as well keep quiet!”

Murdoch forces an old woman into a boat.

There are a few shots of him loading boats, allowing men in and then lowering with only a few aboard. The loading of No.1 is placed directly after a scene where Lightoller herioically pulls several men from out of a lifeboat, imputing unfairly that Murdoch was negligent in this regard.

Murdoch allows men into a lifeboat (looking around as if guilty)

Guns are issued in Murdoch's cabin.

The issuing of the guns is also included, the clock in the background showing 1:25am (a more probable time compared to the agreed 1:35am) although it depicts six men when in reality only the four senior officers received revolvers. But it is the only film to show this event and to show the interior of Murdoch’s cabin.

Top: Murdoch struggles with the crowd. Bottom:
Is assisted by Ismay (on right)

Murdoch is then seen wrestling with the crowds, along with Ismay, and shouting “Stand back!” then later, “There is no room in this boat!” the crowd of mostly men departing aft leaving Ismay to contemplate his escape. Murdoch orders the boat lowered and as it begins to go down Ismay steps in. Murdoch says “Cease lowering” and then looking at Ismay with mixed feelings adds: “Lower away.” Lightoller fires his gun and, having landed collapsible B upside down, shouts to free the starboard collapsible, to which he is then seen struggling before the waters engulf the boat deck. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Lightoller ever personally assisted on collapsible A. Murdoch’s end is diplomatically left to imagination.

Above: Ismay steps into collapsible C; continues lowering.

Although the story of Lightoller is the “lead role” to the detriment of the other officer’s heroic stories, and special effects limited to wind-up scale models, plus some inaccuracies, A Night to Remember has often been called the “definitive version” of the Titanic tragedy because it is the only film that has not imposed fictional main characters against an historical backdrop. Rather, it allowed the unadulterated story of Titanic to be told.

Second Officer Lightoler is depicted assisting with the failed launch
of collapsible A, despite evidence to the contrary.