The Life and Mystery of First Officer William Murdoch
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Film Data

Country: United States
Release date: 17 November 1996
Director: Robert Lieberman
Cast: Peter Gallagher, George C. Scott and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Plot: The plot focuses on the romances of two couples upon the doomed ship. Isabella Paradine (Catherine Zeta Jones) is a wealthy woman mourning the loss of her aunt, who reignites a romance with old flame, Wynn Park (Peter Gallagher). Meanwhile, a charming ne'er do well named Jamie Perse (Mike Doyle) steals a ticket for the ship, and falls for a sweet innocent Irish girl on board. But their romance is threatened by the villainous Simon Doonan (Tim Curry), who has discovered about the ticket and makes Jamie his unwilling accomplice, as well as having sinister plans for the girl.

Trivia: While largely dismissed in the United States and England as an inferior low-budget imitation of James Cameron's blockbuster (this film entered preproduction as Cameron's film was being shot), the 1996 mini-series remains very popular in Europe and Asia.

The Titanic (1996)
Malcolm Stewart

Malcolm Stewart as Murdoch

Probably the worst film ever made about the tragedy is The Titanic a CBS TV-movie that has so many inaccuracies and less than convincing special effects that there is not enough room to list them all here (and a completely unnecessary rape scene). Made in 1996 it was an obvious attempt to “cash in” on the then in-production film being made by James Cameron (released the following year), with many parts of his script pillaged and/or altered. George C. Scott’s rendition of Captain Smith has the only similarity being that he has a white beard. The only redeeming value is the then little known actress Catherine Zeta Jones, appearing in another poorly made production that did little for her career (interestingly, another flop she appeared in was also a maritime legend: a Christopher Columbus film). Her character and a role played by her opposite romantic lead, Peter Gallagher, are again fictional.

Murdoch is played by Malcolm Stewart, who is probably a little too old and certainly too bald to be in any way convincing as the First Officer. Even worse, his uniform has three stripes, instead of two, marking him as Chief Officer! -showing that the confusion over Wilde/Murdoch as Chief Officer still continues –in fact, the film does not include the role of Wilde at all!

However, the inaccuracies in Murdoch’s portrayal are certainly not limited to his appearance. Murdoch is shown acting in an arrogant, unlikable and disagreeable manner (with a toffy-nosed English accent), who, upon learning that there is only one pair of binoculars in the bridge, asks that the lookout’s “glasses” be taken off them and used as well! Once Murdoch has relieved Lightoller, Boxhall asks: “22 and half knots. What are we doing? This is not a race.” Murdoch replies: “We have our orders Mr. Boxhall.”

Above:The 10pm change over, Murdoch (Malcom Stewart)
replacing Lightoller (Kevin McNulty)

On receiving Moody’s call of iceberg right ahead, Murdoch looks through a pair of binoculars, sees the iceberg and then orders “Hard-a-starboard.’ Then looking through the binoculars again he orders “Full astern”. In the collision sequence he is seen in a rather cramped wheelhouse and on impact leaning to one side at a ridiculously acute angle! Afterward Captain Smith is shown angrily rebuking an unremorseful and confused Murdoch for having reversed the engines and for not hitting the iceberg head-on!

Above, from left: Murdoch sighting the iceberg with binoculars; ‘telling’ the ship to turn; the collision; closing the water-tight doors.

Above, from left: Murdoch reporting the bad news to the Captain (George C.Scott); the Captain telling Murdoch he should have hit the iceberg head on; Lightoller and Murdoch issuing revolvers.

By far the worst scene is the alleged suicide. In a prelude to this there is a shot in which Lightoller and Murdoch are warned by Bruce Ismay that “I can’t have you shooting my passengers” in regard to the guns that were being issued. Murdoch replies that “we have too few men to control a mob” to which Ismay says, in an overly dramatic tone: “Just keep in mind that a number of our passengers are VERY influential people. Just remember that. I can’t be responsible…” Once Ismay has left, Lightoller says sarcastically: “So don’t offend anyone in First Class by blowing their brains out.” The actual suicide takes place on an almost deserted boat deck. A handful of rough-looking men approach and Murdoch stops them:

Murdoch: “Where do you think you’re going?”
Men: “Where’s our boat then?”
Murdoch: “You can’t come up here this boat is full”
Men: “What about the rest of these lads?
Murdoch: “This boat is full! Now get back!”

Murdoch warning men not to come any further
(with Lightoller and Boxhall watching behind)

Pulling out his revolver, Murdoch says: “I’ll shoot the next man who moves!” At that a man breaks forth from the crowd and is cut down by a single blast from Murdoch’s gun. Looking at the body of the man on the deck, Murdoch then whispers under his breath, “Damn you” and turns to his two fellow officers who have been standing behind him during all this. They look bewildered by Murdoch’s actions (incredibly, these two officers are supposedly Lightoller and Boxhall!). Murdoch then says: “Well gentlemen, I suppose it’s every man for himself.” He then puts the gun to his head, at which Boxhall shouts “Murdoch!” just before the First Officer shoots himself. Officer Boxhall, being restrained by Lightoller, then says quietly: “My God, why have you deserted us?”

Murdoch shooting a passenger.

Murdoch turns to Lightoller and Boxhall, saying,
“Well gentlemen, I suppose it’s every man for himself.”

If it wasn’t for the seriousness of the situation, the way this entire scene was staged is bordering on being a comedy, a badly conceived one at that. The motivation supposedly given to force Murdoch into shooting a man and then himself are woefully inadequate –with no ‘full boat’ in sight and a deserted boat deck- and then to have Lightoller and Boxhall standing by as it occurs is an affront to all logic. This scene is purely derivative of a slightly similar scene in James Cameron’s script, but so poorly performed that it is worse than any of the rumours of suicide that came in the wake of the tragedy.

Murdoch turns the gun on himself.