A varied group of passengers boarding a ship bound for pre-WWII Germany represents a microcosm of early 1930s society.


Stanley Kramer


Katherine Anne Porter (novel), Abby Mann (screenplay)
Won 2 Oscars. Another 3 wins & 13 nominations. See more awards »





Cast overview, first billed only:
Vivien Leigh ... Mary Treadwell
Simone Signoret ... La Condesa
José Ferrer ... Siegfried Rieber (as Jose Ferrer)
Lee Marvin ... Tenny
Oskar Werner ... Dr. Schumann
Elizabeth Ashley ... Jenny
George Segal ... David
José Greco ... Pepe (as Jose Greco)
Michael Dunn ... Glocken
Charles Korvin ... Capt. Thiele
Heinz Rühmann ... Lowenthal (as Heinz Ruehmann)
Lilia Skala ... Frau Hutten
BarBara Luna ... Amparo (as Barbara Luna)
Christiane Schmidtmer ... Lizzi
Alf Kjellin ... Freytag


1933: An ocean liner belonging to a second-rate German company is making a twenty-six day voyage from Veracruz, Mexico to Bremerhaven, Germany. Along the way it will stop in Cuba to pick up a large group of Spanish farm laborers who are being shipped home and who will be housed like cattle in steerage. There it will also pick up La Condesa, a Spanish countess. It will stop in Tenerife, where the farm workers will disembark and where La Condesa will be sent to a German-run prison for her "traitorous" activities in Cuba. This voyage will be the last of three for the ship's doctor, Willi Schumann, who has a serious heart ailment and who thought he could find some meaning to his life through this job. Willi and La Condesa fall in love, with the ship's Captain Thiele, who is Willi's closest friend on board, believing the drug-addicted La Condesa is only using him to get her fixes. Willi and La Condesa have to figure out if there is a future for them after the voyage, as Willi's life also ... Written by Huggo

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Plot Keywords:

german | ship | american | love | germany | See All (227) »




Drama | Romance | War


Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Did You Know?


The only Best Picture Oscar nominee that year to be also nominated for Best Art Direction (Black and white), and Best Cinematography (Black and white). See more »


Tenny and Mrs. Treadwell, seated together in the dining room, order dinner. In the next scene at the captain's table, Tenny is shown in the background looking through the menu and Mrs. Treadwell is not seated at the table. See more »


[first lines]
Glocken: [walks up to the ship's railing] My name is Karl Glocken, and this is a ship of fools. I'm a fool, and you'll meet more fools as we go along. This tub is packed with them: emancipated ladies, ball players, lovers, dog lovers, ladies of joy, tolerant Jews, dwarfs - all kinds. And who knows, if you look closely enough, you may even find yourself on board.
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Referenced in The Bob Newhart Show: Ship of Shrinks (1974) See more »


Del Puerto
Written and Performed by José Greco
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User Reviews

Weaker than the novel...but still absorbing...
28 July 2003 | by DoylenfSee all my reviews

A strange, rather offbeat morality tale from Katherine Anne Porter's bulky novel, SHIP OF FOOLS manages to hold interest even though the characters are never fully realized and the full potential of the novel isn't to be found in the screenplay.

It's best described as a multi-episode GRAND HOTEL at sea, episodic with the love story between Simone Signoret and Oskar Werner at the core and easily the best acted piece, despite the soap-opera overtones. Vivien Leigh's bitter American widow is somewhat theatrical--but comes to life finally in the scene where she uses her shoe to beat Lee Marvin when he makes drunken advances to her. She looks somewhat worn and fragile (which the role requires) and this was her last film only two years before her death.

Porter's novel made diabolic use of the twin children who are almost missing from the screenplay. George Segal and Elizabeth Ashley are wasted in lesser roles as young romantics. Michael Dunn is sly and altogether winning as the dwarf who opens and closes the film with his narrative. Charles Korvin is excellent as the ship's Captain who is constantly giving advice to Oskar Werner who stubbornly refuses to listen to his well meaning friend.

If the story interests you, try reading the novel--much more complex, much richer in characters and atmosphere. The film is overlong, has some dull stretches and has a meager score by Ernest Gold that is oddly silent during some of the most emotional moments. A good old-fashioned musical score by someone like Max Steiner would have helped immeasurably in getting over the dull spots.

Summing up: too preachy when dealing with anti-semitism and lacks the punch of the novel.

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English | German | Spanish

Release Date:

October 1965 (Austria) See more »

Also Known As:

Ship of Fools See more »

Filming Locations:

Hollywood, California, USA See more »


Box Office


$4,000,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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