Vivien Leigh was subject to bouts of depression and alcoholism and was abrasive to fellow actors. There was a rocky start to her relationship with Lee Marvin, wherein she complained about his stale alcohol breath. Eventually, the two became highly unlikely good friends.
The election referred to was the German Federal election of 1933, in which the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP, or the Nazis) received 43.9% of the overall vote, an increase of 10.8% on the previous election.
Oskar Werner and José Ferrer would make a similar film 11 years later. Voyage of the Damned (1976) also was about a boatload of refugees heading back to Germany before the outbreak of the Second World War. It would prove to be Werner's final film.
Spencer Tracy would visit the set regularly to visit director Stanley Kramer, who directed his final three movies, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967).
Director Stanley Kramer carefully photographed Vivian Leigh in a gentle soft focus throughout the film, leading up to her climactic Charleston sequence, which he then shot in a cold, unforgiving sharp focus.
The homoerotic nuance between Captain Thiele (Charles Korvin) and ship's doctor Walter Schumann (Oskar Werner) is introduced in the first scene and reinforced in the way Thiele meaningfully eyes Schumann throughout the voyage, indicating that the captain's feelings are not returned by Schumann.
The moment leading into Vivien Leigh's Charleston is so perfectly synchronized that, even after multiple viewings, it's impossible to determine whether the soundtrack cues her movement or vice versa. Ernest Gold's post-production scoring imaginatively matches Leigh's fleeting sanity by juxtaposing the brash, abandoned ragtime melody with a lone, melancholy note for strings, which alternate at unexpected intervals.
When Lee Marvin was first approached to play Bill Tenny, he turned it down based on his sense that Porter's source novel was too high-brow for his acting style. But director Stanley Kramer argued that, after many years of toiling as a heavy in supporting roles, Marvin's career was on the ascent and that he would have to begin diversifying if he was going to become a bankable star. Marvin was convinced, and not only did he successfully make the transition but he ultimately won that year's Best Actor Oscar, though not for this film.
Unusually, Oskar Werner's Oscar nod was the only performance that year to be nominated in the Best Actor category for a film also nominated for Best Picture. All of the other Best Picture nominees - Darling (1965), Doctor Zhivago (1965), The Sound of Music (1965) and A Thousand Clowns (1965) - failed to produced a Best Actor nominee. A controversial omission in this category was Jason Robards, whose tour de force performance was unquestionably the anchor of A Thousand Clowns (1965).
Vivien Leigh spent most of her career performing in her natural British dialect on the London and New York stages and in British films. Ironically, nearly all of her work in American films depicted her as a vulnerable and often brutalized southern woman, sexually victimized by Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind (1939), Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Lee Marvin in Ship of Fools (1965).