Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Simone Signoret: Ship of Fools / The Deadly Affair

Based on the novel by Katharine Anne Porter, 1965's SHIP OF FOOLS is set on board a liner sailing from Mexico to Bremerhaven in Germany in 1933 - a significant date. Among the many passengers (who represent society at large then) are divorcee Mary Treadwell (Vivien Leigh in her final role) and La Condesa (Simone Signoret) a drug-addicted Spanish noblewoman being deported as a political prisoner. Leigh and Signoret are both marvellous here - Signoret in particular having a doomed romance with ship's doctor Oscar Werner (who has a heart condition...) - these two are tremendous together. Leigh (who died in 1967) has some stunning moments too, an older Blanche Du Bois or Mrs Stone, surveying her ageing appearance in the mirror, suddenly bursting into a frantic charleston as she walks along the corridor, she is desperate for love and affection and certainly knows how to work a feather boa, she also attacks Lee Marvin who stumbles into her cabin thinking it is that of one of the women selling their favours in Jose Greco's flamenco troupe. 
Marvin is an ageing alcoholic athlete here - also on board are artists George Segal and Elizabeth Ashley (looking like a very 60s modern miss) who have a love-hate relationship, Michael Dunn as a dwarf who addresses us the audience, Jose Ferrer as an obnoxious German spouting his anti-Jewish verbiage without thinking and is a budding Nazi in the making, well-meaning captain Charles Korvin, and a cross section of Germans including Lilia Skala and her dog, Heinz Reuhmann who cannot believe bad of his fellow Germans, teenager Gila Golan and her parents, and the lower decks are full of refugees and extras. We follow their interweaving stories as this particular ship of fools head towards Germany and their destiny ... which foreshadows the holocaust to come, showing a microscosm of a world on the verge of war and worse, as we glimpse a swastika on arrival in Germany ...

Social Significance and Big Issues were always Stanley Kramer's forte and his big ponderous pictures were popular then, whether dealing with racial intolerance (THE DEFIANT ONES), the end of the world (ON THE BEACH), the war trials (JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBURG), teaching (INHERIT THE WIND) etc. SHIP OF FOOLS, scripted by Abby Mann, is more of the same (the naive German Jew returning to Germany says: "there are one million Jews in Germany alone. What are they going to do -- kill all of us?") but it is quite entertaining as well, particuarly when the leads are on view - much more satisfying than the 1976 all-star plodder VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED which was too stuffed with names to involve one ("look, there's Julie Harris with Wendy Hiller..." etc), Oscar Werner was in that too, married to Faye Dunaway in her jackboots).
SHIP OF FOOLS was one of  the year's big ones - but the look of the film is all over the place, only the two leads make any attempt at a period look, the others - particularly Segal and Ashley - look as it they walked in off the street in 1965; it is though interesting to see again as I had not seen it since 1965 when I was 19, at one of my favourite cinemas, the Notting Hill Coronet, which thankfully is still there, though it comprises smaller cinemas now. (Segal of course was heading into his busy years then, with THE QUILLER MEMORANDUM, KING RAT (review below) and so many others). 
Signoret and Leigh must surely have had some interesting conversation about Marilyn Monroe, who of course worked with both their husbands Olivier and Montand, Signoret also starred with Olivier in TERM OF TRIAL....

THE DEADLY AFFAIR: Sidney Lumet's 1966 downbeat thriller has another fascinating role for a rather deglamorised Signoret, and has the perfect casting of James Mason, Harry Andrews, Maximilian Schell, Harriet Andersson and Lynn Redgrave, with lots of familiar faces: Roy Kinnear, Robert Flemyng and others.

Based on a John Le Carre novel THE DEADLY AFFAIR is a cold war thriller centred in the world of espionage. When Foreign Office official Samuel Fennan and his wife (Signoret) are anonymously accused of Communist affiliations, their world is turned upside down. Fennan is subsequently found dead from an apparant suicide, although Secret Service agent Charles Dobbs (Mason), suspects otherwise. When Dobbs' suspicions hit a dead end with his superior officer, the veteran agent decides to resign his government post and join forces with retired CID inspector Mendel (Andrews). As the two men continue their pursuit of the truth, their investigation unearths a spy ring and much more than they ever expected along the way.

This is a satisfying convoluted thriller, rather like that other Le Carre, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (Mason is George Smiley in all but name), with offbeat London locations - the cast excel, good to see Ingmar Bergman actress Harriet Andersson here, Signoret is suitably enigmatic, and there is a murder in a London theatre (the Aldwych actually where David Warner is playing EDWARD II on stage..., and Lynn is a dippy stagehand). It combines elements of film noir, magnificent cast, understatement, gritty realism, even a touch of humor now and then among the glum events. Signoret in just 4 scenes (2 of them silent) excels, the intrusive score by Quincy Jones seems out of place though.

Mason, Signoret and Warner joined forces again for Lumet's impossible to see now THE SEAGULL in '68. We do though have another Signoret to watch: THE WIDOW COUDERC from 1971 with Alain Delon, plus Ophuls' 1950 LA RONDE to re-visit. She is also terrific and glamorous in 1967's GAMES, that quirky thriller by Curtis Harrington, see review at Signoret label.

More Kramer soon - his 1969 'comedy' THE SECRET OF SANTA VITTORIO one of several Qunns to see (THE LOST COMMAND, THE GREEK TYCOON), also Lumet's last film BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD; more Lee Marvins too: THE KILLERS, POINT BLANK, HELL IN THE PACIFIC, PRIME CUT.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you that "Ship of Fools" was too "all over the place" to be really satisfying, but I remember being very moved by Signoret and Werner, whose poignant performances make it worthwhile. I have to say, while I found the gentlemen magnificent in "Deadly Affair", I felt Signoret didn't have enough to do (and the rather poor sound made her accent undecipherable at moments) and the sublime Andersson was wasted. But its all relative, as I would watch either of them read the phone book and enjoy it!