Friday, June 11, 2021

Save me from tomorrow

No, not that Ship of Fools

Stanley Kramer's Ship of Fools aired on TCM during 31 Days of Oscar as it was nominated for a bunch of Oscars. It's getting another showing tomorrow at 5:15 PM on TCM, so I recently sat down to watch it and do a post on here.

After a montage of stylized pictures of the cast assembled into the shape of an ocean liner, wet get the opening words from a dwarf, Glocken (Michael Dunn), breaking the fourth wall to tell us that the ship is packed with fools of all kinds. Shortly we'll get to meet all of those "fools".

It's 1933 in Veracruz, Mexico. A German ocean liner is about to disembark, and if you know your history, you'll know that 1933 is the year that the Nazis came to power. So there are powerful changes coming as everybody makes their way back to Europe. Among the passengers are:

Rieber (Jose Ferrer), a German who is sympathetic to the Nazis' anti-Jewish propaganda. He's married with a wife and kid back in Frankfurt, but has an affair with a young woman on the ship;
Lowenthal (Heinz Rühmann), a German Jew who because of his Jewishness is excluded from the captain's table and is seated with Glocken. Lowenthal thinks the Jews have been too good for Germany for the Nazis to carry out their threats;
Freytag (Alf Kjellin), a man who gets demoted from the captain's table when Rieber finds out Mrs. Freytag is Jewish;
The Huttens, an older couple with a dog; and the Lutzes, who are traveling with their adolescent daughter;
David (George Segal), an artist who in a relationship with Jenny (Elizabeth Ashley), which seems more about the sex than real love;
La Condesa (Simone Signoret), a Spaniard who has an opiate addiction and is being deported to a prison in the Canary Islands);
Mary Treadwell (Vivien Leigh), a wealthy divorcée who seems to be looking for a younger man; and
Bill Tenny (Lee Marvin), a failed baseball player who meets Mary and finds the hatred is mutual.

There's also the ship's doctor, Schumann (Oskar Werner), who treats the Condesa and finds that he's falling in love with her. He's sickly, having had a heart attack in his early 40s, and wants to leave his wife behind and treat the Condesa if possible.

So, on the face of it, there's a lot going on, with things getting even more complicated when the ship is more or less forced to pick up 600 migrant workers that the Cuban government is throwing out and deporting back to Spain. Most of the passegners try not to pay attention to those poor Spaniards down in steerage, instead focusing more on their own personal dramas that nobody else on the ship really cares about.

Frankly, it's hard as a viewer to care about these people. There's just too many stories going on, and the characters seem more like archetypes who are there to fit the pontifications of Katherine Ann Porter (who wrote the novel on which the movie is based) and director Stanley Kramer, who never shied away from putting even more of a message into his social message pictures.

Other people, however, will probably enjoy Ship of Fools more than I did, so definitely give it a go and judge for yourself.

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