Monday, April 30, 2012

No Down Payment - 1957



“No Down Payment” (1957) is an unblinking, fly-on-the-wall look at 1950s suburbia. This depiction has a sharp and beguiling quality of self-awareness, which one senses was careful and deliberate. There are issues raised, but no real messages that are not tempered the by the characters’ helplessness to be anything other than what they are.

The very examination of suburbia as a topic might be considered dated, as dated as the copper Jell-O molds on Sheree North’s kitchen wall, but the outlook of the movie is bravely modern. In some respects, issues discussed here, like the precarious financial balancing act in a credit-powered economy, are still strangling us today.

Long post. Spoilers ahead.

Just about four years ago we covered the movie “Strangers When We Meet” (1960) here. I wish I had known about “No Down Payment” at the time I wrote about that movie, because they would have made great companion pieces. They are both about suburbia in Southern California, the car culture, a young post-war population coming of age as the 1950s “Silent Generation”. They also have in common the actress Barbara Rush. In “Strangers” she plays the wife of Kirk Douglas, a woman comfortably settled in her suburban kitchen, but ambitious for her husband to excel and obtain even more for them. She is devastated to learn of his extramarital affair.

In “No Down Payment”, Barbara Rush is the more settled wife of Pat Hingle, who is a more modestly successful owner of an appliance store. They appear to have a happy marriage, though not without stress. The two movies have a couple of important differences, however. One is that “Strangers” is in color and has a more glossy look to it, a more soap-opera storyline. It is focused more tightly on the extramarital affair of Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak. The other characters are like satellites that bounce off their relationship.

“No Down Payment” was directed by Martin Ritt, who had a particular knack for introspective films. He was one of those directors who ran up against blacklisting in the 1950s (a couple of the screenwriters on this project were blacklisted), and we'll be covering at least two other Ritt-directed movies this summer.

This is an ensemble piece. The acting is very good, and the writing is excellent. It has a quiet, black and white look, and being the earlier picture by three years there is a less cynical view of the suburban jungle. However, the examination of this world is refreshingly straightforward, and manages to take what is a familiar landscape a turn it into a strange new world. The so-called Silent Generation may have been less political and more secretive about its anxieties, but we can see that there was a lot of self evaluation going on.


The film begins with a shot of interstate highways all forming a tangle of knots on which the flow of traffic is never ending. Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens are a new a couple coming to live the in a housing development called Sunrise Hills, which is advertised on a billboard as “a better place for better living”. A moving van follows them. I love how they pass several billboards for several different kitschy-sounding housing developments, all promising bliss.

He is a young engineer, she is an attractive young wife for whom being an attractive young couple is very important. The veneer is what appeals to her.

It is Sunday, this moving day. They drive by a modern-looking church where the homogenous congregation, their new neighbors among them, file out into the morning sunshine. Mr. Hunter and Miss Rush beam at each other. Truly, they have come to the promised land.

Pat Hingle and Barbara Rush are solid, steady, nice people, who introduce our first set of cracks in the veneer of Sunrise Hills. Miss Rush brings their children home from church, annoyed to see Mr. Hingle washing their car where everyone can see him. He does not attend church with them and his son wonders if his father is going to hell.

Another couple is played by Tony Randall and Sheree North. He is a used car salesman. They have one son. Tony Randall is a man deeply dissatisfied with his luck, who wants to be Somebody, meaning Somebody Rich. He cares nothing for real achievement but wants the glitz and the gloss as fast as possible. He is also a charming and irritating alcoholic. Mr. Randall is a marvel in this movie. His work here is excellent. He is a desperate extrovert and a tragic loser, still possessing his comic vulnerability of the characters he played in Doris Day movies, but here it takes a darker spin.

Randall’s money troubles are a major theme for the 1950s suburban couple and hence the title of the movie.

“No money down. Nothing to lose. Just change your name. Go away. Hide. Quit your job. And the finance company will never know where you are…. We’re only 25 years in debt.”

