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.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Another ship of fools ....

Based on the true story of a ship carrying German-Jewish refugees which was sent to Havana in 1939 by the Nazis but was denied permission to land anywhere. The ship was eventually obliged to return to Germany, where certain death awaited its passengers. This terrible outcome had been cynically anticipated by the Nazis when granting permission for the voyage in the first place.

The 1970s was that era of all-star disaster movies: the US studios gave us EARTHQUAKE, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, AIRPLANE 75 and all the rest, while in England TV mogul Sir Lew Grade assembled several all star packages, some of which were amusingly awful like our favourite THE CASSANDRA CROSSING (Sophia! Ava! Ingrid Thulin! Alida Valli! Burt Lancaster! John Philip Law! and more) and others like ESCAPE TO ATHENA was just silly, but VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED in 1976 was meant to be a serious drama but it is so crammed with names that one just sits there bemused by it all - "look, there's Julie Harris talking to Wendy Hiller" - but a lot of them have nothing to do and some barely get a look in: 
James Mason, Katharine Ross as a prostitute, Orson pops in a scene or two, as does Ben Gazzara, Helmut Griem reprises his evil Nazi (a la CABARET and Visconti's THE DAMNED), Malcolm McDowell, playing nice for once, is the young steward having a romance with Lynn Frederick (the last Mrs Peter Sellers), her parents are Lee Grant (who goes over the top spectacularly as the berserk mother cutting her hair in the concentration camp style) and Sam Wanamaker. Other well known faces here are Nehemiah Persoff and Maria Schell (also barely seen), while Jonathan Pryce is one of the persecuted refugees hoping for a new life. 

Topping the bill are Faye Dunaway and Oscar Werner (his final role) - Faye as an embittered wife displays her haughty glamour and gets to wear a monacle and strut around while her husband, Werner, practically reprising his role in SHIP OF FOOLS plays an esteemed Jewish surgeon. The captain of the "St Louis" is none other than Max Von Sydow. It should be a grim drama but the all-star cast and plodding direction of Stuart Rosenberg render it interesting for all the wrong reasons. Kramer's 1965 plodder SHIP OF FOOLS, which we caught and reviewed a year or so ago (Simone Signoret label), did it all much better. 

THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN in 1969 was also an all-star spectacular, helmed by the reliable Michael Anderson - one of several that year (BATTLE OF BRITAIN, OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR) - from a novel about the first Russian pope and how he tackles world poverty, from a novel by Morris West - which is another long, if entertaining, plod to see now, but at least it employed Anthony Quinn as the pope, Laurence Olivier as a wily Russian official, Oscar Werner again as another doomed priest, Gielgud as another ailing pope, and many, many more. 

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