Voyage of the Damned is a 1976 war drama film directed by Stuart Rosenberg, with an all-star cast featuring Faye Dunaway, Oskar Werner, Lee Grant, Max von Sydow, James Mason, and Malcolm McDowell.
The story was inspired by actual events concerning the fate of the ocean liner St. Louis carrying Jewish refugees from Germany to Cuba in 1939.
Refer to Ship of Fools (1965).
Based on historic events, this dramatic film concerns the 1939 voyage of MS St. Louis, which departed from Hamburg carrying 937 Jews from Germany, ostensibly bound for Havana, Cuba. The passengers, having seen and suffered rising antisemitism in Germany, realised this might be their only chance to escape. The film details the emotional journey of the passengers, who gradually become aware that their passage was planned as an exercise in propaganda, and that it had never been intended that they disembark in Cuba. Rather, they were to be set up as pariahs, to set an example before the world. As a Nazi official states in the film, when the whole world has refused to accept the Jews as refugees, no country can blame Germany for their fate.
The Cuban government refuses entry to the passengers, and the liner heads to the United States. As it waits off the Florida coast, the passengers learn that the United States also has rejected them, leaving the captain no choice but to return to Europe. The captain tells a confidante that he has received a letter signed by 200 passengers saying they will join hands and jump into the sea rather than return to Germany. He states his intention to run the liner aground on a reef off the southern coast of England, to allow the passengers to be rescued and reach safety there.
Shortly before the film’s end, it is revealed that the governments of Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have each agreed to accept a share of the passengers as refugees. As they cheer and clap at the news, footnotes disclose the fates of some of the main characters, suggesting that more than 600 of the 937 passengers, who did not resettle in Britain but in the other European nations, ultimately were deported and were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.
- Faye Dunaway as Denise Kreisler.
- Max von Sydow as Captain Schroeder.
- Oskar Werner as Professor Egon Kreisler.
- Malcolm McDowell as Max Gunter.
- Orson Welles as José Estedes.
- James Mason as Dr. Juan Remos.
- Lee Grant as Lili Rosen.
- Katharine Ross as Mira Hauser.
- Ben Gazzara as Morris Troper.
- Luther Adler as Professor Weiler.
- Michael Constantine as Luis Clasing.
- Denholm Elliott as Admiral Canaris.
- José Ferrer as Manuel Benitez.
- Lynne Frederick as Anna Rosen.
- Helmut Griem as Otto Schiendick.
- Julie Harris as Alice Fienchild.
- Wendy Hiller as Rebecca Weiler.
- Paul Koslo as Aaron Pozner.
- Nehemiah Persoff as Mr. Hauser.
- Fernando Rey as President Bru.
- Leonard Rossiter as Commander Von Bonin.
- Maria Schell as Mrs. Hauser.
- Victor Spinetti as Dr. Erich Strauss.
- Janet Suzman as Leni Strauss.
- Sam Wanamaker as Carl Rosen.
- Keith Barron as Purser Mueller.
- Ian Cullen as Radio Officer.
- David Daker as First Officer.
- Brian Gilbert as Laurenz Schulman.
- Constantine Gregory as Navigation Officer (credited as Constantin de Goguel).
- Georgina Hale as Lotte Schulman.
- Don Henderson as Engineering Officer.
- Bernard Hepton as Milton Goldsmith.
- Anthony Higgins as Seaman Berg.
- Donald Houston as Dr. Glauner.
- Frederick Jaeger as Werner Mannheim.
- David de Keyser as Joseph Joseph.
- Della McDermott as Julia Strauss.
- Günter Meisner as Robert Hoffman (credited as Guenter Meisner).
- Jonathan Pryce as Joseph Manasse.
- Marika Rivera as Madame in Bordello.
- Ina Skriver as Singer.
- Milo Sperber as Rabbi.
- Philip Stone as Secretary.
- Adele Strong as Mrs. Schulman.
- Genevieve West as Sarah Strauss.
- Laura Gemser as Estedes’ friend (uncredited).
The book was published in 1974. The Los Angeles Times called it “a human document of rare and discerning power”. The book was a best seller, and the authors earned an estimated £500,000 from it.
Rights to the book were acquired in 1974. It was originally envisioned as an ABC Movie of the Week but its budget of $7.3 million was too expensive.
