Powerhouse films have released a limited edition Blu-ray in their Indicator Series for the 1965 black and white film Ship of Fools. The film is based on the novel by Katherine Anne Porter which is her only novel as she was mostly known for short stories, and was nominated for eight Academy Awards.
Stanley Kramer is a great director. Not only did he do what I consider to be one of the greatest comedies of all time, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, but he also has a track record of not shying away from films with a controversial narrative such as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Judgement at Nuremberg and Inherit the Wind. While Ship of Fools may be a step down a bit in cinematic scope, the story is one of global importance.
Ship of Fools has quite an impressive cast, including Vivien Leigh (Gone with the Wind) in her final screen role, Simone Signoret (one of France’s greatest movie stars), Lee Marvin (The Dirty Dozen), George Segal (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), Oskar Werner (Jules and Jim), Jose Ferrer (Lawrence of Arabia), and even Werner Klemperer (Hogan’s Heroes).
The story is similar to the novel (and that comes with similar criticisms) that it’s mostly small vignettes that follow characters and sort of bounce around the ship for awhile. The central plot is that a cruise ship has set off from Mexico to Europe in 1933. A character at the very beginning faces the camera and talks to the audience saying that the cast represents types of people and that maybe we could find ourselves included in the story. Perhaps it’s a bit on the nose but there is a wide range of general characters that show a picture of how the world seemed back then. Especially of interest are the German/Jewish interactions considering the social climate of the 30’s and exactly where things would be going from that point, in not only Germany but across the world.
At 149 minutes the film does have a decent pace to it but it comes across a bit more like a 1950’s television show, so at times it feels even older than it is. The introduction to the film explains that it was made in black and white because they felt that Technicolor at the time was used more for musicals and comedies and this was a more serious subject matter. Not that every bit is straight-laced, as there are jokes and funny bits, but they did want to make the point of how the underlying parts should be taken by the audience. It might not work quite as well as intended but I do think there are some solid concepts that open up a greater discussion.
I’m not entirely sure but since the special features are listed as being from 2007 I’m going to assume that the film is taken from the remastered Sony transfer that was originally released on DVD in 2008. The picture quality looks like what you would expect a film from that era to look like on Blu-ray. The disc features original mono audio and English subtitles are included.
- Audio commentary with Nick Redman, Lem Dobbs, and Julie Kirgo is very informative and worth listening to for fans of the film to get added background information. They are really in love with the film and talk at length about its message.
- Karen Kramer (wife of the director) Introduction to the film
- On Board the Ship of Fools – 28-minute featurette from 2007
- Voyage on a Soundstage – 11 minutes from 2007
- Original theatrical trailer
- Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
- Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Neil Sinyard, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historical articles on the film. A fascinating read. The limited edition has a stated print run of 3,000 copies
Ship of Fools Final Thoughts:
While the film may not age well with modern viewers I think Ship of Fools is an underrated gem that should be rediscovered by fans of classic Hollywood cinema. The direction may be more like a play but the issues facing the characters and the real story behind prejudice and class distinction still rings true today. Indicator has released the definitive version of the film with a great transfer and solid special features. The disc worked in both my Region A and Region B players. You can pick up your copy at Amazon or other fine retailers.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgment or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this process.