Pat Hingle affably consoles Hunter on the worry of a mortgage, "Nobody in this housing development is allowed to own a home they can actually afford."

And these houses are cracker boxes.  What would they have thought of today's McMansions?

This is meant to be humorous party conversation but there’s also a very strong indictment against the new 1950s economy, which has implications today. Jeffrey Hunter, the new guy on the block, marvels “Twenty years ago none of us could have afforded a house like this. I think we were born in the right time.”

Pat Hingle has another viewpoint, maintaining that the Greatest Generation was perhaps the generation behind the eight ball. He talks of their youth of poverty, of going on relief in the Depression, “I don’t call that being born at the right time.”

But he concedes, “I guess we do have more security than our parents ever had,” and, “there’s not many guys that have to sweat for a living, not anymore, not in the States.”

Jeffrey Hunter, a GI-Bill college graduate is involved in automation, a science which involves inventing things to make fewer employees necessary, and about which he feels guilty. That is his cross to bear. He will have others before the film is over.

He fixes Tony Randall’s son’s radio, pulling out a screwdriver from his inner suit coat pocket -- must be a trait of engineers -- and tinkers with something magical called a transistor. No microchips yet, but we’re getting there.

We old movie buffs love to watch classic films as an insight to a particular era gone by, but most of these films, whether it’s a movie about the 1930s or the 1940s or any era, are not self aware or self-conscious about that era. When Buster Keaton chases a streetcar he is not saying to the camera “look -- it’s the 1920s and there are not going to be streetcars in another 20 years.” “No Down Payment” is totally, deliciously conscious of its era. It’s almost as if they are picking things out of the air on purpose and putting them in the box and saying, “This is what we’re going to seal up in a time capsule to tell people what we’re like in 1957.”

The floor plan in the houses is identical, right down to where they choose to put their television sets. Their children sit in front of the TVs like zombies.  Ten years later they will "tune in, turn on, drop out," but that zen-like self indulgence and self absorption all began cross-legged in front of the TV when they were kids.

Tony Randall spends money he does not have to buy his son a bike, because every new thing his son gets is a trophy to announce to others his own success.

The wives welcome the new neighbors with the manta that their development is a “A great place to raise children.” It truly is an incubator of sorts.

When Hunter and Rush tour the empty rooms of their new home, which is situated cheek-by-jowl with other houses on the street, they see the last couple of the group, played by Cameron Mitchell and Joanne Woodward -- through their large windows, cuddling in their bedroom. The scene reminded me of a passage in William Manchester’s narrative history of the 20th century, The Glory and the Dream (Bantam Books:NY, 1974) p. 782 - “Picture windows became windows for looking in.”

Much later in the movie, when preparing for bed, Patricia Owens meticulously pins their bedroom drapes closed.

Cameron Mitchell and Joanne Woodward are, in a sense, almost for what passes like the “wrong side of the tracks” couple in this housing developing that has no tracks and therefore supposed to be egalitarian. They are both originally from Tennessee and came out to Southern California during the war. (Tony Randall even teasingly refers to them as Daisy Mae and Li’l Abner.) Mitchell is a highly decorated World War II vet, who saw action in the Pacific theater. He runs a gas station in their community, but he has ambitions to be their village chief of police.

At home, he fills the walls of his garage with his memorabilia from the war, Japanese flags and swords and his medals pinned to a board. He misses being in uniform and having authority. Joanne Woodward displays again her remarkable facility for displaying a character almost as if she were a holding up her adopted personality like glass ball and we can see right through it all sides. Her ability to thoroughly crawl into the skin of her characters might make her a candidate for being called the Meryl Streep of her day. Except that I think Meryl Streep’s process for developing a character is entirely cerebral, whereas Joanne Woodward’s seems to be an intuitive and playful sense of the emotional palette of her characters.