The film was the first feature of Associated General Films.
Dunaway was paid $500,000 plus a percentage of the profits.
The movie was filmed on board the chartered Italian ocean liner Irpinia, which was fitted with two false funnels in order to resemble St. Louis. It was also shot on location in Barcelona, Spain (standing in for Cuba), St. Pancras Chambers in London, and at the EMI Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.
The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by Lalo Schifrin and the soundtrack album was released on the Entr’Acte label in 1977.
The film opened on 22 December 1976 in four theatres in New York and Los Angeles.
According to Lew Grade who helped finance the film, the movie “should have done better” at the box office. He wrote in his memoirs “I thought it was one of the most moving and important films I’d seen in a long time. I just couldn’t understand why it didn’t become a success” adding that “strangely enough, it did outstanding business in Japan.”
The complete, uncut version of the film was 182 minutes long. It was released only once, on the Magnetic Video label in 1980.
- It was based on a 1974 nonfiction book of the same title written by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts.
- Oskar Werner and José Ferrer had made a similar film 11 years earlier: Ship of Fools (1965).
- Katharine Ross won a Golden Globe for her two-scene role.
- At one point, Yugoslavia was considered as a shooting location.
- Yugoslav producers found locations to play Hamburg and Havana.
- The only ship they could find that fit the US producers’ specifications was being destroyed in a harbour, so the idea was abandoned.
- The film was shot mostly in England.
- After losing a huge amount of money from its American release, the film was released in Britain about a year later.
- It was also cut from 155 minutes to 137 minutes. Janet Suzman’s role was cut out completely, though her name was still prominently displayed in the opening credits.
- This was Oskar Werner’s final film before his death on 23 October 1984 at the age of 61.
Production & Filming Details
- Stuart Rosenberg.
- Robert Fryer … producer.
- William Hill … associate producer.
- Steve Shagan … (screenplay).
- David Butler … (screenplay).
- Gordon Thomas … (based on the book “Voyage of the Damned”).
- Max Morgan Witts … (book) (as Max Morgan-Witts).
- Lalo Schifrin.
- Billy Williams … director of photography.
- Tom Priestley.
- Desmond Saunders … (uncredited).
- Associated General Films (for).
- Robert Fryer Production (as A Robert Fryer Production).
- ITC Entertainment (from) (as ITC Entertainment An ATV Company).
- Rank Film Distributors (1976) (UK) (theatrical).
- AVCO Embassy Pictures (1976) (USA) (theatrical).
- Fox-Stockholm Film Distribution (1977) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- Network Distributing (2006) (UK) (DVD).
- Carlton Video (2000) (UK) (VHS).
- Adams Filmi (1977) (Finland) (theatrical).
- CFM Filmverhuur (1977) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- Herald Film Company (1977) (Japan) (theatrical).
- Mundial Filmes (1977) (Portugal) (theatrical).
- Roadshow Films (1977) (Australia) (theatrical).
- American Broadcasting Company (ABC) (1981) (USA) (TV).
- Artisan Entertainment (1999) (USA) (DVD).
- Atlantic Film (2000) (Sweden) (DVD).
- Avid Home Entertainment (1992) (USA) (VHS).
- CBS Electronics (1985) (Greece) (VHS).
- CBS/Fox Home Video (1984) (Australia) (video).
- Concorde Home Entertainment (2007) (Germany) (DVD).
- Divisa Home Video (2011) (Spain) (DVD).
- Divisa Home Video (2017) (Spain) (DVD) (BluRay).
- Elephant Films (2006) (France) (all media).
- Finnkino I (1997) (Finland) (VHS).
- Future Film (2003) (Finland) (DVD).
- HBO Max (2020) (USA) (video) (VOD).
- Live Home Video (1992) (USA) (VHS).
- PolyGram Video (Australia) (video).
- Seven Sept (2006) (France) (DVD).
- TBS Superstation (1990) (USA) (TV).
- Timeless Media (2013) (USA) (Blu-ray) (as Timeless Media Group).
- Timeless Media (2013) (USA) (DVD) (as Timeless Media Group).
- WVG Medien (2019) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
- WVG Medien (2019) (Germany) (DVD).
- Yleisradio (YLE) (1984) (Finland) (TV).
- Release Date: 22 December 1976 (US).
- Rating: AA.
- Running Time: 155 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.