Ship of Fools is a 1965 drama directed by Stanley Kramer, which recounts the stories of several passengers aboard an ocean liner bound to Germany from Mexico in 1933. It stars Vivien Leigh, Simone Signoret, José Ferrer, Lee Marvin, Oskar Werner, Michael Dunn, Elizabeth Ashley, George Segal, José Greco, Charles Korvin, andHeinz Rühmann. It was to be Vivien Leigh's last film and Christiane Schmidtmer's first U.S. production.
Ship of Fools was highly regarded, with reviewers praising the cast's performance but also noted the movie's overlong runtime. The film was nominated for eightAcademy Awards in 1966, including for Best Picture, Best Actor for Oskar Werner and Best Actress for Simone Signoret, and won for Best Art Direction, Black-and-White and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.
The characters board a German ocean liner in Veracruz, Mexico, for a voyage to Bremerhaven, Germany, along with 600 displaced workers in steerage, being deported from Cuba back to Spain, and a not-so-exotic band of entertainers, for whom the voyage is just a job. Some are happy to be bound for a rising Nazi Germany, some are apprehensive, while others appear oblivious to its potential dangers.
The ship's doctor, Schumann (Oskar Werner) (with dueling scar), takes a special interest in La Condesa (Simone Signoret), a countess from Cuba who has an addiction to drugs and is being shipped to a Spanish-run prison on Tenerife. Her sense of certain doom is contrasted by the doctor's determination to fight the forces of oppression, embodied by his insistence that the people in steerage be treated like human beings rather than animals. The doctor himself has a secret, a terminal heart condition, and his sympathy for the countess soon evolves into love.
Several passengers are invited to dine each night at the captain's table. There, some are amused and others offended by the anti-Semitic rants of a German businessman named Rieber (José Ferrer) who – although married – is beginning an on-board affair with a busty blonde (Christiane Schmidtmer). The Jewish Lowenthal (Heinz Rühmann) is invited instead to join a dwarf named Glocken (Michael Dunn) for his meals, and the two bond over their exclusion. Eventually a passenger named Freytag (Alf Kjellin) seems shocked to find himself ostracized when Rieber learns that his wife is Jewish.
Others aboard include a young American couple, David (George Segal) and Jenny (Elizabeth Ashley), who bicker because David is unhappy at his lack of success with painting. A divorcée, Mary Treadwell (Vivien Leigh), drinks and flirts, on a quest to recapture her youth in Paris. Bill Tenny (Lee Marvin) is a former baseball player disappointed in the way his career never quite took off. They are distracted by the music and the professional dancers, whose flirtations seem to skirt the edges of solicitation, or dive right in to the seedy side of oblivion.
When the passengers disembark, two are no longer with them – the countess, who has been taken to an island prison, and the doctor, who has died.
- Vivien Leigh as Mary Treadwell
- José Ferrer as Siegfried Rieber
- Lee Marvin as Bill Tenny
- Simone Signoret as La Condesa
- Oskar Werner as Dr. Wilhelm "Willi" Schumann
- Elizabeth Ashley as Jenny Brown
- George Segal as David Scott
- José Greco as Pepe
- Michael Dunn as Carl Glocken
- Charles Korvin as Capt. Thiele
- Heinz Rühmann (credited as "Heinz Ruehmann") as Julius Lowenthal
- Lilia Skala as Frau Hutten
- Barbara Luna as Amparo
- Christiane Schmidtmer as Lizzi Spokenkieker
- Alf Kjellin as Freytag
- Werner Klemperer as Lt. Huebner
- John Wengraf as Graf
- Olga Fabian as Frau Schmitt
- Gila Golan as Elsa
- Oscar Beregi as Lutz
- Stanley Adams as Hutten
- Karen Verne as Frau Lutz
- Charles de Vries as Johann
- Lydia Torea as Pastora
- Henry Calvin as Fat man
- David Renard as Woodcarver