Originally made in 1976 and based on a true story, VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED follows
the journey of 937 Jewish Germans as they set sail aboard the S.S. Saint Louis
in order to leave behind them the dangers of Nazi Germany. Despite paying
the government quite handsomely to leave for Havana, little do they know that
their voyage is merely an elaborate exercise in propaganda to convince the
world that Jews are not wanted, as there is reason to believe that the Cubans
will not permit them to dock.
It is undeniable that this film enjoys the benefit of a large cast of stars.
Put them in the confines of a vessel bound for Cuba and you have the set-up
for a great movie packed with drama, right? While the premise is interesting,
it never seems to effectively work as we flit between a large set of characters
without exploring or fleshing out their personalities in much depth - especially
in regards to the Jewish passengers. Initially we're introduced to some of
them quite intimately, yet most are never developed, except in a few cases
to merely bring the story to more of an end. Also, certain scenes can seem
quite contrived at times. For instance, a song is played in the ship's dance
hall which reminds the Jews of Germany. Their unanimous emotional response
to this only exists to emphasise the point that they are all Germans too,
which unfortunately waters down a sense of distinction between characters
As the St. Louis is on its way, the Americans are negotiating with authorities
in Havana to secure rights to dock. Throughout these scenes, we are supposed
to be presented with a corrupt and decadent society - obsessed with profit.
However, this just comes across as horribly clichéd. You will be hard pressed
to find a woman with any screen-time who isn't a prostitute (even in public
scenes) and amidst the constant reiterations of "you don't understand how
the Cuban mind works" comes a cringe-worthy "the only thing you can be sure
of in Havana, is a cigar".
Besides the flaws of pacing due to ungainly dramatic development, the ship's
German captain (played by Max Von Sydow) stands out as a rather believable
and engaging addition. Passionately attempting to see the passengers safely
to their destination while challenging Nazi orders and Cuban bureaucrats,
his highly active role within the plot ensures that his character does not
remain static. While involved in some of the most memorable scenes, it is
unfortunate that these are few and far between.
Despite being two and a half hours in length it is surprising that most of
the characters and plot feel relatively under-developed and pointlessly melodramatic.
As the final conclusion nears, the pacing starts to feel right. However, this
fizzles away quickly leading to an anticlimax. Being based on a true story,
respect needs to be paid to the events which occurred - however, this makes
for unsatisfying viewing.
While themes explored within the film are brimming with potential, most of
the delivery seems to have been lost amongst a haze of cliché and static characterisation.
For today's standards, the quality of picture and sound is quite
dated. However, judging from an old trailer in the DVD extras it is apparent
that effort has been made to enhance the quality. A possible major downfall
is the DVDs lack of subtitles.
The extra features on offer are meagre to say the least. A
three and a half minute long trailer which presumably was created for the
film's original release will probably only interest you if you like to see
how they've changed stylistically over the years.
Along with this a short, two minute series of stills are included.
While highly irrelevant to the casual viewer, these would probably only interest
those who love this film - however even that is doubtful. Hardly any production
art or behind the scenes images are displayed.
With today's viewers expecting extra features such as director's
commentary and documentaries detailing the production process, this film falls
short. The trailer and stills only seem to have been put there to pad down
the main menu.
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