AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Voyage of the Damned
Director: Stuart Rosenberg (Dir)
Release Date:   1976
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 22 Dec 1976; Los Angeles opening: 23 Dec 1976
Duration (in mins):   158
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Max von Sydow (Captain [Gustav] Schroeder) Crew of the S.S. St. Louis
    Oskar Werner (Professor Egon Kreisler) First Class Passengers
    Malcolm McDowell (Max Gunter) Crew of the S.S. St. Louis
    Orson Welles (José Estedes) In Cuba
    James Mason ( Dr. Juan Remos) In Cuba
  Starring: Lee Grant (Lili Rosen) First Class Passengers
    Katharine Ross (Mira Hauser) In Cuba
    Luther Adler (Professor Weiler) First Class Passengers
    Michael Constantine (Luis Clasing) In Cuba
    Denholm Elliott (Admiral Canaris) In Hamburg
    José Ferrer (Manuel Benitez) In Cuba
    Lynne Frederick (Anna Rosen) First Class Passengers
    Helmut Griem (Otto Schiendick) Crew of the S.S. St. Louis
    Julie Harris (Alice Fienchild) Tourist Class Passengers
    Wendy Hiller (Rebecca Weiler) First Class Passengers
    Paul Koslo (Aaron Pozner) Tourist Class Passengers
    Nehemiah Persoff (Mr. Hauser) Tourist Class Passengers
    Fernando Rey (President Bru) In Cuba
    Leonard Rossiter (Commander von Bonin) In Hamburg
    Maria Schell (Mrs. Hauser) Tourist Class Passengers
    Victor Spinetti (Dr. Erich Strauss) In Cuba
    Janet Suzman (Leni Strauss) In Hamburg
  and Sam Wanamaker (Carl Rosen) First Class Passengers
  First Class Passengers: David De Keyser (Joseph Joseph)  
    Della McDermott (Julia Strauss)  
  and Genevieve West (Sarah Strauss)  
  Tourist Class Passengers: Jonathan Pryce (Joseph Manasse)  
    Brian Gilbert (Laurenz Schulman)  
    Georgina Hale (Lotte Schulman)  
    Adele Strong (Mrs. Schulman)  
  and Milo Sperber (Rabbi)  
  Crew of the S.S. St. Louis Keith Barron (Purser Mueller)  
    Anthony Higgins (Seaman Berg)  
    Ian Cullen (Radio officer)  
    Donald Houston (Dr. Glauner)  
    David Daker (First officer)  
    Constantin De Goguel (Navigation officer)  
    Don Henderson (Engineering officer)  
  and Ina Skriver (Singer)  
  In Cuba: Ben Gazzara (Morris Troper)  
    Bernard Hepton (Milton Goldsmith)  
    Guenter Meisner (Robert Hoffman)  
  and Marika Rivera (Madame in Bordello)  
  In Hamburg Frederick Jaeger (Werner Mannheim)  
  In Belgium Philip Stone (Secretary)  

