Twenty six days of travel is ahead for passengers on the Ship of Fools, most of them German’s pushing headlong into a Nazi occupation. Blissfully unaware of the repercussions towards their anti-semantic attitudes, these melodramatic socialites are stifling within their own worlds. Even the 600 Cuban migrant workers stashed on the decks below, suffering from tremendous poverty, cannot overtake their problems.
This all-star cast jams Lee Marvin, Vivien Leigh, and a host of other familiar faces together with intertwined stories that just graze each other on the edges. Most live their own days, drowning in self-pity, addiction, or selfish romance. Ship of Fools is a soap opera before the genre was cast over daytime television, with depth usually reserved for novels, and dense dramatization that leaves little room to breathe.
Two of the characters are level headed, one a care free seller of religious jewelry, Lowenthal (Heinz Ruhmann), and another a traveling drawf, Glocken (Michael Dunn). They form a bond out of perspective, both cast aside from the captain’s table because of perceived imperfections at the hands of a Nazi publisher, Rieber (Jose Ferrer). Their bickering and dialogue trades are the most casual of sorts, energetic and a reprieve from the malcontent elsewhere on this ship.
Ship of Fools is often a film of perspective, set in 1933 but made post-war in 1965. Everyone is often reserved and keeps to themselves, letting those in power run over them, or awkwardly ignoring the coarsest of individuals. Marvin’s portrayal of a washed out baseball star turns him unkempt, a womanizer who seeks out an unwilling prostitute, working for a despicable pimp.
The Oscar-winning film never finds a center, letting each of the stories play out on their own time. Characters drop in and drop out as the script finds a need, and none of them reach conclusion. The ship pulls into port, and everyone continues on their spiraling pathways. Marvin, beaten to a pulp in the midst of misdirection, spots a blonde and flees off the pier to seek the next victim of his illegitimate passions.
Ship of Fools often wanders, lengthy with need for trimming, especially within a young romance that seeps into the plotting without distinct purpose. David (George Segal), an obsessed starving artist, pushes away the love of his life, Jenny (Elizabeth Ashley), for the sake of his own selfish needs. Jenny takes some comfort from a bitter divorcee Mary Treadwell (Vivien Leigh), but Treadwell’s story lies elsewhere, splashed over the screen to make the most of Leigh’s final screen role. She doesn’t need Jenny’s interference, and the audience does not either.
Time has dated this Best Picture contender, although its risks keep it relevant. Tales of addiction, abuse, and human rights are shoved between personal escapades, proving how little we learn from history. Ship of Fool’s harsh portrayal of society past is gleaming with messages, sadly locked behind the lurching structure. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Mill Creek jams this 150-minute drama onto the same disc with the 120-minute Lilith, leaving no breathing room for the AVC encode. Bitrates never leave the teens, casting a hazy, digital glow over the entirety of the film. Noise reduction complicates matters, although keeps some of the grain, now worn down. Film grain becomes a pest instead of a natural element, broken into artifacts that chip away at the images instead of solidifying them.
Little definition is allowed, whatever resolution boost allowed by the format whisked away by the master and encoding. Source material is in generally pleasing condition, specks on the print and occasional vertical scratch acceptable given the age of the elements, maybe not so much for the prestige of the piece. Some soft focus is tolerable, while the lack of sharpness – which clearly has potential – dims the quality.
Ship of Fools is further downed by a murky gray scale, and in certain circumstances black crush. Contrast never leaps forward, and banding is notable between shades. The unnatural grain, yet again, is not helping matters. Medium shots flatten from a lack of separation, given a pale gray overcast that bleeds imagery together.
In the ever rising quality battle within the catalog, films like Ship of Fools are the ultimate losers. Maybe in the heyday of DVD this would have proved sufficient; it can often look like a clustered MPEG-2 affair. Now, it just looks like a remnant of an era that has passed it by. The filtering methods and lack of space combine to create an effort that reaches passable without any drive to reach further. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]
Audio has been preserved well, defects within the source unheard. Scratches, pops, and static are removed from the equation, letting the DTS-HD mix take over and work magic. Dialogue feels pure with clean fidelity, and the score suffers from minimal fading. The highs are pleasing analog peaks.
Nothing is too complex to handle, most of the film filled with conversations. An eccentric dance number keeps a peppy beat, with the rest of Ship of Fools content to remain dry. This is a mono effort presented cleanly, and without intrusion. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
No extras here, the film already packing the disc with its shared partner, Lilith. [xrr rating=0/5 label=Extras]
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
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You may be interested to learn that ALL of the shots in Ship of Fools concerning the views of the said vessel as well as all ports, docks, harbours and even the ocean and the ship’s wake are entirely matte painted effects by the great Albert Whitlock. There’s not a real ‘ship at sea’ shot in the entire film – it’s all flawless photographic trickery. The film was submitted to The Academy as a potential special effects nominee that year but was inexplicably knocked back.
NZPetes Matte Shot