Ship of Fools, based on the novel by Katherine Anne Porter
9 out of 10
A different version of this note and thoughts on other books are available at:
- https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLEVa4_CsRStSBBDo4uJWT8BSWtTTn0N1E and http://realini.blogspot.ro/
It is not possible to make such a motion picture today.
The cast numbers so many stars that it would be prohibitively expensive.
The film has all the elements needed for a masterpiece:
- The script is based on the novel of a magnificent writer- Katherine Anne Porter…her stories, on which I have written about five or seven notes, have won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and are simply marvelous
- Stanley Kramer is the director who gave us – On the Beach ( I have noted on it a couple of weeks ago), guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Judgment at Nuremberg
As for the cast, just look at the list:
- Vivien Leigh as Mary Treadwell, Simone Signoret as La Condessa, José Ferrer as Siegfried Rieber, Lee Marvin as Bill Tenny, Oskar Werner as Dr. Wilhelm Schumann, George Segal as David, Michael Dunn as Karl Glocken and many more very good actors
The storyline is very complex, with characters that have plenty of issues and they are together characterized from the start as
A Ship of Fools, by Karl Glocken, who is a personage that describes himself as a dwarf and he makes some self-deprecating jokes.
At one point, two running children are not careful and they send the short man down, but he says that he likes the idea that they are shorter than he is, in fact he says with good humor that these are the only ones shorter on the ship.
Because of his height, Karl Glocken is not invited to stay at the captain’s table, but he shares one with Julius Lowenthal.
The latter is Jewish and therefore “not good enough” to stay with the others, even if he is more patriotic and German than anyone.
He talks to the man assigned to his table, who becomes his friend and recalls the German music he has heard away from home.
His nostalgia and affection for Germany, the country where his parents and grandparents have been born are impressive.
Julius Lowenthal has a few memorable lines, a very pleasant and kind manner and he says something like:
- There are a million Jews in Germany, so they can’t just get rid of us, kill us all…
The racist and Nazi sympathizer is the obnoxious Siegfried Rieber, who has to share a cabin with Julius Lowenthal.
In the first place, he just throws the cosmetics of the latter in the sink, and then he is very aggressive and repugnant.
But when he falls sick, it is the generous and affable Lowenthal who helps and offers pills, in spite of the awful treatment he has received.
Mary Treadwell is a forty six years old woman, alone on the ship and facing aging with bad humor and depression.
She first has a few conversations and something of a rapprochement with an officer on the ship, but this ends up in conflict, after the latter tries to get closer and then anticipates that the woman will end up lonely, taking along in bars a paid escort as a pale, unfit companion and entertainment.
She has a few exchanges with Bill Tenny, a rough, apparently uneducated man, with a penchant for seeking favors from younger women and that Mary Treadwell dismisses in conversation with others as a gorilla.
There is a joke made on the cowboy and he is given the room number of the middle aged woman, barges in, starts kissing her and she may have started to like it, when he realizes it is all a mistake and apologizes, only to be beaten badly with a pointed shoe.
There are other important characters and their stories are as interesting if not more, but there is only enough space to just mention the doctor, whose medical condition is serious- let us just stick to that- and falls in love with La Condessa.
The woman will be sent ashore at the next port, because she has been involved in a situation that made the authorities in Cuba mad.
Then there is the young couple, David and Jenny, who are in love with each other, maybe, but they keep arguing and disputing over the rather left wing opinions of the man and his style of painting posters…
Or maybe it is rather the importance that he attaches to his nonpaying art that is paramount to him and he might place above his lover.
Complex, wondrous film, included by The New York times on its list of Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made: