film poster
Directed byJean Negulesco
Written by
Produced byCharles Brackett
CinematographyJoseph MacDonald
Edited byLouis R. Loeffler
Music bySol Kaplan
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
April 16, 1953 (1953-04-16)
Running time
98 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2,250,000 (US)[3]

Titanic is a 1953 American drama film directed by Jean Negulesco and starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck. It centers on an estranged couple and other fictional passengers on the ill-fated maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic, which took place in April 1912.

It was the first Titanic film for 20th Century Fox, which also released the 1997 film of the same title internationally, while Paramount Pictures handled the North American distribution. The film met critical praise.


At the last minute, Richard Sturges (Clifton Webb), a wealthy expatriate in Europe, offers a Basque emigrant money for his steerage-class ticket (the lowest class) for the maiden voyage of the RMS Titanic—and succeeds. 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 rear them as down-to-earth Americans rather than rootless elitists like Richard himself.

As the ship is prepared for departure, Sanderson Anthony Eustrel, the company representative (based on Bruce Ismay) suggests to captain Edward J. Smith (Brian Aherne) that a record-setting speedy passage would be welcomed.

Other passengers include Maude Young (based on real-life Titanic survivor Margaret Brown), a wealthy woman of a working-class origin (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.

One night on the bridge, the Captain asks Second Officer Charles Lightoller (Edmund Purdom) about a note by Murdoch regarding binoculars; Lightoller explains that the ship is shy on binoculars: they have just enough for the bridge, but none for the lookout.

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 his son, but rather the result of a one-night stand after one of their many bitter arguments. Upon hearing that, Richard declares to make no claim to Norman and does not want to see him again.

He joins Maude, Earl, and George Widener in the lounge to play auction bridge with them. The next morning, when Norman reminds him of a shuffleboard game they had arranged, 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 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 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. However, Smith assures him that the sea is clear and that the track is south of the reported icefield.

That night, the lookout spots an iceberg dead ahead. The crew tries to steer clear of danger, but 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 board a lifeboat, but Maude Young notices his shoes and unmasks him in front of the others. At the other end of the spectrum of courage and unselfishness, George Healey heads down into one of the boiler rooms to comfort injured 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. As dawn approaches, the survivors are seen in the lifeboats, waiting for help to arrive.




Walter Reisch says Darryl F. Zanuck called him and Charles Brackett in and told them, "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 multi-millionaires 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]

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] At one point the film was going to be called Nearer My God to Thee.[6]

Filming began in late October 1952 and wrapped in early December 1952.


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.[7]

Critical reception

According to the film aggregator website, Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 91% "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 shown by White Star Line records of 1912. Linda Koldau writes: "[...] 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]

Also, Carpathia had arrived at the scene at around 4:10 a.m., and started picking up the survivors before sunrise. The rescue took several hours. In addition, Captain Smith was not awake at the time of the ship's collision with the iceberg, as shown in the film, but was awakened immediately thereafter and summoned to the bridge. The film shows, erroneously, that the iceberg penetrates the ship's port side.

The wireless from the Caronia warning Titanic of an iceberg ahead of it on the steamer track was never shown by the wireless operator Jack Phillips to the Captain or other officers, but in the film Phillips does show it to Captain Smith and First Officer Charles Lightoller, who then wonders in the film whether that is the same iceberg north of the steamer track previously warned of in a wireless from the Baltic, which Phillips had shown to his superior officers.

During the evacuation, the ship consistently blows its steam whistle and sounds a fire alarm. Titanic did not blow its whistle at all during the sinking and never had any alarms either.

The film makers decided to have the Titanic's band playing Londonderry Air and eventually Nearer, My God, to Thee (with the remaining passengers joining in), and not to mention the ship Californian that was in the vicinity of the real Titanic at the fatal night.

Titanic experts Fitch, Layton and Wormstedt judge that the film has some impressive special effects and in some ways recreates the feeling of being on board the Titanic. However, the film is not very accurate, although the advertising claimed the opposite. Most of the events shown are dramatically exaggerated or simply wrong.[12]

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. ^ a b c 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. ^ Dall Understudy Wins Starring Break; Arthur, Wagner Brightly Cast Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 1 Oct 1952: B9.
  7. ^ "Terry Moore Has Grown Up" by Hedda Hopper, Pittsburgh Press, September 27, 1952, p. 17
  8. ^ Titanic (1953) Rotten Tomatoes Retrieved 2018-6-28
  9. ^ Titanic Variety Magazine Retrieved 2010-1-4
  10. ^ [1] "Pauline Kael reviews on geocities", retrieved 2013-05-21
  11. ^ Koldau, Linda Maria (2012). The Titanic on Film: Myth versus Truth. McFarland.
  12. ^ Tad Fitch, J. Kent Layton, Bill Wormstedt: On a Sea of Glass. The Life & Loss of the RMS Titanic. Amberley, Stroud 2015, p. 278.