Summary: On the eve of World War II, Otto Schiendick, a Nazi spy, is briefed on his next mission: to board the German luxury liner I.M.S. St. Louis, as a crewman, and sail to Cuba to receive secret military information about the U.S. Upon learning that the St. Louis is carrying 927 Jews who are immigrating to Cuba, Schiendick protests that Jews are being allowed to leave Germany but he is ordered to do his job. On the day of departure, hundreds of Jews are insulted and manhandled at customs, including Carl and Lili Rosen and their daughter Anna, Mr. and Mrs. Hauser and two little girls, Julia and Sarah Strauss who are going to meet their father, Dr. Erich Strauss, who has already emigrated. Professor Egon Kreisler and his wife Denise are the last to board, hoping that Germany is only going through a temporary madness. The ship’s captain, Gustav Schroeder, instructs his crew to treat his passengers with dignity and soon there is a celebratory atmosphere with wine, dancing and entertainment. Aaron Pozner rejoices when he reunites with his friend Joseph Manasse; the two former concentration camp prisoners were beaten by the Nazi “Brownshirts” on the way to the docks. However, Carl Rosen is suspicious that this cruise is a ruse and suspects the Jews onboard will be returned to the Gestapo. The first night out, Max Gunter, the captain’s purser, is attracted to young Anna Rosen. When Professor Kreisler explains that, after being forbidden to teach, he practiced medicine and treated an S.S. officer, Anna’s father, Carl storms out of the hall. In the second-class quarters, Alice Fienchild, a mother of two children who are already in Cuba, accepts a request to watch over the Strauss girls during the voyage. The next day, Schiendick leads sailors in Nazi songs. Captain Schroeder forbids the crew from entering the passenger areas unless on duty. Schiendick then slips a Nazi newsreel into that evening’s movie program and when Professor Kreisler protests, Schroeder apologizes and promises to remedy the situation. The next day, Schroeder is ordered to hasten the journey because two other ships carrying Jewish refugees are heading toward Cuba and the St. Louis might be refused entry. In Cuba, shipping agent Luis Clasing, and German spy, Robert Hoffman, fail to get a commitment from Manuel Benitez, the head of immigration, that the ship will be allowed to land in Havana Bay. Benitez had been selling visas to refugees without paying graft to President Bru, and Bru, in turn, passed a new law forbidding refugees from entering Cuba. Benitez insists that since the law was signed on 5th May and the passengers’ visas were issued three days earlier, on 2nd May, they are still valid. Back on the ship, Schroeder warns an unrepentant Schiendick that he will be sent ashore immediately if another passenger complains about harassment. Schiendick fears his mission to retrieve secret information about the U.S. will fail and apologizes. Below deck, Carl has an emotional breakdown, and his wife Lili sends Anna topside so she can control Carl. On deck, Anna finds Max who makes a date with her. Meanwhile, in Cuba, Dr. Erich Strauss pleads with a wealthy businessman, José Estedes, to use his political influence to ensure his daughters will be allowed to come ashore; Estedes assures him that President Bru will allow the ship to land. Back on ship, Schiendick approaches seaman Berg, hoping to get information from Max about Schroeder; when Berg refuses and denounces the Nazi party, Schiendick orders sailors to kill the seaman and throw him overboard. The next night, an elderly man passes away and Professor Kreisler is asked to confirm the cause of death. Schroeder voices his fear that the ship may be refused entrance into Havana harbor, but explains he is forming a passenger committee to maintain calm. Kreisler declines to lead the committee, but promises to assist. Meanwhile, passengers celebrate the last night of the voyage and Carl has recuperated enough to dance with his wife and Anna. Later, Anna sneaks away to meet Max and they worry they may never see each other again. The next morning, Luis Clasing boards and informs Schroeder that no passenger can disembark, but Schroeder protests declaring his crew will stay aboard with the refugees. Although the spy Hoffman tries to board, he is stopped by a policeman and is dragged off the pier. Back in Havana, Estedes explains he cannot help Dr. Strauss after all; the only hope for his daughters is Dr. Juan Remos, the secretary of foreign affairs. Estedes hands Strauss a card with the phone number of Mira Hauser, who might arrange an appointment. Onboard, Carl is overcome with anxiety; he slits his wrists and throws himself overboard. A sailor dives in after him, and the two are taken ashore to a hospital. That night, Dr. Strauss meets Mira Hauser, daughter of ship passengers Mr. and Mrs. Hauser. Although they believe she is a teacher, she is actually the preferred prostitute of Cuban politicians. When he explains his dilemma, she offers to help. The next day, Hoffman boards the ship, reveals to Schroeder that he and Schiendick are German spies, and orders the captain to resume shore leave for his crew so Schiendick can continue his mission. Schroeder also learns that the voyage is a propaganda ploy; Germany, knows no country will accept the refugees and plans to humiliate the world by exposing the hypocrisy of foreign governments, forcing them to remain silent about Germany’s treatment of the Jews. In Havana, Dr. Ramos talks to Strauss and learns he volunteers his medical expertise in a free clinic, causing Ramos to demand that Estedes write two visas for the Strauss girls. Later, the girls disembark the ship to the cheers of fellow passengers. That night, Mira boards St. Louis and gives her parents $1,300. Although Mrs. Hauser demands to know how her daughter earned the money, and why she is wearing a crucifix, Mr. Hauser yells there is no time for recriminations and tearfully takes Mira in his arms before a Cuban policeman orders her off the ship. After all attempts to land in Cuba fail, the St. Louis leaves port at midnight and the next day, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter signals them to leave U.S. waters. Low on fuel, Schroeder turns the ship back toward Europe. The next night, Max confides to passenger Aaron that they are going back to Germany. When Max meets Anna, she makes him promise she will not be delivered to a concentration camp and they make love in Max’s cabin after drinking a glass of wine. Meanwhile, Schiendick leads a group of drunken sailors into Aaron and Joseph’s cabin, and the two men are beaten. When Max does not report for duty the next morning, Schroeder finds Max and Anna’s bodies entwined on Max’s bed, dead from poison in the wine. A few nights later, Aaron leads a mutiny. Fearing their future lives in Germany, the refugees threaten to kill Schroeder if he does not turn the ship around. Professor Kreisler reasons that Schroeder is their only hope. When the crew takes back the bridge, Schroeder shows Professor Kreisler a letter signed by two hundred passengers, who vow to jump overboard if the ship returns to Hamburg. The captain confides that he plans to run the ship aground off the coast of England, but he says the shipwreck must look like an accident. Kreisler realizes there will be major casualties, but supports Schroeder’s strategy. Early the next morning, crew members plant charges to set the ship on fire, but they receive news that all the passengers are being accepted as refugees in England, Belgium, Holland and France. The passengers cheer, unaware World War II will break out in two months. 

