In the seventies, studios loved to assemble massive casts and splash all their pictures on the poster. More stars=worse movie, but 1976's VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED is a notable exception.
Based on the true story of the 1939 voyage of the St Louis, it details the Nazi's propaganda efforts in loading a luxury liner with thousands of Jewish refugees, bound for Havana.
Their PR teams announce the voyage around the world, but soon the crew and passengers find that no country wants to allow them to disembark.
Max Von Sydow leads the huge cast as Captain Schroeder. He passionately defies the SS and is far too sympathetic for the powers that be. Von Sydow (The Exorcist, Minority Report) is excellent and manages to hold the two and a half hour film together.
Lee Grant (The Landlord) was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Lili Rosen, whose husband (Sam Wanamaker) defiantly battles the Nazis. Her daughter manages to sneak in an affair with a young waiter aboard, who happens to be played by a young Malcolm McDowell (Clockwork Orange, Cat People).
Talk about young, Jonathan Pryce (Evita, The Wife) made his film debut as a young concentration camp survivor who is moved directly from a camp to the ship. Pryce is powerful portraying his confusion during the voyage.
Orson Welles, James Mason, Wendy Hiller, Denholm Elliott, Ben Gazzara and Katherine Ross also have key roles.
Writer Steve Shagan (Save The Tiger, Primal Fear) manages to juggle the many personal stories of the passengers without ever lingering too long in any cabin. He and co-writer David Butler were nominated for Oscars as well.
It's disturbing to watch the politics in play as 937 souls float on the St Louis, hoping to land somewhere, anywhere other than Hamburg.
The final five minutes are even more sobering, as you learn the final fate of many of those aboard the ship on this voyage two years before Pearl Harbor brought America into WWII.
Old fashioned and loaded with talent, it plays more like a TV miniseries than a feature film, but earns a B- thanks to a powerful story and one hell of a cast.