In 1943, more than 30 years after the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic, the Nazis thought it would be a good idea to make a movie about it.
Joseph Goebbels, who was Adolf Hitler's minister of propaganda, saw the Titanic story as a tale of British greed and incompetence. He wanted a film about the so-called "unsinkable" ship, one that would include a fictional character, a German officer named Peterson who would be the sole voice of reason on board.
A German director named Herbert Selpin was hired to make the movie, but when he refused to follow orders - he resisted efforts to make the British even more cowardly - he was arrested and jailed. The next day, he was found hanging in his cell, garroted with his own suspenders.
Another director finished the movie. It was a flop, and Nazi censors pulled it from theatres because audiences were too sympathetic to the passengers. The ship that was not going to sink became an apt symbol for the Reich that was going to last a thousand years.
The Titanic has a special relationship with the movies: A 10-minute film starring Dorothy Gibson, an actress who survived the sinking, was released a month later. Other movies nibbled around the edges: A 1929 film called Atlantic told the story, but changed the name of the ship; Noel Coward's 1933 Cavalcade has a scene on the deck of the Titanic; in History Is Made at Night, a 1937 movie with Charles Boyer, a Titanic-like ship avoids an iceberg.
Alfred Hitchcock was supposed to make a Titanic movie in 1938, but it got tangled up in legal troubles.
The first major movie in English was a 1953 drama called Titanic. It starred Barbara Stanwyck as an American woman taking her children on the boat to flee constricting English society and Clifton Webb as her snobbish husband, who follows her and ends up dying, bravely singing Nearer My God to Thee, as the Titanic sank.It was followed by A Night to Remember, a 1958 film that had a more modern approach. Based on a bestselling book by Walter Lord, it juggles various plots, characters and perspectives while still telling an old-fashioned story.
In 1964, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which starred Debbie Reynolds, told the story of a real-life woman who survives through sheer pluck. She not only helped evacuate the ship, she insisted her lifeboat return to look for more survivors, and she even helped row. For a '60s audience, she is a flag-waving American and early feminist.
By the time of Cameron's film in 1997, many of the old assumptions had been turned on their heads. Now the first-class passengers had become the villains, and the hero is rough-hewed Jack Dawson from steerage, played by heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio, who saves Rose (Kate Winslet) from a loveless marriage to a duplicitous rich man played by Billy Zane.
The 3-D version that is being released on April 4 comes into a world buffeted by recession and redefined by various Occupy protests as being divided between the "one per cent" and the "99 per cent." Some of us are in first class, and most of us are in steerage.
Just in time for the 100th anniversary of the most storied maritime disaster in history, National Geographic magazine and a team of researchers have unveiled new images of the Titanic, revealing unrestricted views of the wreck for the first time ever.