21 March 2007 | Red-125
Not as good as the novel, but still worth seeing
Ship of Fools (1965) directed by Stanley Kramer, is based on the novel by Katherine Anne Porter. The film is a reasonably faithful cinematic adaptation, although it lacks the novel's subtlety and complexity. Director Kramer assembled an all-star cast--including Vivien Leigh (her last film), Simone Signoret, José Ferrer, Lee Marvin, Oskar Werner, José Greco, and George Segal.
The film takes place entirely on shipboard, except for the final scene. Naturally, the close confines of the ship and the lack of privacy bring about forced interactions, as would have been the case in reality. These interactions form the basic plot of both the book and the film.
The time is 1933, so the passengers don't know what we know--things are changing rapidly in Germany and everything will be different in just a year or two. In fact, that's the basic weakness of the plot--it's easy in retrospect to know just how wrong the Jewish salesman is when he assures people that the current unpleasantness will blow over and all will be well.
Some features of the novel were unfortunately omitted from the film, especially the roles of the Spanish twins, Ric and Rac. In the novel, they are the embodiments of senseless evil, and every chapter in which they appear is laden with foreboding. In the film, the children commit one evil act, but it makes no sense because we haven't been prepared for it.
Director Kramer made one choice I consider foolish. In the novel, a young woman named Elsa Lutz is realistically unhappy. She is unattractive, not very intelligent, not gifted or graceful, and her prospects for marriage are bleak. In the film, she is portrayed as a stunning ingénue, who will blossom into an even more stunning woman. No dramatic tension there. Porter had it right, Kramer had it wrong.
All in all, "Ship of Fools" is a classic movie by an excellent director and it's loaded with stars. It's not an essential film, but it's entertaining enough and worth renting.