Her character has no children, desperately wants children, and is so much like a child herself, the babysitter of the children in the neighborhood. She is bouncy, joking and goofy. Like her husband she has very little education, and like him, she is sensitive about that. She is delighted that the upwardly mobile and beautiful Patricia Owens befriends her. She feels unworthy. We are told that she had a child before they were married, but at his insistence she gave it up for adoption. We later discover that he believed that the child was not his.

When we first see them, they appear happy with each other, but later on his dissatisfaction with his life manifests itself into dissatisfaction with her.

The new neighbors are introduced at a barbecue, the suburban tribal ritual. The men check out each other’s wives, and check out each other’s wartime service.

A subplot to the movie involves one of Pat Hingle's employees named Iko, played by Aki Aleong. Like the other men in the neighborhood, he is a former GI, but because of his Japanese ancestry, he is discriminated against in this restricted neighborhood. Housing developments restricted to whites only was common as dirt in the 1950s. Iko has a wife and children, and a television set, too, but he wants more. He wants to live closer to his job, and upward mobility like everyone else. He appeals to Hingle to help him make an application to the council and here we see Hingle’s greatest conflict. He likes Iko. Hingle and his wife have had dinner at Iko’s house. He wants to help, but he hesitates.

So torn by the issue, and perhaps upset with himself more than anyone, he picks a fight with his wife about racial prejudice. She likes Iko and his family as well, but echoes the same concerns about breaking conformity that Hingle has but doesn’t want to admit.

"How can you call yourself a good Christian and speak like that?" he shouts, still mad at her for wanting him to go to church.

"Don't you bring the church into this."

"What good is the church if it can't teach a person to lend a helping hand to some human being that really deserves it." She throws the prejudice right back in his face where it belongs. The problem of racial prejudice may exist in society, and it may exist in the town council, but first and foremost, he must wipe it out in himself and have the courage of his convictions. First one must have courage, and then one must have convictions.

Another passage of William Manchester, who refers to the Alexis de Tocqueville’s 19th century assessment of a young America,

“Though Americans took great pride in talking about their individualism, he [de Tocqueville] noted, their special genius -- and the source of their greatest potential weakness -- lay in their ways of cooperation with each other…creating a dictatorship of the majority. ‘In times of equality,’ he wrote, ‘no matter what political laws men devise for themselves, it is safe to foresee that trust in common opinion will become a sort of religion, with the majority as the prophet.’”

Though social conformity is a strong force, the money angle is what drives them more fiercely. Tony Randall, tragic with a drink in his hand and a smile on his lips and that wonderfully giddy giggle, "what this country needs is easy credit. No man should have to pay cash for anything. No money down is the secret to prosperity...if only the banks would loosen up, every man could have anything he wants, not when these old and washed up -- now, when he's young and washed up."

Interesting that at their backyard barbecue they first dance to a song on a hi fi called “Something's Got to Give,” a 1940s swing number here in a more sedate arrangement. These people are not kids. Rock n’ roll is not their era. However, later on in the movie they dance to a “rock” number called “The Drive-in Rock.” Car culture and rock n’ roll in one flick of the switch by the director.

They march into each other’s homes, dance with each other’s wives, open each other's refrigerators. There is a sense of community and camaraderie. A very interesting scene when a seed is planted for later plot development -- Tony Randall dances with Jeffrey Hunter's wife, and gets a little smarmy because he's been drinking. Hunter stands by watching, angry but does nothing. He is passive, looking for some social clue as to how to behave in this new setting.

It is Cameron Mitchell who takes over and comes to the rescue in a manly and authoritative way. He cuts in on Tony Randall and begins to dance with Patricia Owens himself, a proper and gentlemanly dance. She is grateful and thanks him, and his “Not at all, Ma’am,” is a sign of his Southern courtliness. He has saved her, and at the same time humiliated Hunter by taking action. Later on however, flushed with his success and how good being a hero has made him feel, he begins to pursue Patricia Owens on his own.

