Ship of Fools (1965)

Ship of Fools (1965)

“There’s prejudice everywhere; it does no good to give it back.”

On a passenger ship travelling from Mexico to Germany in 1933 — with hundreds of displaced workers packed into steerage — numerous dramas unfold on the main deck: the ship’s doctor (Oskar Werner) falls for a drug-addicted Cuban countess (Simone Signoret) who is being sent to a Spanish prison; an artist (George Segal) and his upper-class girlfriend (Elizabeth Ashley) wonder if their relationship will last; an anti-semitic businessman (Jose Ferrer) praises the rise of fascism while a dwarf (Michael Dunn) and a Jew (Heinz Ruehmann) sit at a separate dining table; an aging beauty (Vivien Leigh) laments her stage of life; and a former baseball player (Lee Marvin) with a drinking problem can’t stop talking about his failures.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • At Sea
  • George Segal Films
  • Jose Ferrer Films
  • Lee Marvin Films
  • Simone Signoret Films
  • Stanley Kramer Films
  • Vivien Leigh Films

Stanley Kramer directed this adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter’s 1962 allegorical novel about a group of disparate individuals seeking elusive happiness prior to the second World War. It’s notable for featuring Vivien Leigh in her final performance, though her role is minimal:

More front-and-center is the shipboard romance between Signoret and Werner, which is both believable and absorbing:

Unfortunately, numerous other sub-plots litter the screenplay, ranging from annoying (i.e., Ashley and Segal’s “tortured” romance):

… to racist (nearly all darker-skinned characters are portrayed as prostitutes or unwashed masses):

… to insufficiently built out (i.e., Marvin’s troubled past):

As DVD Savant describes this film in his review, “very little happens besides talk. Most of the actors state their woes in position speeches and many scene-pairings amount to little.” Of minor interest is the role played by Ruehmann, who is given some of the film’s most hopeful lines:

… but overall the film is a disappointment.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Oskar Werner as Dr. Schumann
  • Simone Signoret as La Condesa
  • Ernest Laszlo’s Oscar-winning cinematography

Must See?
No, though it may be worth a one-time look simply for Werner and Signoret’s performances.


One thought on “Ship of Fools (1965)

  1. In 2018 when sent the BD to review I felt …

    Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools (1965)

    12 certificate / 150 minutes


    Big, sprawling melodrama set on board a ship headed from Mexico to Germany in early 1933 and the crew and passengers are a microcosm of the world as it moves towards war.

    Heaps of great actors all giving splendid performances with no one letting the aide down; perfect lazy afternoon’s viewing. Michael Dunn is particularly impressive as a philosophical, existential man who understands exactly where the world, and specifically Germany is going.

    It looks splendid having been shot by Ernest Laszlo largely on soundstages with a minimal amount of location work.

    Definitely not a must see.

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