6/10
Title tells all; occasionally interesting and compassionate
8 February 2008
Nazi atrocities hang over the heads of some 937 Jewish refugees who are allowed to board the S.S. St. Louis in Hamburg, Germany, bound for Havana in 1939, but corrupt Cuban dignitaries (and apathetic other countries) manage to find unjust legalities which prevent the ocean-liner from docking. Dramatized true account with a star-studded cast filling the roles of the passengers (professors, lawyers, teachers, one rabbi, a Nazi spy, at least two children, a Christian ship's captain, and Faye Dunaway, looking wonderfully turned-out as the wife of a frustrated doctor). With anti-Semitism making a wave through Havana, nobody there is anxious to take on the Jews (they are looked on as charity cases), but the personalities in these excursions are static at best, with Ben Gazzara playing a globe-trotting businessman attempting to bargain on behalf of the voyagers (he seems to come from a different film altogether). Produced (or, one may say, packaged) by '70s tycoon Sir Lew Grade, the proceedings verge on the edge of disaster-movie clichés (with the appearance and the pacing of a television mini-series). The material warrants attention, but the melodrama inherent in the situation continually falters--gummed up with ungainly issues, overdrawn hysteria (Sam Wanamaker's suicide attempt), flagrant sentiment (Katharine Ross' Havana prostitute), and thuggish violence (it's bad enough that the two male teachers--scrawny and with their heads shaved--have been through hell, this narrative gives them more of the same, which is about as entertaining as watching victims at a firing squad). Dunaway, coolly regal and ice-pack gorgeous, approaches her part like visiting royalty, and gives the film a little goose. **1/2 from ****
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