More observations on contemporary society by Joanne Woodward who recalls a little brother who died of pneumonia, "Just think, today he could've taken one shot of penicillin and he could've gotten over it like a cold."

No babysitters. They leave their kids with each other or leave them alone. Tony Randall gets into trouble with a shady business deal and runs away in the middle of a party at his house, and his wife and Pat Hingle follow. The party continues in their home without them, their neighbors unconcerned about their absence. Their little boy gets up and wants a drink so the presiding grownups give him a can of Coke.

Today we might hesitate over a myriad of legal repercussions of staying in a neighbor's home, unasked, with their child unattended by the parents. Today we would hesitate giving 16 ounces of sugar and caffeine in the middle of the night to a small child, knowing we would have to probably scrape him off the ceiling.

Sheree North has finally had it with Tony Randall and tells him to get a steady job and stop his get rich quick schemes. "You're never going to make a million, so stop dreaming about it!" It is the worst thing she can ever say to him, the cruelest thing and yet the kindest thing. She is effectively telling him and us the American dream is not for everybody. We cannot all be rich. Some of us will just be lucky if we can pay our bills.

Cameron Mitchell is turned down for the job of chief of police, and he becomes surly. He has no college degree. Instead of trying to step up into society, he now declares it his enemy. He also goes after Patricia Owens.

Hingle makes a prescient remark, "Pretty soon a guy’s going to have to have a master's degree to clean toilets."

Mr. Mitchell also kicks in the TV tube. Now we know that the earth is cracking. When you've destroyed your TV, your whole world is shot.

When Hunter is away on a business trip, Cameron Mitchell comes calling on Patricia Owens, and we are meant to conclude that he has raped her. She runs not to the police, but to the neighbors. Hingle immediately wants to call the police, but she tells him not to. Barbara Rush suggests they call her doctor, but Owens refuses that as well. They let her stay the night and offer comfort and protection, but there is no suggestion of seeking justice.

By the way, another subtle point being made by the scriptwriter and director: the little daughter of Hingle and Rush interrupts while they are trying to comfort and get the story out of Patricia Owens. She refers to the new neighbor lady by her first name. Author William Manchester also had an observation on this:

“The term ‘polite society’ fell into disuse because society wasn’t polite any more. The increasing use of first names was extraordinary. Once it had been limited to family and friends…the suburbanite who arrived home to find her bathroom being used by a strange boy might be greeted, ‘Hi, Doris.’ In suburbia, this was looked upon as just friendliness. Any objection to it would be regarded as snobbish and resented.” (pp.782-783.)

When Jeffrey Hunter learns of the attack he tries to avenge her, unsuccessfully. He tries also to comfort her in a nice speech about sharing each other's burdens. For the 1950s this was probably a very loving and affirming scene. He reminds her that she need not be ashamed or feel defiled. Today, however we might look at it with a different viewpoint. Instead of telling her she has the right to feel angry and the right to seek justice for the crime of violence done to her, it looks as though she is merely being forgiven by a loving husband for being damaged goods.

No charges are brought against Cameron Mitchell. Instead, the old stock movie solution of having him be killed. This is so much more convenient in movie terms. Her shame is not brought out into the open with a public trial, and he goes away. It is a disappointment, but great strides have been taken in this movie to explain the 1950s, so perhaps we can't expect them to be too forward-looking. It is enough to deal with the problems of the present.

Hingle considers all of this, Randall’s alcoholism and his money problems chasing the dream, Cameron Mitchell's violent reaction to not measuring up in post-war society, the racial prejudice that faces Iko.

"I guess owning a house with a deep freeze is not the answer." He wants to know how they got to be where they are. "Whatever it is that makes us afraid to help Iko. That makes Jerry afraid that he's not going to make it big. That makes Troy afraid he's going to be a nobody unless he's wearing some kind of uniform. Afraid, afraid. Now if we can find out what that is, I think we've got the answer."

