The movie, based on Anne Porter's book, presents a tapestry of several characters on an ocean voyage. Their vessel is a German luxury linear sailing from Veracurz, Mexico to Bremerhaven, Germany in 1933. All of the crew and most of the passenger on the ship are German, but there are also Spanish , Mexican, and American passengers too. The prologue and epilogue of the movie are presented by on of the passengers, a dwarf, Carl Glocken (Michael Dunn).
In the prologue, Glocken looks into the camera and tells the audience: "My name is Carl Glocken and this is a ship of fools. I'm a fool. You'll meet more fools as we go along. This tub is packed with them. Emancipated ladies, ball players, lovers, dog lovers, ladies of joy, tolerant Jews..dwarfs..all kinds. And, who knows? If you look closely enough, you may find yourself on board."
As the ship embarks, the ship's captain (Charles Korvin) asks the ship's doctor (Oskar Werner), to take his place at the captain's table the first night since he has seen the passengers, and he tires of such people. The most obnoxious guest at the captain's table is Rieber (Jose Ferrer), who speaks loudly of racial purity and society ridding itself of undesirables, while extolling the glorious future of Germany. Though the guests at the table tolerant his speech, most seem mildly annoyed by it. Noticeably absent from the captain's table is an elderly Jewish man, Lowenthal (Heinz Ruehmann) and the dwarf, Glocken. (These two are forced to sit at a side table.)
One of the great satirical paradoxes that the movie creates is making Lowenthal and Rieber cabin mates. While Lowenthal is good-spirited about the situation, his snoring only further aggravates Rieber's disgust. Soon after the voyage begins, the ship stops to take on a large group of revolutionary Mexican peasants who are immediately placed in steerage and hosed down like a heard of cattle. At the same time, La Condesa (Simon Signoret) comes aboard as a political prisoner.
Other characters on the ship include: an aging American divorcée , Mary Treadwell (Vivien Leigh); a washed up baseball player, Tenny (Lee Marvin); and two American lovers, Jenny and David (Elizabeth Ashley and George Segal). There is also a troop of Spaniards—headed by Pepe (Jose Greco). While on stage, these Spaniards seem to entertain the other passengers as flamenco dancers and musicians; while off stage, they become pimps and prostitutes. (The relationship between the Spaniards and the Germans seems like one between sycophants and masters and may foreshadow the relationship between Franco's Spain and Hitler's Germany later in the 1930s).
The four Americans don't escape satire either: they all are self- absorbed, hedonistic, and superficial. At one time, Tenny tells Glocken that the outside curve ball ended his baseball career and "ruined his life." Glocken retorts that it is hard to imagine that anything that 99% of the world's population had never even heard of could ruin anyone's life!! Another vignette in the movie shows a Mexican peasant drown after jumping overboard to save one of the German passenger's dog. Both the characters and their situations vary from sad, to silly, to absurd.
The worst developed relationship in the movie is between La Condesa and the ship's doctor. The ship's doctor " a bad heart" and is running away from the responsibilities of his wife and family. He tries to help La Condesa free herself from drug addition, but later learns how much more valuable and responsible her life has been than his.
The most sadly prophetic conversation in the movie is between Glocken (the dwarf) and Lowenthal (the good natured Jew). After referring to Bach and Beethoven, Lowenthal claims to be more of a German than a Jew. "After all," he says, "There are a million Jews in Germany. What are they going to do—kill us all?
While disembarking from the ship in Bremerhaven, Glocken looks into the camera again and delivers the movie's epilogue to the audience: "Oh, I just hear you say, what does this have to do with us?"
Ship of Fools
Action / Drama / Romance / War
Ship of Fools
Action / Drama / Romance / War
1933: An ocean liner belonging to a second-rate German company is making a twenty-six day voyage from Veracruz, Mexico to Bremerhaven, Germany. Along the way it will stop in Cuba to pick up a large group of Spanish farm laborers who are being shipped home and who will be housed like cattle in steerage. There it will also pick up La Condesa, a Spanish countess. It will stop in Tenerife, where the farm workers will disembark and where La Condesa will be sent to a German-run prison for her "traitorous" activities in Cuba. This voyage will be the last of three for the ship's doctor, Willi Schumann, who has a serious heart ailment and who thought he could find some meaning to his life through this job. Willi and La Condesa fall in love, with the ship's Captain Thiele, who is Willi's closest friend on board, believing the drug-addicted La Condesa is only using him to get her fixes. Willi and La Condesa have to figure out if there is a future for them after the voyage, as Willi's life also ...
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August 23, 2014 at 08:21 AM