Voyage Of The Damned

Voyage Of The Damned

***

Reviewed by: Leanne McGrath

Following Kristallnacht in November 1938, thousands of terrified Jews decided to flee Germany. But many countries, especially the US, had tightened immigration quotas and visas were extremely difficult to obtain. So when passage to Havana, Cuba, was offered on the SS St Louis in May 1939, it was a rare, miraculous last chance to escape the horrors of the anti-semitic Nazi regime.

From their haven, the refugees could wait for permission to enter America and a new life. Sadly, the SS St Louis trip was far from plain sailing. The infamous 'Voyage Of The Damned' was nothing more than a sickening propaganda exercise devised by Joseph Goebbles.

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The ship's passengers were turned away by the Cuban authorities. They were never intended to land. And once they were turned away, and no other country wanted them, the Nazis could claim the world could not object when they got rid of them.

This terrifying but all too real chain of events is the basis for Rosenberg's compelling, triple Oscar-nominated Voyage Of The Damned. Poignant and painfully heartbreaking, the movie follows many of the individual refugees' desperate journey - their hopes, fears, tears and brutal treatment at the hands of the Nazis.

A stellar cast lines up, with Lee Grant as Lillian Rosen particularly standing out. Her character faces one tragedy after another and her performance is moving and compelling. Thumbs up also to Max Von Sydow - although I kept expecting him to demand permission for his passengers to land with a fierce "the power of Christ compels you".

The performers all do a decent job but one of the movie's major flaws is the awful assortment of accents flying around. No one except the German actors bother to use a German accent, meaning our German Jews are mostly English and American. Okay, the prospect of Ms Dunaway attempting to sound like Marlene Dietrich could have been a car crash but it would have been better than the US drawl.

Malcolm McDowall's polite middle England twittering is equally as bad - he's meant to be a rough and ready German sailor for goodness sake, not Eliza Doolittle's vocal coach.

The other bugbear is the styling - the clothing, hair and make-up is much more 1970s than late 30s (thigh-high leather boots Faye?). They might as well be wearing flares and platforms. Not hip, man. But given the powerful, well-told story - with the action never dragging despite the two-and-a-half-hour run time - it is easy to overlook the negatives. This is one voyage that should be taken.

Reviewed on: 17 Nov 2006
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The compelling real-life story of 937 Jewish refugees' desperate flight from Nazi Germany.
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Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Writer: David Butler, Steve Shagan, based on the book by Gordon Thomas

Starring: Faye Dunaway, Max Von Sydow, Malcolm McDowall, Orson Welles, James Mason, Lee Grant, Katharine Ross, Oskar Werner, Sam Wanamaker

Year: 1976

Runtime: 155 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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