Stanley Kramer used controversial issues the way most Hollywood producers utilized sex & violence, as leavening & cover for a multitude of cinematic sins. His work, over-ambitious & under-realized, came off better when he only produced. But in this film (a painfully coarsened version of Katherine Anne Porter’s phenomenal bestseller), his typically stolid megging is helped along by the double narrative propulsion Porter achieved in her crisscrossing storylines (think GRAND HOTEL on a German ship in the early ‘30s) and via the time constraints of a fixed travel schedule. Visually, the single set forced Kramer to focus on the fascinating faces of his starry cast (Vivien Leigh, Lee Marvin, Simone Signoret, Oskar Werner, George Segal, José Ferrer, Michael Dunn) and he gets stellar support from the superb analogue F/X production work of the prince of process, Farciot Edouart & matte wiz Albert Whitlock, along with unusually fine b&w lensing from the uneven Ernest Laszlo. It’s a really big show, and it holds your attention, even with the obvious choices and pat twist endings scripter Abby Mann pulled out of Porter’s portentous sea saga. (In the ‘intro,’ Karen Kramer, who’s become something of a professional widow, lies about Stanley getting an Oscar© nom for Best Director. Guys, this is not a hard fact to look up.)
READ ALL ABOUT IT: Goodness knows, Katherine Anne Porter got plenty of critical brickbats on her long gestated novel. But what marvelous things are in it! Those two terrifying kids Ric & Rac alone make SHIP OF FOOLS worth reading.