At the beginning of this film, Michael Dunn – the dwarf who serves as commentator – confides to the viewing audience: “this is a ship of fools”. Thus Stanley Kramer sets the tone for another of his portentous cinematic essays, in which he underscores every point and destroys not only any subtlety there was in the original novel, but any real chance that the film had of being taken seriously.
The time is 1933; the setting, a German liner bound from Vera Cruz in South America to Bremerhaven in a Germany just being taken over by the Nazis. Aboard is as motley a collection of passengers as could possibly be imagined.
The paying passengers perform their intricate dance of fate in their staterooms while, outside, housed like cattle in steerage, a horde of unwashed peasants pose a none-too-subtle menace.
Oskar Werner’s portrayal of the ship’s melancholy doctor Willi Schumann won a New York Film Critics Award.
This was Vivien Leigh’s final film before her death in July 1967 at the age of 53. Author Katherine Anne Porter strongly disliked this film of her famous novel, finding it vulgar and shallow.
Dr Willi Schumann
Oscar Beregi Jr.
Charles De Vries