Titanic (1953 film)

Titanic is a 1953 American drama film directed by Jean Negulesco. Its plot centers on an estranged couple sailing on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which took place on April 14, 1912. It was released a day after the 41st anniversary of the sinking.

film poster
Directed byJean Negulesco
Produced byCharles Brackett
Written byCharles Brackett
Richard L. Breen
Walter Reisch
StarringClifton Webb
Barbara Stanwyck
Robert Wagner
Audrey Dalton
Harper Carter
Thelma Ritter
Brian Aherne
Richard Basehart
Music bySol Kaplan
CinematographyJoseph MacDonald
Edited byLouis R. Loeffler
Distributed by20th Century Fox
MGM (Austria)
Release date
April 16, 1953 (1953-04-16)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,250,000 (US)[3]


At the last minute, a wealthy American expatriate in Europe, Richard Sturges (Clifton Webb), buys a steerage-class ticket (the lowest class) for the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic from a Basque immigrant. Once aboard he seeks out his runaway wife, Julia (Barbara Stanwyck). He discovers she is trying to take their two unsuspecting children, 18-year-old Annette (Audrey Dalton) and ten-year-old Norman (Harper Carter), to her hometown of Mackinac Island, Michigan, to raise as down-to-earth Americans rather than rootless elitists like Richard himself.

As the ship prepares for departure, her captain, Edward J. Smith (Brian Aherne), receives a hint from the shipping company representative that a record-setting speedy passage would be welcomed.

Other passengers include a wealthy woman of a working-class origin (based on a real-life Titanic survivor Molly Brown), Maude Young (Thelma Ritter); social-climbing Earl Meeker (Allyn Joslyn); a 20-year-old Purdue University tennis player, Gifford "Giff" Rogers (Robert Wagner); and George S. Healey (Richard Basehart), a Catholic priest who has been defrocked for alcoholism.

When Annette learns Julia's intentions, she insists on returning to Europe with Richard on the next ship as soon as they reach America. Julia concedes that Annette is old enough to make her own decisions, but she insists on keeping custody of Norman. This angers Richard, forcing Julia to reveal that Norman is not their son, but rather the result of a one-night stand after one of their many bitter arguments. Upon hearing that, he agrees to give up all claim to Norman. He joins Maude, Earl, and George Widener in the lounge to play auction bridge with them. The next morning, when Norman reminds him about a shuffleboard game they had scheduled, he coldly brushes him off.

Meanwhile, Giff falls for Annette at first glance. At first she repulses his brash attempts to become better acquainted, but eventually she warms to him. That night, Giff, Annette, and a group of young people sing and play the piano in the dining room, while Captain Smith watches from a corner table.

Second Officer Charles Lightoller (Edmund Purdom) expresses his concern to Captain Smith about the ship's speed when they receive two messages from other ships warning of iceberg sightings near their route. Smith, however, assures him that there is no danger.

That night, however, the lookout spots an iceberg dead ahead. Although the crew tries to steer clear of danger, the ship is gashed below the waterline and begins taking on water. When Richard finds Captain Smith, he insists on being told the truth: the ship is doomed and there are not enough lifeboats for everyone on board. He tells his family to dress warmly but properly; then they head outside.

Richard and Julia have a tearful reconciliation on the boat deck, as he places her, Annette, and Norman into a lifeboat. Unnoticed by Julia, Norman gives up his seat to an older woman and goes looking for Richard. When one of the lines becomes tangled, preventing the boat from being lowered, Giff climbs down and fixes it, only to lose his grip and fall into the water. Unconscious but alive, he is dragged onto the boat.

Meeker disguises himself as a woman to get aboard a lifeboat but Maude Young notices his shoes and unmasks him in front of the others in the boat. At the other end of the spectrum of courage and unselfishness, George Healey heads down into one of the boiler rooms to comfort trapped crewmen.

As the Titanic is in her final moments, Norman and Richard find each other. Richard tells a passing steward that Norman is his "son" and then tells Norman that he has been proud of him every day of his life. Then they join the rest of the doomed passengers and the crew in singing the hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee". As the last boiler explodes, the Titanic's bow plunges, pivoting her stern high into the air while she rapidly slides into the icy water. The remaining survivors are last seen waiting in the lifeboats for help to come as dawn approaches.



Walter Reisch says Daryl Zanuck called he and Charles Brackett in and said, "I have Clifton Webb under contract, and we have CinemaScope, and I now want to do something big...Don't make Clifton a clown. I want him to start a new career as a character actor. Use all the young people we have on the lot, like Audrey Dalton and Robert Wagner..."[4]

Reisch says he came up with the Titanic idea and pitched Clifton Webb as one of the 25 multimillionaires who died on it. He said the film would be "60 percent truth, completely documentary"[4] drawing on real life accounts. A part was written for Thelma Ritter. Reisch says it was Richard Breen's idea to have an alcoholic priest.[4]

Charles Brackett, who co-wrote and produced the film, told the press that some of the stories had to be discarded, "because they are too fantastic for movie audiences to believe."[5] In a September 1952 news article, it was reported that Terry Moore was set to play the role of Annette Sturges, on condition that she would finish production of Man on a Tightrope on time.[6]

At one stage the film was going to be called Nearer My God to Thee.[7]


According to the film aggregator website, Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 90% "Fresh" rating, based on 10 reviews.[8]

Variety reviewed the film positively stating, "but by the time the initial 45 or 50 minutes are out of the way, the impending disaster begins to take a firm grip on the imagination and builds a compelling expectancy."[9]

Pauline Kael was not impressed with the picture's special effects. She wrote: "the actual sinking looks like a nautical tragedy on the pond in Central Park."[10]

It is generally considered by historians that "Titanic" contains abundant historical inaccuracies. For example: the maiden voyage was not sold out, but actually barely more than half booked, as a matter of record in White Star Line Records of 1912. "Titanic experts rightly emphasize that the scene at Cherbourg is historical nonsense, since the Titanic was far from being sold out and an additional passenger would easily have been able to purchase a first class ticket." "Yet if one accepts that historical accuracy is not the point here, since the story is not at all that of the Titanic, it is a perfectly functioning script...."[11]

Awards and nominations

The film won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and was nominated for the Best Art Direction. The film was also nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award.


  1. The Definitive Titanic Film: A Night to Remember by Jeffrey Richards, 2003
  2. Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p248
  3. 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, January 13, 1954
  4. McGilligan, Patrick (1991). Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 237–238.
  5. "Says Movie of Titanic Sinking To Show Heroism of Victims" by Bob Thomas, Southeast Missourian, October 2, 1952, p. 14
  6. "Terry Moore Has Grown Up" by Hedda Hopper, Pittsburgh Press, September 27, 1952, p. 17
  7. Dall Understudy Wins Starring Break; Arthur, Wagner Brightly Cast Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 1 Oct 1952: B9.
  8. Titanic (1953) Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved 2018-6-28
  9. Titanic Variety Magazine Retrieved 2010-1-4
  10. "Pauline Kael reviews on geocities", retrieved 2013-05-21
  11. Koldau, Linda Maria (2012). The Titanic on Film: Myth versus Truth. McFarland.
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