I have no doubt that those responsible for Voyage of the Damned (1976) had only the highest motives in this attempt to bring the story of how Dr. Goebbels allowed — for blatant propaganda purposes — a ship loaded with Jewish refugees to leave Germany, safe in the knowledge that they would be turned away at the port of their destination. His idea was to prove that Germany was not out to murder Jews and that no one else wanted them either. The fact that the U.S. is one of the countries that turned them away is a very black mark against us. Now, that’s a good story and an important story, but the film that Stuart Rosenberg made ends up feeling too much like a poor man’s Ship of Fools (1965) with much worse dialogue, combined with a fairly typical star-studded 1970s disaster movie. The cast is often more peculiar (Orson Welles as a Cuban sugar plantation owner? Malcolm McDowell as a German seaman?) than effective, and feels like it’s there more for marquee value than actual merit. I suppose the film thought it would get the kind of free pass that’s often handed to movies with important stories, but it really didn’t do that well — and deservedly so. It’s worth a look both for its historical import and its overcrowded cast, but don’t expect a film that’s as important as its subject.
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