We are escorted out of Sunrise Hills on another lazy Sunday, watching new widow Joanne Woodward moving out of her home. At the church we see that Pat Hingle has finally joined his family, and that Iko and his family are new parishioners. It's all lovely and homogenous. If you don't look too hard for the cracks.

I would have like to have seen the effort Hingle made in council to get Iko accepted. I would like to know what denomination this now less homogenous congregation represents. I’d like to know where Joanne Woodward is going, as her taxi speeds by the billboard for Sunrise Hills and up the exit ramp to the interstate.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Answers to More Typists

Some great guesses for these movie typists.  The answers are:

1.  Allen Jenkins ponders his next sentence as Errol Flynn's secretary/chauffeur in "Footsteps in the Dark".

2. Burt Lancaster in "Mister 880".

3. Bing Crosby in "Here Comes the Groom".

4. Jean Arthur in "A Foreign Affair".

5.  Kim Novak in "Middle of the Night."

6.  Jean Arthur, again, in "More Than a Secretary" - Jean seems to be giving Barbara Stanwyck a run for her money as Hollywood's most prolific typist.

7.  Bing Crosby and Jane Wyman in "Here Comes the Groom" about to tap out a chorus on the typewriter.

Thanks for playing along.  No post this Thursday, but I'll see you next Monday

Thursday, April 19, 2012

More Movie Typists

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Administrative Professional's Day is next Wednesday.  Can you name these typists and the movies?

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Titanic - 1953


“Titanic” (1953) shows that the most successful storytelling is based on what your audience provides in imagination. Other versions of this tragic tale have provided more technically thorough stories. None are as empathetic in the telling, or draw such empathy from the audience, as this version.

One hundred years ago today people were waking up to the news that the RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage in the wee hours of the 15th.

This movie was released some 41 years after the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Coincidentally, it was probably 41 years ago that I first saw this movie. I can’t be sure of the exact year but it’s a pretty good guess. I was a child, knowing nothing about the history of the story I was watching, and what I remember most vividly was the very last scene. Clifton Webb stood on the deck of the ship along the rail with many other men, all staring blankly out at the ocean. There were tears in Webb’s eyes. A little boy, his son, stood next to him on the deck. The son had all the energy and confidence of youth. He was probably only a little older than me.

The stark contrast between the sorrowful father, and that little boy, happy to be with him, confused me. I can remember asking an older sibling what was happening, what did this mean? I was told that the boy was going to drown along with his father, that he went back to the ship when he shouldn’t have, so now he was going to drown.

I think I must have assumed that at the last minute another boat would save them, so this news that their deaths were inevitable shocked me. More shocking was that this smiling boy’s fate was sealed by his eagerness. I wondered then if he knew he was going to die? His demeanor did not seem to indicate that he knew. He suggested to his father that they might swim for it.

I think this scene captures the essence of this remarkable movie. It was filmed on a set, so we are not dazzled too much by technological wizardry. But we are drawn into the consequences of the Edwardian (yes, I know George V was on the throne, but eras do not have air brakes) era-cum-dawn of the 20th century, through the splendor, costumes, values and customs, which all lead to consequences.

We have a little name-dropping. There are Guggenheims among the passenger list and of course, John Jacob Astor. He is played here by William Johnstone, whom you might remember as the radio voice of the Shadow, replacing Orson Welles. His wife is played by the lovely Frances Bergen, the wife of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and mother of actress Candice Bergen.

One name they decided to drop literally was the “Unsinkable” Molly Brown. Her character here is played by Thelma Ritter with her customary earthy gusto, but the name is given as Maude Young.

A big, beautiful ship filled with beautiful people. We are given a hint as to what it’s like to travel in steerage, but we are not hammered too much on the injustices of third class travel. We are given credit for knowing - we or our parents likely traveled to America that way. 

We are given credit for knowing, too, about the era’s dignity, grace, inequity, and hypocrisy. After all, 41 years isn't even one lifespan, and not so much needs to be explained.

