William Murdoch: Film Portrayals

Ernst Rückert, In Night and Ice (1912)

Ernst Rückert, as the first officer, reacting to the iceberg

Only a few months after the sinking of the Titanic, an epic 40 minute recreation of the disaster was produced in Germany by 24-year old Romanian director Mime Misu, entitled "In Nacht und Eis" or "In Night and Ice".

The Captain and First Officer played by Otto Rippert
and Ernst Rückert respectively (Click to enlarge)

The Captain and First Officer are introduced as main characters, played by Otto Rippert and Ernst Rückert respectively, and are seen observing other ships from the bridge. The first officer, incorrectly shown with three stripes on his uniform (which would indicate chief officer) is depicted as reacting wildly to the sighting of the iceberg (using binoculars) and the Captain orders 'full astern'.

For more information on this film, the first to portray the role of first officer, check this article, including a full version of the film remastered in English and with a new score here:
In Nacht und Eis - "In Night and Ice" - 1912 German Titanic film

Theo Shall: Titanic (1943)

Theo Shall as Officer 'Morlock'

Theo Shall who plays "Mr Morlock" a jovial and positive officer. He is shown as having three stripes on his arm which would make him the Chief Officer -an interesting detail (or most likely an oversight over confusion with Wilde). However IMDB lists him as "1st Officer Murdoch (uncredited)".

Barry Bernard: Titanic (1953)

Barry Bernard as First officer Murdoch

In the American 1953 film "Titanic", Murdoch, played by Barry Bernard (who is too old and his looks dissimilar from the true Murdoch) is portrayed as spotting the iceberg on the port wing bridge, rather than the starboard,

He is last seen mumbling the words of “Nearer My God to Thee” taking off his officer’s cap as he does so, before the ship sinks.

A Night to Remember - TV (1956)

An unnamed actor playing the role of First officer Murdoch, receiving news of an iceberg dead ahead. He has two stripes on his sleeve which is correct. The actor is possibly Robert Brown, but this is presently unconfirmed.

Richard Leech: A Night to Remember (1958)

Richard Leech as Murdoch.

Richard Leech takes the minor role of First Officer in the British film "A Night to Remember". He plays the part well, displaying wide-eyed horror as collision with an iceberg threatens, seeing the iceberg in the enclosed navigation bridge, with a pair of binoculars around his shoulders.

Above, left to right: At 10pm Murdoch relieves Lightoller (Kenneth More); sees the iceberg; tells the Captain (Laurence Naismith); and then realises what has happened.

Paul Young: S.O.S. Titanic (1979)

Paul Young as “Joseph Murdoch”

Actor Paul Young plays the role of Murdoch (listed as “First Officer: Joseph Murdoch” in the credits!), incorrectly depicted with a moustache (which Murdoch had actually removed circa 1911) and an overly pronounced English accent (certainly when playing someone of Scottish descent).

The 10pm change over with Lightoller;
and Murdoch watching the iceberg approach.

The Titanic (1996)

Malcolm Stewart as Murdoch

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!

This TV film was the first to depict Murdoch using a gun and turning it on himself.

Titanic - the Musical (1997)

David Costabile,
who played Murdoch

The role of Murdoch was first played by David Costabile, although others followed in his footsteps as the musical continued to be shown around the world. The role of Murdoch includes an interesting –though entirely fictional- scene entitled “To Be A Captain” that takes place on the bridge prior to the collision:

Captain: If I remember correctly, Mr. Murdoch, you qualified for your Master’s papers when you were only 25--youngest man in the line’s history. And here you are, STILL without a ship of your own. What are you waiting for?
Murdoch: A ship’s master carries a heavy responsibility, Captain.
Captain: Every single minute, Mr. Murdoch.
Murdoch: I’m just not certain I’m up to it, sir.

Left to Right: Captain EJ Smith (John Cunningham), Third Officer Herbert J. Pitman (Matthew Bennett), Second Officer Charles Lightoller (John Bolton), Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall (Sean McCourt), Quartermaster Robert Hichens (Adam Alexi-Malle), and First Officer William Murdoch (David Costabile).

Ewan Stewart: Titanic (1997)

Ewan Stewart as Murdoch

For the first time since A Night to Remember (to which director James Cameron admittedly pays homage) the First Officer was played by an actor with at least certain aesthetic accuracy, Ewan Stewart fitting the general look and age of the real Murdoch. And, the first time ever on film, the role of the First Officer was not a minor one. He appears in several important scenes.

Murdoch firing his revolver into the crowds
stampeding the collapsible.

Most controversialy, Cameron depicts Murdoch shooting a passenger and then himself.

Ewan Stewart as First officer Murdoch puts a gun to his head during a dramatic scene at collapsible A in James Cameron's Titanic (1997). (Click to enlarge)

For more information on the discussion over the controversy surrounding this scene please check here.

Charlie Arneson: Ghosts of the Abyss (2003)

The actor who plays First Officer Murdoch during the film's recreations is Charlie Arneson, a James Cameron collaborator who worked on both The Abyss (1989) and Titanic (1997) as a systems manager (ocean images) and aquatic reseacher/advisor. In fact, in Ghosts of the Abyss Charlie was the also production supervisor.

Brian McCardie: Titanic - TV Mini-series (2012)

Brian McCardie as First Officer Murdoch shouting orders during the iceberg collision. According to McCardie this interpretation shows the 'herioc' side of Murdoch

47 year old Brian McCardie, a Scottish actor from Glasgow (who appeared in films Rob Roy, Speed 2, The Damned United), plays First Officer Murdoch.

Brian McCardie as William Murdoch (2012).
(Click to enlarge)

But most critically, Murdoch is incorrectly shown loading a lifeboat and firing a gun on "A" deck. As author and researcher Paul Lee notes, "1st Officer Murdoch was never on "A" deck that night." And in regards to firing a gun, Lee writes: "If Murdoch did fire a gun, it certainly wasn't here. He was never on A deck. His weapon firing, still controversial, would have happened in the area of boats "A" and "C" - forward on the boat deck." (48.)

For more information on the individual films and William Murdoch's portrayal, check here:

Celluloid Portrayal

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