Time for Terry’s Take on the Movie, a review. I am nearly chagrined, perhaps embarrassed, to confess, I have never read the book, nor seen the movie, until just recently, “Ship of Fools,” by Katherine Anne Porter, published in 1962, a twenty-year-long endeavor. It, immediately, was so well received that it became a screen play by 1965.
As a writer, I’m chagrined for not seeing it, when it is so frequently referenced in numerous, other literary materials. In other words, those in the know, when it comes to know about writing, should know about “Ship of Fools.” So, now, I’m making up for my literary deficiency regarding this work. There is also another play, “Ship Of Fools,” by Plato; you may have heard of him, but this is not that play.
After watching to movie, I read some reviews, analyses and plot summaries to see what I may have missed. It turns out that the I missed little, but the old reviews missed plenty. In fact, the reviews are a classic case of “missing the point.” So, prepare to enlightened, but not by the nose. Sorry, I mixed a metaphor.
The setting is a trans-Atlantic voyage from Vera Cruz Mexico to Bremerhaven in 1933 and based on the writer’s own voyage in 1931. Not to be a spoiler, but the movie is the antithesis of an action thriller; the movie is cerebral. There is virtually no action aside from a few too many Flamenco dances, George Segal gets punched, and Vivien Leigh whacks Lee Marvin with her shoe. There are no car chases or shoot outs, though a threat of violence looms and some people die. And, I have to add, the constant droning of German waltzes is tiresome, perhaps for a reason. I’ll let you decide, but there is a constant political undercurrent of German superiority, which is nearly the point and the prime cause of hypocrisy and it seems to be supported by the ever-present waltzes.
The only break away is the Flamenco which has its own competing redundancy. Interestingly, if you pay attention to music in movies, one can hear the Arabic influences in the Spanish music. Then, it seems not to be an accident to me, the main antagonist, Jose Ferrer, in a moment of faux-reflection says, “I’m not anti-Semitic, I lived with Arabs for many years.” I think most of us today would not understand the accuracy of his statement. We don’t understand Arabs as Semitic.
The keys to understanding this classic are the title, and the opening and the ending lines that are book-ends the story. Michael Dunn is the narrator, a charismatic dwarf who says, (paraphrased) “I am a fool, and this ship is full of fools and you will see them along the way. Maybe you will even see yourself. And the last line, (paraphrased) “What does this have to do with you? Nothing at all.”
One thing you must keep in mind with this dialogue, the things that are actually said and the things that are meant are frequently not the same, but you don’t realize it until a little action or time passes.
B’s favorite line was, “There are over one million Jews in Germany, what are they going to do, kill us all?” This is a poignant indictment on today’s head-in-the-sand PC culture that will become deadly, if we don’t wake up.
My favorite scene was the discussion between Bill Tenny, a washed up major league baseball player, played by Lee Marvin, and the Dwarf. In this scene, there are two pregnant pauses that make you wonder, what the H is going on, “Say something,” you’ll be thinking. And in both cases they finally do say something and it is over the top simple, yet unexpected.
Finally, the best line [SPOILER ALERT] the dwarf says to Tenny, (paraphrased) “I think, you’re being a bit harsh on yourself; I would estimate there are eight-hundred and seventy-three million people on this earth who do not even know what a curve ball on the outside corner is, and it’s a bit excessive for you to say you’ve muffed your whole life because you couldn’t hit it.” Tenny’s comeback is beautiful, but I won’t spoil that one for you.
In summary: See the movie, and see if maybe you see yourself somewhere along the way, but, of course, it has nothing to do with you. – Terry