It’s true, the world is quite the bowl of mixed nuts. Some of the most interesting interactions you will ever see are of complete strangers from all walks of life crammed into one place. As the title suggests, this ship, sailing the Atlantic in 1933, is full of all kinds of fools and their time together can be just as enlightening as it can be disheartening.
Stanley Kramer directs a whole slew of characters and big name stars in this film voyage. Some of the passengers include a proud German spouting Nazi ideals (José Ferrer), a young artistic couple with a rocky relationship (George Segal and Elizabeth Ashley), a lonely old rich woman (Vivien Leigh), a crass American man (Lee Marvin), a kind Jewish salesman (Heinz Rühmann) and a little person who observes life onboard and narrates to us (Michael Dunn). Along the way, the ship picks up hundreds of poor Mexicans immigrating to Europe. Since the accommodations are all accounted for, they have to sleep on the lower deck, but are just happy to be aboard. There’s also the ship’s doctor (Oskar Werner) who becomes close to a woman being transported to a prison (Simone Signoret).
When dealing with so many different people in a film, it’s especially important to make sure every character has a distinct voice, motive and style. Characters too similar to each other can easily confuse the viewer, but thankfully that is not a problem at all here.
It is easy to see that all these characters represent their present world of 1933. Ferrer’s character is often rambling on about his pure German race, and most people just shrug and turn away. Rühmann’s Jewish man doesn’t believe anything will really come of the German’s blind hatred of his people. Sadly, it is only Dunn’s character who is separated enough from the rest of society to see that it will happen. And Segal’s passionate artist becomes more and more disheartened as upsetting events unfold around the ship.
Some of the most memorable scenes are when the Flamenco dancers are entertaining. The dancers costumes are beautiful and around the room passengers are enjoying the festive atmosphere wearing party hats. Ferrer appropriately wears a devil horns cap. All around the dancing are the little personal stories unfolding more. Segal refuses to dance, Marvin is drunkenly trying to lure one of the young dancers to sleep with him and a teenage girl is upset that no one has asked her to dance. It’s all entertaining drama to watch at a distance.
There is a story and a character for everyone in Ship of Fools. It might not make a bad party film, if hosted well Perhaps try the murder-mystery style of assigning characters to your guests. It is not often that a good film can mold so many memorable characters and compelling stories into one solid film. Between the intelligently constructive narrative and the beautiful black and white cinematography, I completely recommend Ship of Fools.
“I have my own minority group.”