We are shown Richard Basehart as a recently defrocked priest returning home to America in disgrace because of his alcoholism. When the disaster happens, he redeems himself. Conversely, we are given Allyn Joslyn as the inevitable human being who disregards his humanity in the very human desire to live.

Look for Mae Marsh in a small role as the lady in the lifeboat to whom the boy, played by Harper Carter, gives up his seat.

The story and the tragedy is played out for us not so much in special effects but by two particular characters who carry with them the style and the consequences of the era. In a sense, Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb as the estranged couple have the entire story resting on their shoulders.

She is an American woman returning to her Middle West roots after years of an unhappy marriage in Europe. She brings their teenage daughter and young son to the US because she does not want them to grow up to share the same meaningless, empty, shallow life which her dandy husband Clifton Webb pursues was such self superior conceit. Both Miss Stanwyck and Mr. Webb are fantastic in this movie. Stanwyck convincingly conveys the dual quality of this woman, one who was able to feel cowed under her husband’s superior birth and social set, and yet still have the mettle to want to save her children. Her Gibson girl hairstyle is very becoming to her in this movie. She wears her costumes well. Stanwyck always did look good in period pieces.

Clifton Webb is a marvel. One might chalk up his work here as standard Clifton Webb material, a fastidious man, the intellectual giant disdainful of all the lesser creatures around him. He played it well.  But there's more to him here, and he undergoes the greatest change of any character in this movie.

One of my favorite lines is when he puts down Stanwyck, “Twenty years ago I made the pardonable mistake of thinking I could civilize a girl who bought her hats out of the Sears Roebuck catalog.”

In one scene, after her confession of an adulterous tryst which resulted in the birth of her son, she drops her purse. Webb’s refusing to stoop to pick it up is his telegraphing to her, and to us, that she has dropped off the charts in respectability. If she were a lady, it would be beneath him not to pick it up. She is not a lady anymore. 1912 Etiquette 101.

But there are two sides to the coin, and Webb also shows a man deeply wounded. It is a devastating scene, his pride and his conceit shattered when he learns that the son of whom he is so proud is not his.

Stanwyck’s part in this scene is also amazing. But perhaps the real credit should go to director Jean Negulesco. The husband and wife face off over his refusal to let her take his son back to the United States.

“No court, no power under heaven will force me to give up my son.”

“He’s not your son.” She replies in the most eerily calm manner, shocking in its very everyday tone of voice almost as if she had said, “it’s time for dinner.”

The camera shows her turn around and walk out of the stateroom. We see her back and his back. We don’t need to see his expression.

In vengeance, he ignores his son for the remainder of the trip, hurting the boy who loves and admires him.

We are prepared by now to think him a monster, but we finally see a deeply courageous Clifton Webb, sensitive to the needs of others when the iceberg hits. It is such a turnabout transformation of his character, and yet, an extension of it. He is, after all, a gentleman. This is what a gentleman is supposed to do. When he learns the ship is sinking he hustles his family into life vests, not telling them of the real danger, keeping up a happy front. He gets them to the top deck.

Then he goes down to third class and hustles out the Basque family with whom he had boarded. The father of the family sold him his ticket, and Webb boarded the ship pretending to be this woman’s husband. He hustles them all into lifeboats, saving their lives. Then he helps others on the ship.

A young Robert Wagner plays a callow college student who is sweet on their daughter played by Audrey Dalton. And oh, the scores of extras. I love me a movie with lots of extras. One of them is Bert Stevens, Barbara Stanwyck’s brother.

Though we have these back stories, this is a movie of about greater things. Larger issues and devastatingly small details. Captain Brian Aherne conducts the Sunday services in the grand salon. A drunken Richard Basehart tries unsuccessfully to send a telegram home of explanation to his family. The crisp, crackling dialogue between Webb and Stanwyck in this most literate script.

I have only one minor, petty complaint. When Robert Wagner and his pals sing college fight songs, one of which is about Lord Jeffrey Amherst and Amherst College -- please, the H in Amherst is not pronounced. I don’t know how Lord Jeff of French and Indian War fame pronounced his surname, but those of us in western Massachusetts, where Amherst College is located, do not say the H. Accent on the first syllable - AM-erst.

I suspect folks from Mackinac, Michigan might protest at that pronunciation in this film, too.

This has been a public service announcement. (Yes, I’m kidding. I realize there are far more important historical inaccuracies with which to take umbrage.)

The movie does not attempt to shock us or surprise us, rather just as it expects us to understand the mores and conventions of 1912, it also expects us to remember every moment that we are on a collision course with death.  We start the film with a shot of the iceberg.  We have a brief foreshadowing when Robert Wagner, cheered by the prospect of Audrey Dalton’s companionship, throws his soft cap into the ocean. It lands among chunks of ice floating by.

The band plays, first the Londonderry Air - better known to some of us as “Danny Boy”. And eventually we get around to “Nearer, My God, to Thee”. It has never been confirmed absolutely that this was played when the Titanic sank, but the legend has grown partly because of this movie.

Young Harper Carter scrambles out of the lifeboat to give his seat to Mae Marsh and joins his father on the deck because after all, he is now wearing long pants and so he is a man. This is what gentlemen do, give their seats to ladies and risk death. His explanation to his father as to why he returned to the ship is simply, “I’m wearing long trousers.”

Neither did that need to be explained to us in 1953, but I wonder if it might in 2012. I don’t mean just about boys wearing shorts and not wearing long trousers until they’re in their teens. I mean that essence of manhood that comes when one decides to be a man, i.e., to take responsibility. Steinbeck wrote, “A boy becomes a man when a man is needed.”

There are 12-year-old men, and there are 30-year-old boys.



Clifton Webb, heart breaking for his son and especially that he had ever denied his son, puts his arm around him and with tears in his eyes addresses the ocean waves “Whatever happens, I love you very much. I’ve been proud of you every day of your life. Never more than at this moment. I feel tall as a mountain.”

And yet it is not maudlin. It is a simple statement of fact, like the line “I’m wearing long trousers.”

When I watch the movie now, I see that these characters standing on the deck of the doomed ship clearly are not waiting for rescue. They are awaiting death. It is devastating in its theatricality. I can never watch it without being reminded of the first time I saw it, and could not quite comprehend then what was happening. In a way I still can’t believe it. That is the power of film, and especially of this film.

Barbara Stanwyck recalled in this oft-repeated quote:

"The night we were making the scene of the dying ship in the outdoor tank at Twentieth, it was bitter cold. I was 47 feet up in the air in a lifeboat swinging on the davits. The water below was agitated into a heavy rolling mass and it was thick with other lifeboats full of women and children. I looked down and thought: If one of these ropes snaps now, it's goodbye for you. Then I looked up at the faces lined along the rail - those left behind to die with the ship. I thought of the men and women who had been through this thing in our time. We were re-creating an actual tragedy and I burst into tears. I shook with great racking sobs and couldn't stop."

So powerful was this film that it inspired another young person, Edward S. Kamuda, who saw it in his family run theater, The Grand, in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts when it came out in 1953. Mr. Kamuda established the Titanic Historical Society, which is the home of a unique collection of artifacts from the RMS Titanic and from the decades of storytelling about this event. Please see my New England travels blog here for my original post on the Titanic museum and drop in tomorrow for update on the tribute to two Springfield, Massachusetts victims of the Titanic.

Also, have a look here at this previous post on the recycling of the grand salon set of  "Titanic". You’ve seen it before.

There are a couple of other recent posts on “Titanic” (1953) I recommend, this on the blog Book Talk and More, and this, a beginning of a series on Titanic movies, from Matthew Coniam over at Movetone News. Great reading.