Production Company: ITC Entertainment  
Production Text: Sir Lew Grade presents
for Associated General Films
A Robert Fryer Production
Distribution Company: Avco Embassy Pictures  
Director: Stuart Rosenberg (Dir)
  Malcolm Christopher (Prod mgr)
  David Tringham (Asst dir)
Producer: Robert Fryer (Prod)
Writer: Steve Shagan (Scr)
  David Butler (Scr)
Photography: Billy Williams (Dir of photog)
  David Harcourt (Cam op)
  Jack Conroy (Supv elec)
  John Harris (Addl loc photog)
  Rank Film Laboratories Limited (Processed by)
Art Direction: Wilfred Shingleton (Prod des)
  Jack Stephens (Art dir)
Film Editor: Tom Priestley (Film ed)
  Bob Mullen (Asst ed)
Set Decoration: Cliff Robinson (Set dresser)
  Terry Apsey (Const mgr)
Costumes: Betty Adamson (Ward supv)
  John Hilling (Ward supv)
  Bermans & Nathans Ltd. (Cost by)
Music: Lalo Schifrin (Mus)
  Milton Lustig (Mus ed)
Sound: Derek Ball (Sd rec)
  Doug Turner (Dubbing mixer)
  Bill Trent (Sd ed)
  Dino di Campo (Sd ed)
  De Lane Lea, London, England (Re-rec at)
Make Up: Eric Allwright (Makeup)
  Linda Devetta (Makeup)
  Lee Harmon (Miss Dunaway's make-up)
  Ramon Gow (Hairdresser)
  Betty Glasow (Hairdresser)
  Susan Germaine (Miss Dunaway's hairdresser)
Production Misc: Franklin R. Levy (Exec prod coord)
  Pamela Carlton (Continuity)
  Luis Roberts (Spanish prod supv)
  Miriam Brickman (Casting dir)
  Richard Green (Loc mgr, U.K.)
  Frank Ernest (Loc mgr, Spain)
  Brian Harris (Prod accountant)
  Iris Rose (Prod asst)
  Ann Ford (Asst to prod)
Color Personnel: Rank Film Laboratories Limited (Processed by)
MPAA Rating: PG
Country: Great Britain and United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the book Voyage of the Damned by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts (New York, 1974).
Authors: Gordon Thomas
  Max Morgan-Witts

PCA NO: 24561
Physical Properties: Sd:
  Lenses/Prints: Lenses and Panaflex Camera by Panavision

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Historical
Subjects (Major): Antisemitism
  Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
Subjects (Minor): Attempted suicide
  Auschwitz (Concentration camp)
  Fathers and daughters
  Hamburg (Germany)
  Havana (Cuba)
  Political corruption
  Post-traumatic stress disorder
  Voyages and travel

