At first glance, 1976’s Voyage of the Damned must have struck perspective audiences as yet another disaster flick with an all star cast; the kind Irwin Allen, producer of The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974) had made so popular at the time. While several of the posters used to advertise the film seemed to suggest a Poseidon type tale, Voyage of the Damned can’t be dismissed as mere fluff.
In May, 1939, the M.S. St. Louis left Hitler’s Germany with 937 passengers aboard, headed for Havana Cuba. Most of them were Jewish refugees, hoping to escape the growing war machine of the Führer. However, the voyage is in fact propaganda by the German government; a way of showing the world that no country is willing to take in the Jews.
Based on the book Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts and directed by Stuart Rosenberg, Voyage of the Damned depicts the passenger’s shipboard lives. Taking place in the final months before the start of World War II, the voyage was perceived by the international community as a “humanitarian” voyage that allowed an unwanted people to establish a life in a new country. Perception is what mattered to the German government, because in reality, there wasn’t an official agreement between Germany and the President of Cuba to allow the passengers asylum.
Headlining the all-star cast was Faye Dunaway, as Denise Kreisler, an arrogant doctor’s wife, whose husband Egon (Oskar Werner) has been removed from his position. The fact that his job involved treating Nazi officials, understandably rubs some of the passengers the wrong way. Max Von Sydow shines as the besieged Captain, a German liberal in his attitudes towards Jews, given a horrible task. His strict authority is undermined by the scheming of a group of anti-Semitic crewmen, led by Otto Schiendick (Helmut Griem) who openly expresses his disgust at having to serve the Fatherland’s most detested people.
Other well known names include Orson Welles as a Cuban sugar baron (a stretch, I know), interested in helping a Jewish businessman already on the island retrieve his young daughters from the St. Louis. Ultimately though, Welles character enjoys the spoils of his aristocratic lifestyle to risk losing it. Meanwhile, Ben Gazzara plays a Jewish-American agent wasting his time and anger lobbying self-serving bureaucrats who don’t give a damn about the whole situation.
While Voyage of the Damned feels a bit long, it does pack a solid emotional punch. It’s just a shame that Stuart Rosen did demand more from the actors when it came to accents. Some non-German members of the cast attempt to sound authentic, while others put forth a half baked German-English mix. Still others (Faye Dunaway, Malcolm McDowell, Katherine Ross) don’t attempt any accent at all. Given their talent, this seems lazy.
Accent issues aside, Voyage of the Damned is well worth a watch. The story of the M.S. St. Louis is not particularly well known, and this film does a fine job of enlightening a shameful episode in world history.
Voyage of the Damned is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Timeless Media Group (an imprint of Shout! Factory). Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the print appears to be in decent shape, though colors look a bit faded at times, in some scenes, colors are nicely saturated. Fleshtones look a tad pink throughout. While there is some age related wear, there’s nothing particularly distracting. The image does appear soft at times, but contrast is surprisingly sharp. It doesn’t appear like much was done in the way of restoration here, but the transfer is acceptable.
Voyage of the Damned features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track which sounds a bit confined but okay. I noticed a few crackles along the way, but dialogue is clear throughout. Lalo Schifrin’s Oscar nominated score sounds wonderful, and fidelity is impressive.
No subtitles are included.
The special features are limited to the following:
- Theatrical Trailer (HD, 3:56)
- Photo Gallery (HD, 1:37)