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Film / Ship of Fools

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Ship of Fools is a 1965 American drama film directed by Stanley Kramer, based on the novel of the same name by Katherine Anne Porter. Its Ensemble Cast includes Vivien Leigh, Simone Signoret, José Ferrer, Lee Marvin, Elizabeth Ashley, George Segal and Michael Dunn.

The film chronicles the journey of an ocean liner from Mexico to rising Nazi Germany in 1933. Among the travelers are:

  • Mary Treadwell (Leigh), a bitter, late-middle-aged American divorcee.
  • Bill Tenny (Marvin), a loud-mouthed obnoxious American and a failed professional baseball player.
  • "La Condesa" (Signoret), a Spanish countess bound for prison in Tenerife for helping subversives.
  • David Scott (Segal) and Jenny Brown (Ashley), he being a young frustrated left-wing artist and she being his only partially understanding girlfriend.
  • Carl Glocken (Dunn), a jovial dwarf.
  • Siegfried Rieber (Ferrer), an enthusiastic Nazi pretty excited about going back to Germany.
  • Freytag (Alf Kjellin), a German with a Jewish wife.
  • Julius Lowenthal (Heinz Ruehmann), a German Jew who underestimates how bad it's going to get back home.
  • Captain Thiele (Charles Korvin) is captain of the ship, but more attention is paid to Willi Schumann (Oskar Werner), the ship's doctor.
  • All the while, the cargo deck is loaded with poor immigrant workers being deported to Spain.

The characters serve as a cross section of one of the most turbulent periods in modern history. The altruistic myopia of the German Jew who believes his country means him no harm, the American apathy to the escalating global conflict, and the changing cultural tides provide an interesting portrait of the philosophies of the time period.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning for its art direction and cinematography. Vivien Leigh's last film role.

This film contains examples of:

  • Animated Credits Opening: The pictures of the cast members form the shape of a ship, which sails away...and then dissolves to live action footage of the ship sailing away.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Karl Glocken addresses the audience at the beginning and end of the film, serving as a Greek Chorus.
  • Chiaroscuro: The scene where Johann enters Amparo the hooker's cabin in order to purchase her services is lit only with a single light from Amparo's bathroom. She is in silhouette throughout.
  • Eagleland: As Homer Simpson taught the world, Lee Marvin was always drunk and violent. Here he plays Bill Tenny, a loud, abrasive, racist drunk. In this symbolic portrayal of the world as it was in 1933, he's Eagleland Flavor 2.
  • Ensemble Cast: There is no main character.
  • The Film of the Book
  • Going Cold Turkey: Schumann the doctor breaks the countess of an addiction to pills.
  • Herr Doktor: The ship's doctor, along with the rest of the crew, is German.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: "And what about your childhood? Did nothing gay happen to you at all?" This was near the end of the era where Have a Gay Old Time was played straight, as the modern meaning of the word was beginning to take over.
  • Immigrant Patriotism: A particularly ugly and destructive variant in the form of Herr Reiber, who is very enthusiastic about the tide of history in Nazi Germany, despite the fact that he is actually from Austria. (This is of course symbolic of Adolf Hitler himself, who was Austrian.)
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • The captain underestimates the appeal of Nazis.
      "I like to listen to Herr Reiber. Every time I listen to him, I feel reassured. I know no one could ever take him or his party seriously."
    • Lowenthal has some extremely Anvilicious dialogue in which he badly underestimates the Nazi threat.
      "Listen, there are over a million Jews in Germany. What are they going to do, kill all of us?"
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Mary Treadwell
  • Little People Are Surreal: Played with. Karl Glocken is the only character to break the fourth wall, but other than that, he's a normal person.
  • No Name Given: Even in the credits, Simone Signoret is only "La Condesa".
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: The shy teenaged girl is obviously pretty good-looking to begin with, but her parents are boggled when they see how glamorous she looks after Jenny gives her a makeover.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Captain Thiele and Dr. Schumann, the most ostentatiously intellectual people on the ship, play chess in the captain's stateroom.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Dr. Schumann is dying of a heart condition while the countess is going to jail.
  • Those Wacky Nazis
  • Title Drop: By Karl, addressing the camera in the first line of the movie: "My name is Karl Glocken, and this is a ship of fools." The meaning of this is underlines towards the end, when Dr. Schumann, berating himself for not accompanying the countess, says that people are afraid of looking foolish and thus make themselves into fools.