Lee Grant in a Damned Poignant, Oscar Nominated Best Supporting Actress Performance…
As one of 937 German Jewish refugees on the MS St Louis ocean liner, who were refused entry to Cuba in 1939 in a propaganda stunt devised by the Nazis.
Self Haircut to Punish Herself, shahjugra
On embarking on the Lovely Lee Grant blogathon with Angelmans Place, Voyage of the Damned (1976) caught my eye after I discovered the film was based on historical events. And after reading more on this true story, it left a strong impression on me and I was keen to watch the film version of this tale. The film based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts.
The film also boasts a fantastically talented and acclaimed all-star international cast including today’s star of the show, the lovely Lee Grant. With actors from Denholm Elliott to Orson Welles and actresses from Faye Dunaway to Maria Schell. With so many big acting names such as James Mason, Lynne Frederick, Sam Wanamaker, Katharine Ross and Leonard Rossiter popping up in between this made it a much watch movie.
The story tells of the true historical events surrounding the MS St Louis in May 1939, but with told with fictitious names and events to protect those involved. This boat left Hamburg with a passenger list of 937 German Jews heading for what they hoped would be a new life in Havana, Cuba. However this merely a propaganda stunt by the Nazis knowing full well the passengers wouldn’t be allowed to stay. The boat then return to Germany and the passengers then sent to concentration camps, if no other world countries allowed the passengers asylum. This strengthening and supporting the Nazis belief, that Jews were also unwanted by the world and justifying the Holocaust.
On the night before sailing, two shaven headed men, Aaron Pozner (Paul Koslo) and Joseph Manasse (Jonathan Pryce), are beaten up by some Nazi brown shirts. Leaving the pair’s fate uncertain, and this scene a disturbing reflection of the growing anti-Semitic feeling in the country.
On the 13 May 1939, a number of passengers are introduced as they check in, J stamped on their passports. Here we see a fearful, looking Lili (Grant) with husband Carl Rosen (Sam Wanamaker) and their daughter Anna at the docks. Carl asking on the whereabouts a missing suitcase containing all their personal belongings. Lili and her daughter appear both frightened and uncertain.
At the docked boat, heartrending scenes include a young mother Leni Strauss (Janet Suzman) saying a tearful last farewell to her two wee girls. Their father Erich meeting them in Havana. Her male companion curt and without emotion. The girls later entrusted to the optimistic, Alice Fienchild (Julie Harris), a woman with two daughters awaiting her in Cuba All the passengers are observed from afar by Captain Schroeder. Arriving with a touch of glamour, the rich Denise (Faye Dunaway) and her husband, Professor Egon Kreisler (Oskar Werner) join the others. As the boat leaves the shore, a brass band is playing. This act adds a chill to your spine, as you see and feel the misguided optimism from the passengers on the boat.
These scenes at the dockside are all on the surface appear hopeful, heart-warming scenes. But here they fill you with dread knowing the back story. Desperately I hoped that this film (and history) will change course a less tragic end for all the passengers. As there are many tales within this story, it is the Rosens I will primarily concentrate on. Along with Grant’s stirring, emotional and empathetic performance as Lili Rosen.
Schroeder’s compassion, warmth, benevolence and genuineness is shown in a kindly portrayal from Max Von Sydow. After boarding the boat, the Captain ensures that the passengers are treated with equal status by the German non-Jewish crew. Disciplining those crew members not showing respect or dignity to their passengers. The passengers now happily re-enjoy previously forbidden pleasures such as non-rationed food, dances, church services and the cinema. A portrait of Hitler taken down, and the Star of the David, a Jewish symbol replaces it. Nazi related propaganda songs and films are forbidden, as the Captain learns these shown to the passengers.
In Cuba, we learn the passengers’ visas are seen as no longer valid. In chilling and foreboding scenes, the passengers now uncertain future is discussed by the authorities. There are unscrupulous powers that be, including a sugar merchant, José Estedes (Orson Wells) who seems only concerned for his business. With the passengers seen as a commodity with a price on their head by some with more political leanings. In contrast, there are well-meaning advocates for the passengers, still travelling there and blissfully unaware of what is happening in Cuba. A Jewish American Morris Troper (Ben Gazzara) travels to Cuba to argue their need for asylum. Troper looks into money deals to stop Cuban concerns that the refugees won’t hurt the country economically and aware of the rising anti-Jewish feeling on the island.
In Cuba, there’s with more personal heart-rending tales. We watch the then events of doctor and father to the wee girls, Dr. Erich Strauss (Victor Spinetti). He tries vainly to obtain their release to his care. His Cuban negotiations taking him to the highest powers, as he meets with Dr. Juan Remos (James Mason), who ensures the girls can join him. This through the help of an understanding prostitute, Mira Hauser (Katharine Ross) with her connections to the Cuban government. This an empathetic response, as we learn as her parents (Maria Schell and Nehemiah Persoff) are also onboard the apparently doomed boat.
Once docked in Cuba, Mr Hoffmann manages to get onboard, and reveals the Nazis true motives to a shocked and appalled Captain. This conversation overheard by Gunter. Both men are devastated to learn that the boat and its passengers will have to return to Germany, unless other countries intervene. The passengers learn their visas are longer valid, from the then docked boat and they may have to return to Germany.
