Atlantic is a Titanic movie that was forced to pretend – not very successfully – that it wasn’t. The White Star Line, which merged with Cunard five years after the film was made, wasn’t very happy about the concept, so the filmmakers changed the name of their ship to Atlantic – but it’s still a luxury liner that hits an iceberg and sinks despite being declared unsinkable. It’s worth noting that a) as far as I noticed, the only time the ship’s name is mentioned in the film is when the captain writes it on a telegram and b) the film has been re-named ‘Titanic: Disaster in the Atlantic’ in more recent years.
Atlantic opens with the ship already underway; in the lounge, we see the goings-on of some first-class passengers, such as a newly married couple planning a party and another man indulging in an affair. It’s not really very interesting, and the delivery of the dialogue leaves something to be desired. At one point, an officer comes in to give the passengers a informative mini-lecture about icebergs – and as fate would have it, it isn’t long before an iceberg smashes against the ship’s hull, with the sea having a noticeable swell despite a character previously saying it was flat calm.
Unfortunately, even as the ship begins to sink, the film proceeds ponderously. The scale feels limited, more suited to a shorter project (Atlantic is about an hour and a half). The focus remains on the first-class passengers we’ve already seen; aside from a few scenes of crowds on deck and towards the end, there’s little sense that there are a great number of people onboard. The passengers finding out one by one just how serious the situation is, and then having to lie to those not in the know to avoid a panic, soon gets repetitive. The character of Officer Lanchester is particularly irritating, with his constant hesitation when asked for information, and then talking very slowly and melodramatically when he does explain things.
There are some bright spots amongst the generally dull whole, however. I liked the character of John Rool, who becomes a central figure delivering sage guidance to everyone around him; his conversations with his manservant provide highlights. Some of the actors do deliver good performances when their characters are put under pressure; and it is mildly compelling when some of the male characters, realising they will probably die, have to lie to their loved ones about the danger to convince them to leave.
Talking pictures had only been around for two years when this film came out, and it certainly indulges in being able to use sound effects, with such noises as the surrounding water and the engines turned up fairly loud. I did like some of the visuals: one of the first shots, with the front of the ship looming in the darkness, looks pretty imposing. (Atlantic does a better job of portraying night-time than In Nacht und Eis, which used a blue colour filter to signify night.) The panic in the scenes on deck looks convincing, though there is an unfortunate glimpse of 1920s attitudes when a black man forces his way into a lifeboat and gets shot for it. And I also liked a particular shot when the lifeboats are being lowered, where the camera is initially positioned beneath a boat before smoothly moving backwards to view it from sea level. The final scene manages to have a strong impact, where doomed passengers recite the Lord’s Prayer in a flooding room, before the lights go out and only screams and crashes are heard.
But overall, Atlantic is a slow and generally bland movie, and I don’t especially recommend it.