Atlantic (1929)

Based on the play “The Berg,” Atlantic is a fictionalized retelling of the Titanic’s sinking. It was the first sound film made about the disaster and the first full-length sound film in Germany. Actually, the film was produced in three languages. In addition to German, there were French and English versions, as well as a silent version. I viewed the English-language version. Interesting fact: the film was originally released as Atlantic, but more recently, it has also been known as Titanic: Disaster in the Atlantic.

But wait–if it’s a film about the Titanic, why was the movie originally called Atlantic? There’s a good answer for this. Originally, the film was supposed to be explicitly about the Titanic, and it’s title was to be Titanic. Due to lawsuits, however, the film’s producers changed the name of the film (and its fictional ship) to Atlantic.

Beyond the fact that a large, unsinkable ship hit an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and sank, there’s actually very little in the film that resembles the narrative that students of Titanic are familiar with. Atlantic begins with a tale of adultery. Mr. Tate-Hughes, a first-class passenger aboard the ship, is stepping out on his wife with another woman on the ship, but that plot line quickly falls by the wayside as the ship hits an iceberg. Even as the real action begins, the film remains devoid of many of the mainstays of Titanic film. We don’t see any of the familiar faces–there’s no Captain Smith, no Thomas Andrews, no Bruce Ismay. We don’t even see that much of the ship itself, and what we do see barely resembles the ship we’ve come to know.

I was confused by the characters’ costumes that I’m not even certain that the film is supposed to take place in 1912. The ladies don’t look like other 1912 women I’ve seen. They’re not dressed like women of the era, and I saw quite a few short women’s hairstyles that don’t seem to be from that period, either.  The clothing seemed more like a mish-mash of 1912 and 1920s styles.

There are several scenes of chaos out on the Atlantic’s decks, as panicked people scramble for spots in the lowering lifeboats. I was shocked to see that at least one of these people was a black man. There may have been two, actually, but the second man was on screen for such a short time that I wasn’t able to get a good look at him. I’m pretty sure this is the only Titanic film I’ve seen that features any black people at all. Earlier this week, I wrote about Shine, a mythical black stoker on the Titanic who survived the sinking. Unfortunately, the dude on the Atlantic wouldn’t be as fortunate as Shine. During the scenes on deck, the black man breaks through the crowd and struggles against an army of men as he attempts to enter a lifeboat. He gets pummeled, but he makes it into the boat, where he gets pummeled some more, and choked, too. Finally, an officer shoots him, and he falls out of the boat and into the sea. Not a very positive light in which to depict black people, but it’s certainly not surprising, given the period when the film was made.

As a Titanic film, Atlantic is pretty forgettable overall. The scene where the officer shoots the black dude is what sticks out the most to me, not exactly something I’d like to remember most about a film. It had potential in the beginning, with the adultery plot, but that storyline just kind of fizzles out. It’s possible there was a resolution, but if there was, I don’t remember it. This should have played a much larger role in the film, but most of what we get is the man’s poor wife grieving over her husband’s unfaithfulness and his daughter sneering anger over her father’s behavior. Such a waste.

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