|Directed by||William Hale|
|Produced by||Lou Morheim|
|Written by||James Costigan|
Susan Saint James
|Music by||Howard Blake|
|Editing by||Rusty Coppleman|
|Distributed by||EMI Films|
|Release date(s)||September 23, 1979|
Original TV Cut|
Edited European Version
S.O.S. Titanic is a 1979 television movie that depicts the doomed 1912 voyage from the perspective of three distinct groups of passengers in First, Second, and Third Class, respectively. The script was written by James Costigan and the film was directed by William Hale.
First Class passengers include a May-December couple, John Jacob Astor IV and his new wife Madeleine Talmage Force; their friend, the notorious "unsinkable" Molly Brown; another pair of honeymooners, Daniel and Mary Marvin; and Benjamin Guggenheim, returning to his wife and children after a scandalous affair.
Perhaps the most moving plot line is the tentative shipboard romance of two cautious, reflective schoolteachers, Lawrence Beesley (played by David Warner, who would go on to appear in the 1997 film Titanic) and the fictional Leigh Goodwin (played by Susan Saint James). Both are saved.
In steerage, the plot focuses on the experiences of ten or so Irish immigrants, who are first depicted approaching the ship from a tender in the harbor of Queenstown, Ireland. These characters, all based on real people, include Katie Gilnagh, Kate Mullens, Mary Agatha Glynn, Bridget Bradley, Daniel Buckley, Jim Farrell, Martin Gallagher, and David Chartens. During the voyage, Martin Gallagher falls for an unnamed "Irish beauty." Beesley and Goodwin take a walk on the deck, but soon part over the fact that Beesley doesn't "expect" that the two of them are in love. The Titanic strikes an iceberg and Beesley and Goodwin both ask a steward why the Titanic stopped in mid-ocean. Passengers are told to go out on deck with their lifejackets on. Beesley searches for Goodwin but can't find her (vise versa). Many of the passengers simply refuse to get into boats. The Carpathia answers an SOS from the Titanic and turns around to come but are four hours from the sinking vessel. Passengers are loaded into boats. Goodwin gets in a boat and survives. Madeleine Astor is put in Lifeboat 4 but JJ Astor can't go in. Beesley is allowed in Lifeboat 13, but is almost crushed by Lifeboat 15, but are rescued. The ten or so immigrants find their way upstairs and the women are loaded into the last lifeboat along with Ismay and stewardess Violet Jessop (who also survives the sinking of the Britannic in 1916). The Titanic lists forward and slowly sinks. The Carpathia resuces 703 survivors including Molly Brown, Madeleine Astor, the Countess of Rothes, Leigh Goodwin, and Laurence Beesley. JJ Astor and 1,516 other passengers freeze to death in the ocean.
- David Janssen as Colonel John Jacob Astor IV
- Beverly Ross as Madeleine Astor
- Cloris Leachman as Margaret "Molly" Brown
- Susan Saint James as Leigh Goodwin
- David Warner as Lawrence Beesley
- Geoffrey Whitehead as Thomas Andrews
- Ian Holm as J. Bruce Ismay
- Helen Mirren as Stewardess Mary Sloan
- Harry Andrews as Captain Edward J. Smith
- Jerry Houser as Daniel Marvin
- Matthew Guinness as Father Thomas Byles
One of the film's major themes is class distinctions to foretell this event. Second Class passengers Beesley and Goodwin discuss their ambiguous position "in the middle" and debate whether class distinctions are uniquely British. Goodwin briefly encourages Beesley to pursue his apparent attraction to a young Irish beauty in Third Class, but he rejects this advice. The Third Class passengers, mostly from poor backgrounds, show no resentment at their meager accommodation—Katie Gilnagh comments that sleeping four-to-a-room is far more comfortable than the situation she knew in her overcrowded childhood home—but on the night of the sinking, they struggle to evade the efforts of ship's personnel to keep them below decks and away from the lifeboats. Led by Jim Farrell, they successfully sneak up to the First Class restaurant, where Farrell persuades the Sergeant-at-Arms to allow the women—but only the women—to pass up to the boat deck.
Another major theme is the gay, hectic atmosphere aboard ship. Young Mary Marvin comments that many of the First Class passengers are honeymooners, and that she does not want to land, but simply to go on sailing and dancing forever. In much simpler surroundings, the Third Class passengers also engage in music, dancing, and whirlwind romances. Meanwhile, Beesley and Goodwin toy with the possibility of embarking on an illicit affair in an empty cabin but decide not to. Goodwin comments that shipboard romances, like shipboard friendships, are meant to end with the voyage.
A third theme is who deserved, or accepted, responsibility for the wreck of the RMS Titanic. Captain Smith, a veteran White Star captain nearing retirement, is depicted as a masterful leader who nevertheless failed to slow down in spite of being well aware that he was traveling into ice-laden waters. Shipbuilder Thomas Andrews radiates an almost saintly quality, seeing to the final details of construction and repairs himself, tenderly looking after passengers and crew, and even conversing with a young stewardess about their common hometown of Belfast. He fully understands the implications of the collision, and his knowledge that he cannot save the ship clearly breaks his heart. Meanwhile, White Star Line owner J. Bruce Ismay wavers between a stance of command and an unwillingness to take responsibility for the sinking. Identifying himself as a passenger, he defiantly boards a lifeboat, only to experience a nervous breakdown aboard the RMS Carpathia. Ismay is the only one of these three men who survives, and it is clear that he will never fully recover from the sinking.
- Several of the scenes on the exterior decks, as well as those in the ship's wheelhouse, were filmed on board the RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California.
- Some interior scenes were filmed at the Waldorf in London.
- The back-drop for the Irish town of Queenstown, where the emigrants board the Titanic, was the town of Peel, Isle of Man.
- The exterior ship scenes were filmed on the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's ship, SS Manxman. The Manxman was also used to portray the RMS Carpathia, steaming to the rescue.
- The film does correctly portray the band playing ragtime tunes on deck during the sinking. Most historians agree that the then popular style is most likely what the band would have played on deck in the dark, improvised and confusing conditions. While the exact tunes played during the sinking might never be known, the ones heard in the film are mostly Scott Joplin's works. The historically accurate music is segued into the dance number.
- John Jacob Astor and his wife Madeline actually boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg, France, not at Southampton, England as depicted in the film.
- When it is finally April 14, 1912, it says "Day 5: 12 April, 1912". This was possibly an error by the filmmakers themselves, as they were unable to correct the mistake after the movie was released.
- Violet Jessop, the only surviving female to pen an account of the sinking, is showcased here as an elderly Stewardess. Jessop, born in 1887, would have in fact been only 24-25 years old when she was employed on the Titanic.
- The lifeboats did not have to row through a thick icefield to reach the RMS Carpathia. But during the course of the four hours after the sinking and before the Carpathia arrived the lifeboats did row past several icebergs and encountered growler ice. Growler ice was photographed the next day by passengers on several ships passing the scene, one of which reportedly showed traces of red anti-fouling paint, similar to that on the Titanic.
- The distress rockets for the Titanic were actually fired one at a time, not two at a time as depicted in the film.
- The actual RMS Titanic's lifeboats were actually labeled as SS Titanic, where in the film they are simply labeled as Titanic.
- Benjamin Guggenheim's mistress was actually traveling with him aboard the RMS Titanic, he did not leave her behind in Europe.
SOS Titanic was originally shown on two nights on ABC television beginning on September 29, 1979. Combined, the two parts ran 150 minutes.
In 1980, the film was edited to 103 minutes and released in Europe. The European version was released on DVD globally. The full version has never been commercially available.