SHIP OF FOOLS
(director: Stanley Kramer; screenwriters: Abby Mann/based on a novel by Katherine Anne Porter; cinematographer: Ernest Laszlo; editor: Robert C. Jones; music: Ernest Gold; cast: Vivien Leigh (Mary Treadwell), Simone Signoret (La Condesa), Jose Ferrer (Siegfried Rieber), Lee Marvin (Bill Tenny), Oskar Werner (Willie Schumann), Elizabeth Ashley (Jenny Brown), Heinz Rühmann (Julius Lowenthal), Michael Dunn (Carl Glocken), George Segal (David), Charles Korvin (Capt. Thiele), Lilia Skala (Frau Hutten), José Greco (Pepe, dancer), John Wengraf (Graf, evangelist), Gila Golan (Elsa Lutz), Alf Kjellin (Freytag), Werner Klemperer (Lt. Huebner); Runtime: 150; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Stanley Kramer; Columbia; 1965)
“The black-and-white overlong, dated and uneven film, a less than endearing talk-fest, is rescued from drowning in a sea of words by its fine cast.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This was Vivien Leigh’s last film, she died from tuberculosis in 1967 at age 54. Author and essayist Katherine Anne Porter published in 1962 her first and only novel, a voluminous work that took twenty years to complete and was rewarded as a bestseller and a prizewinner. Porter used her 1931 ocean cruise experience from Vera Cruz to Germany to craft this allegorical tale about the immanence of an impending world conflict. It features a diverse group of passengers aboard a big German ocean liner named Vera (sailing from Vera Cruz to Bremerhaven by way of Cuba and Tenerife) in 1933. The mixed bag of passengers include: a Jew, a midget, the world-weary, various ethnics, racists, the wealthy, snobs and in steerage 600 Spanish sugar-cane working migrants forcibly returning from Cuba. It’s directed with a certain liberal heaviness in clichés by the message-happy Stanley Kramer (“On the Beach”/ “Judgment at Nuremberg”/”Inherit the Wind”) and slickly adapted to the screen by Abby Mann. I felt I was some kind of viewer whale who landed on a beach where I was being clubbed unmercifully to death by Kramer with talking-points until I would either yell Uncle! or just get so broken down that I would gladly succumb to his shark-like view of the world. To say the least, I found the direction unacceptable.
The black-and-white overlong, dated and uneven film, a less than endearing talk-fest, is rescued from drowning in a sea of words by its fine cast. It’s always one step closer to a disaster film than an art film, but is watchable as a Grand Hotel (1932) at sea.
The cynical dwarf played by Michael Dunn addresses the camera at the film’s begining to act as the alter ego for the author or as the one-man Greek chorus, as he voices the following sentiments: “My name is Carl Glocken, and this is a ship of fools. I’m a fool. You’ll meet more fools as we go along. This tub is packed with them. Emancipated ladies and ballplayers. Lovers. Dog lovers. Ladies of joy. Tolerant Jews. Dwarfs. All kinds. And who knows-if you look closely enough, you may even find yourself on board!”
The characters aboard include: the 46-year-old fading wealthy flirtatious American divorcée Mary Treadwell (Vivien Leigh), who is looking for a last fling before aging but has the nasty habit of leading men on only to disappoint them; the most obnoxious and openly Jew hater is the callous German publisher Siegfried Rieber (Jose Ferrer), who hypothesizes about eliminating inferior races at birth; a washed up and drunken lecherous ballplayer from Texas as played by Lee Marvin; George Segal is a jerky sexist and socially committed struggling American artist and Elizabeth Ashley is his wealthy frivolous American girlfriend, who doesn’t understand him; Simone Signoret is a sad-eyed and drug-addicted Spanish countess, who is prison-bound for abetting the wrong side at the onset of the Spanish Civil War; Oskar Werner is the ship’s world-weary doctor, who has a bad ticker and a loveless marriage; José Greco is the unsavory Spanish pimp who is head of a troupe of Flamenco-dancing gypsies; the wealthy German Jew, Julius Lowenthal (Heinz Rühmann), is a salesman who is ostracized to a corner table with the wealthy narrator dwarf, while the other wealthy passengers dine at the captain’s table; Charles Korvin plays the prim German captain; Gila Golan is a Swiss girl who is consoled by the Jew when she frets over being ugly; and John Wengraf is a pompous evangelist, presumably aboard so we get some outrageous religious spouting to the migrants into this sea voyage.
Each character gets a chance to act out their part, have their say and be a showcase for what Kramer calls the human condition. That all the principles are superb at getting across their lines in this ambitious melodrama, doesn’t mean it has overcome its bad case of pretension and verbosity.
REVIEWED ON 7/15/2007 GRADE: C+