An ambitious effort to tell the true story of SS St.Louis in May-June 1939 on a cruise to Cuba with only Jewish German passengers as a Nazi propaganda display in all its polyphonic complexity, has above all succeeded in rendering and making the horrible sadness about it real. Sam Wanamaker takes the lead as the most desperate of them all, who, when it becomes clear that they were sent to Cuba only to be returned to certain death in Germany, tries to kill himself jumping over board, while Max von Sydow stands for some uprightness and honor in a hopeless situation, Oskar Werner and Faye Dunaway make a nice couple of some refinement and elegance but with their integrity sadly lost, Orson Welles dominates the corruption in Havana, Ben Gazzara is the indefatigable fighter for some human rights where there are none, and we have the tragedy of the steward (Malcolm McDowell) and his tragic love, and of course the Nazi villains, apart form other outstanding actors like James Mason, Julie Harris, Maria Schell, Wendy Hiller, Jonathan Pryce, Katharine Ross, Denholm Elliott as Admiral Canaris and many others. Still the film is not overloaded with stardom, but they are all almost discreet, dwarfed by the overwhelming tragedy of the drama situation. What adds very much to the quality of the film is how the music is composed - the very sensitive and adequate but still discreet music of Lalo Schifrin is contrasted with very typical and catchy dance music of the times, Cuban rumbas, Glenn Miller, Strauss waltzes and things like that, illustrating the grotesqueness of the cruel Nazi practical joke on ordinary and innocent Jewish Germans who are kept completely unknowing of what grim play they are being used in. The film is very conscientiously made in an evident effort to strike at the completeness of the indescribable sadness of the inhuman fake luxury cruise, which effort definitely has succeeded.
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