Blu-Ray Review – Ship of Fools (1965) from Indicator

War, Drama, Romance | USA, 1965 | 12| 19th February 2018 (UK) | Powerhouse Films |Dir. Stanley Kramer | Vivien Leigh, Simone Signoret, Lee Marvin, José Ferrer | Buy:Limited Edition Blu Ray

Stanley Kramer was never really known for his subtlety, which is why it’s good to say that in the case of Ship of Fools he did cast a few people to try and convey some moments and emotions that weren’t as big and decidedly un-subtle as in Judgment at Nuremburg or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. I’m not saying that being brash and overly dramatic with the story’s message is necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, and with Nuremburg it worked. With Ship of Fools what works is that it’s like changing the channels between about seven or eight channels with each one having different characters in the same time period, so if one channel starts to drag a little it can flip to another and it might be more interesting or compelling.

There’s a wide array of Characters with a capital C, and some of them really *mean* things while others maybe not so much. Vivien Leigh is the (just slightly) older woman who was once probably to die for and now time has sort of passed her by from her jazz days; the Southern boozer (Marvin) who doesn’t get why Jews are put down by the Germans but can’t help but drop n****er a few times without even seeming to notice; Oskar Werner is a doctor who becomes a sort of friend to Simone Signoret (I say sort of since it unfolds into what may be a romance for him, and for her is more mysterious); and George Segal is an artist who can’t seem to really make a living at that job since he works for money elsewhere, and Elizabeth Ashley as his flustered would-be lover.

The film is photographed beautifully (it won an Oscar subsequently), and many moments of dialog are enjoyable and fun and sincere enough to not be taken melodramatically, but it’s a thing of the ‘parts more than the whole’. In other words, it’s like the more serious, slightly shorter and less ambitious (in terms of cinematic scope) version of Kramer’s own It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Worth watching, especially if you like the actors, but not essential.

Peter Fletcher

Special Features
• Audio commentary with Nick Redman, Lem Dobbs and Julie Kirgo
• Karen Kramer Introduction (2007)
• On Board the Ship of Fools (2007)
• Voyage on a Soundstage (2007)
• Original theatrical trailer and Image gallery
• Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film.

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