Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, October 11, 2018


Oskar Werner and Simone Signoret
SHIP OF FOOLS (1965). Produced and directed by Stanley Kramer. Based on the novel by Katherine Anne Porter. 

"There are over a million Jews in Germany. What are they going to do -- kill all of us?" -- Lowenthal. 

"I've met women like you. You're 46-years-old and still think you're a coquette." 

"I didn't even see a Jew until I was fifteen." -- Tenny. "Maybe you were too busy lynching Negroes to take time for the Jews." -- Mary. 

In 1933 an ocean liner sets sail from Mexico to Germany with a motley group of crew and passengers. Dr. Wilhelm Schumann (Oskar Werner) is the ship's doctor, a married man with a heart condition who develops a romantic relationship with La Condesa (Simone Signoret), a woman who faces prison in Cuba because she spoke out against the oppressive government. David (George Segal) is an American "starving artist" who loves his girlfriend Jenny (Elizabeth Ashley), but fears she is too "modern" for him even as she fears he can only settle for the traditional wife who has no life or career of her own. Karl Glocken (Michael Dunn) is a dwarf who is not invited to the Captain's Table, any more than Lowenthal (Heinz Ruhmann), who is Jewish, but the two sit together and become friends. Bill Tenny (Lee Marvin) is a washed-up baseball player, and Mary Treadwell (Vivien Leigh) an aging and desperately lonely divorcee, who eventually have a distinctly unpleasant encounter. 

Vivien Leigh
Ship of Fools is not on the level of Stanley Kramer's masterpiece Judgment at Nuremberg, because even though it deals with matters German and (in part) with anti-Semitism, it doesn't have as good nor as powerful a story line. There are also some odd casting choices in this. Jose Ferrer as a Nazi? Simone Signoret as a Spanish noblewoman? Nonetheless Signoret did win a Best Actress Oscar, and Werner won as Best Actor. Both give good performances, although their love story isn't entirely convincing because one can't see any real on-screen chemistry between them, although they play well together. Poor Vivien Leigh is given the utterly thankless role of yet another desperate and aging woman to follow Blanche Dubois of Streetcar and Mrs. Stone of The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone -- Still attractive, she must have gotten awfully sick of it. Leigh was fifty-two at the time, playing forty-six, although she holds up better than Signoret, who was forty-four playing forty-two. The irony is that Mary Treadwell acts as if she's all washed up when down the hall La Condesa is getting action with the handsome ship's doctor! Leigh's performance is fine but her portrayal is dated.  

Lee Marvin and Michael Dunn
Michael Dunn, infamous as the evil Dr. Loveless on The Wild, Wild West TV program gives a notable performance, but although Lee Marvin has his moments, he seems to have wandered in from a different movie. Liz Ashley, in her pre-sex pot phase, is more than credible as Jenny, as is George Segal as her painter boyfriend. Charles Korvin is appealing as Captain Thiele. Jose Ferrer is completely miscast and not very good in the film, but there is fine work from two lesser-known actors: Alf Kjellin [Madame Bovary] is wonderful as Freytag, who is forced to leave the Captain's table because he is married to a Jewish woman, but suffers from great guilt because he abandoned her for his career; and Charles De Vries makes an impression as young Johann, whose elderly father is a miser. Werner Klemperer has some nice moments as a crew member who hopes to initiate a relationship with Mrs. Treadwell and is rather cruel to her when he is rejected. 

Ernest Gold's score is effective and Ernest Laszlo's cinematography deservedly won an Oscar. (The film also won as Best Picture, and the art direction also received a statue.) Abby Mann's screenplay, however, just doesn't delve deep enough into the characters, of which there are too many (the character of the ball player doesn't even belong in the movie). The film can't be said to be boring, as such, but it is never riveting the way the far superior Judgment at Nuremberg is. Still, it has memorable scenes, such as the sad one when Dunn observes that Lowenthal is a "fool", because he just isn't able to believe the dire and hopeless future for the Jews in Germany. 

Verdict: Despite many good moments, this should have been a much more absorbing and powerful picture. **3/4. 


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill - you're right, this is nowhere near as absorbing and gripping as Judgment at Nuremberg, and the times I have recorded and watched it I found myself fast-forwarding through some ponderous scenes. I do very much like the cast, especially Vivien Leigh and Simone Signoret, Lee Marvin and the handsome Oskar Werner, and little Michael Dunn (he was a great villain on Wild Wild West!)

William said...

He sure was. His episodes on WWW are the ones that stick in the mind. It's too bad -- this film had so much potential but it just doesn't deliver.