Note: According to items in the 21 Apr 1976 Var and 4 Oct 1976 Box, the the film’s working titles were Voyage or The Voyage but the name was changed to Voyage of the Damned, reflecting the title of the 1974 Max Morgan-Witts novel it was based.
       The following written statements appear in the end credits: “Two months after the St. Louis docked at Antwerp-World War II Began; Aaron Pozner was captured by the Gestapo in Holland and died in Auschwitz; Joseph Manasse was captured by the Gestapo in France and died in Auschwitz; Alice Feincheld survived to rejoin her children in 1946; Lili Rosen was reunited with her husband Carl in England; Mr. & Mrs. Hauser used Mira’s $1300 as bribes and survived the German occupation of Belgium; Prof. and Denise Kreisler were sent to Westerbork Concentration Camp in Holland and survived; Otto Schiendick was shot by a British patrol in Hamburg, 1945; Captain Schroeder was unjustly accused for alleged war crimes, but the testimony of survivors of the St. Louis led to his acquittal. He was given a humanitarian medal by the West German Government; Of 937 passengers, over 600 died in Nazi concentration camps; The S.S. St. Louis was destroyed by allied bombs in Hamburg, 1944; This film is based upon a true incident. Some of the names, occupations and experiences of those involved have been altered to protect the privacy of the survivors and their families"; and, "Filmed at EMI Studios, Elstree, Hertfordshire, England, and on location in Spain & London.”
       In the end credits' cast list, Alice Feinchild's name is misspelled as "Fienchild."
       Captain Schroeder died in 1954 and was posthumously honored by the nation of Israel with the title of “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1993. In 2000, the city of Hamburg, Germany, named a street after him.
       A news item in the 24 Jul 1975 DV reported Voyage of the Damned was originally scheduled to be produced by Lew Grade as a television movie.
       A 30 Dec 1975 HR article stated that both the Havana, Cuba, and Hamburg, Germany, scenes were filmed on location in Barcelona, Spain. All ocean scenes were shot twenty miles off Barcelona’s coast on an Italian cruise liner, the M.V. Irpinia. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, the ship’s modern single funnel had to be camouflaged with two light-weight steel prop funnels made at Elstree studios in London to make her look like a 1930s German luxury liner. All the vintage cars in the film were located with help from the Veteran Car Club of Spain.
       Various contempary sources placed the film’s budget at between $6 and $7 million.
       An article in 5 Dec 1975 DV stated that location shooting in Spain had ended and production was shifting to London, England.
       According to a news item in 21 Apr 1976 Var, postproduction work was done in Hungary.
       A news brief in the 10 Dec 1975 LAT announced that Avco Embassy Pictures acquired the domestic distribution rights for the film.
       Both the New York City and Los Angeles premieres were charity events. The 19 Dec 1976 New York City premiere was held for Boys Harbor according to 4 Oct 1976 Box, while the 24 Dec 1976 Var reported the 22 Dec 1976 Los Angeles premiere benefited the American Cancer Society.
       The 2 Feb 1977 Var stated that ticket sales were lower than expected, reportedly due to the 158 minute running time. According to a 16 Mar 1977 Var column, ITC Entertainment requested the film be cut by twenty-four minutes which would allow exhibitors additional daily showings of the film.
       Voyage of the Damned received three Academy Award Nominations: Actress in a Supporting role (Lee Grant); Writing (Screenplay--based on material from another medium); and Music (Original Score). The film also received six Golden Globe nominations with Katharine Ross winning for Best Supporting Actress.
       Voyage of the Damned was the last theatrical film for actor Oskar Werner before his death on 23 Oct 1984.

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   4 Oct 1976.   
Daily Variety   24 Jul 1975.   
Daily Variety   5 Dec 1975.   
Hollywood Reporter   30 Dec 1975.   
Hollywood Reporter   29 Nov 1976   p.3, 18.
Los Angeles Times   10 Dec 1975.   
Los Angeles Times   24 Dec 1976   p. 1.
New York Times   23 Dec 1976   p. 18.
Variety   21 Apr 1976.   
Variety   1 Dec 1976   p. 18.
Variety   24 Dec 1976.   
Variety   2 Feb 1977.   
Variety   16 Mar 1977.   

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.