We watch some distressing scenes between Mira and her parents in what may be their short time together. On the boat, the Captain makes a futile stand with both crew and passengers are forbidden to disembark. However Hoffmann makes threats to him and his family. The humanitarian Schroeder on leaving the Cuban docks, orders the redirection of the boat to America. This in the hope the passengers will get asylum there… and I urge you to watch the reminder of this thought-provoking film.
Let’s now return Lili’s journey on embarking on this voyage in her emotional journey. Her first scenes as she checks in she seems an anxious woman not wanting to draw attention to herself or her family. However she seems protective and fearful for her and her small family. Lili appears less non-judgmental than her husband, but afraid of the Nazis. This seen as she checks in and her reaction after husband Carl shouts”murderers” at some Nazi naval officers as the boat leaves the shore. This unnerving Lili and she seems ashamed yet concerned.
Grant projects her character as strong, positive woman on the outside whilst with the others on the boat. Showing a close protective bond to her daughter and husband. She loves her husband, understanding his anger due to the anti-Jews feelings as they leave their home country. Lili supports and bolsters him up to try to quell his increasing anxieties and fears. She talks of her hopes for their new start in Havana with hopeful optimism trying fervently to reassure her family (and herself).
The Rosens and Kreislers meet at the first class dining and ballroom. Carl directs an angry tirade towards Egon Kreisler. There he challenges the Doctor on his non-judgemental behaviour back home as Egon confesses to treating SS Germans. Carl and Lili then leave and come to blows with their opposing views of their family’s situation. Him preoccupied by their lost suitcase with their connections their old life, her talking of their new life and future. Lili supports and holds him as he breaks down in tears.
Lili tries to shelter her daughter from her increasing fears and from Carl’s low mood. In these scenes we feel Grant showing the strengths of this matriarch and wife, and her showing her love and support for her family. This strong woman a complete contrast when compared with Lili’s future scenes. She encourages Anna to find friends to distract her from her father’s upset.
Anna then finds love with a young German crew member and Schroeder’s assistant, Max Gunter (Malcolm McDowell). This appearing as a sweet, true and innocent love and this beautifully reflected in a few tender scenes between Frederick and McDowell. It is believed her parents unaware of this burgeoning, fated romance. However I feel on discovering it, may have partly led to Lili’s eventual emotional breakdown.
However, in Cuban waters her husband is thrown a severe panic after hearing the horn signalling the boat’s return to Germany. Carl becomes severely agitated and distressed at his fears of returning home. As he screams with anguish, Wanamaker gives a powerful realistic performance. Carl attempts suicide by cutting his wrists. Then in an act of desperation, throws himself off the boat.
Here Lili on realising these screams come from her husband, is immediately frightened. Frantic and concerned for her husband and his pain hers. Here the anguished reaction of the actress is incredibly moving and Grant’s acting compelling. In this disturbing scene, Grant appears to relate well with her character’s situation. We immediately feel her character’s heartbreak, upset and sorrow. As Carl is rescued then taken away by the Cuban police, Lili is bereft, and left with her daughter not knowing his fate. This incident with the most harrowing of images end as Anna holds her distraught mother.
It’s now up to her daughter, to support to her now apparently mute and catatonic mother. Lili now seen as a much weaker, withdrawn and depressed character. In another cruel blow on hearing of their possible return to Germany, a frightened Anna believes she will be sent to the camps, she and Gunter make love. Anna kills herself in a suicide pact with him by her side in a last embrace.
Two weeks later, Lili now apparently alone in her life now appears a devastated and broken woman. This shown in her tragic, outward portrayal by Grant. So much so I can feel Lili’s hurting and emotional pain. She both hates and is angry with herself. Alone in her grief, she is seen cutting her hair as a penance for shutting out and not being there for her daughter. Denise confronts Lili on this behaviour and offers her support, adding Carl is alive, This giving Lili the inner strength to move on. At the final prologue we are told of the fate of the passengers. It discovered that Lili was reunited with her husband in England, and a happy note. But if only others in the story had been so lucky with some others affected by the later anti-Semitic events of World War II.
With the Kreisler’s united facade covering up for their marital problems and Wendy Hiller as Professor Weiler’s wife Josephine, who watches her gravely ill husband slowly dying, there are so many compelling, moving and heartbreaking performances told by this strong sterling cast. All the stars giving touching, credible and memorable portrayals, without exception. But, singling out Grant’s Lili, I’m stunned that in this her fourth (and final) Oscar nominated role this actress was not awarded an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. In this role, Lee Grant then like the bridesmaid but the should have been bride. It really was a case of close but no cigar.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10/10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: 0/10
Bonus Trailer: The Trailer
This post was added to my Lovely Lee Grant Blogathon with Angelman’s Place. Other posts with this cast include Lee Grant stars in Damien: Omen II, The Swarm, Columbo and Airport 77. Wendy Hiller stars in Murder on the Orient Express. James Mason is written about in my review on North by Northwest, North Sea Hijack and Yellowbeard. Leonard Rossiter stars in Water and Prime Time Soap Star Adverts. Faye Dunaway stars in Network, Bonnie and Clyde and The Towering Inferno. Julie Harris starred in Knots Landing. Katherine Ross starred in The Swarm. Jonathan Bryce in Murder is Easy. Sam Wanamaker in Baby Boom. Max Von Sydow in The Force Awakens, Escape to Victory and Shutter Island. Gunter Meisner in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.