Voyage of the Damned

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Voyage of the Damned
Film poster by Richard Amsel
Directed byStuart Rosenberg
Screenplay bySteve Shagan
David Butler
Based onVoyage of the Damned
1974 book
by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts
Produced byRobert Fryer
William Hill
StarringFaye Dunaway
Max von Sydow
Oskar Werner
Malcolm McDowell
Orson Welles
James Mason
Lee Grant
Katharine Ross
Luther Adler
Michael Constantine
Denholm Elliott
José Ferrer
Lynne Frederick
Helmut Griem
Julie Harris
Wendy Hiller
Paul Koslo
Nehemiah Persoff
Fernando Rey
Leonard Rossiter
Maria Schell
Victor Spinetti
Janet Suzman
Sam Wanamaker
Ben Gazzara
CinematographyBilly Williams
Edited byTom Priestley
Music byLalo Schifrin
Distributed byRank Film Distributors (United Kingdom)
AVCO Embassy Pictures (United States)
Release dates
  • 19 December 1976 (1976-12-19) (Premiere)
  • 22 December 1976 (1976-12-22) (Los Angeles and New York City)
Running time
155 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$7.3 million[2][3]
Box office$1,750,000[4]

Voyage of the Damned is a 1976 drama film directed by Stuart Rosenberg, with an all-star cast featuring Faye Dunaway, Oskar Werner, Lee Grant, Max von Sydow, James Mason, Lynne Frederick and Malcolm McDowell.

The story was inspired by actual events concerning the fate of the ocean liner St. Louis carrying Jewish refugees from Germany to Cuba in 1939. It was based on a 1974 nonfiction book of the same title written by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts.[5] The screenplay was written by Steve Shagan and David Butler. The film was produced by ITC Entertainment and released by Rank Film Distributors in the UK and Avco Embassy Pictures in the US.


Based on historic events, this dramatic film concerns the 1939 voyage of the German-flagged MS St. Louis, which departed from Hamburg carrying 937 Jews from Germany, bound for Havana, Cuba. The passengers, having seen and suffered rising anti-Semitism in Germany, realized this might be their only chance to escape. The film details the emotional journey of the passengers, who gradually become aware that their passage was planned as an exercise in Nazi propaganda, and that Germany had never intended that they disembark in Cuba. Rather, they were to be set up as pariahs, to set an example before the world. As a Nazi official states in the film, when the whole world has refused to accept the Jews as refugees, no country can blame Germany for their fate.

The Cuban government refuses entry to the passengers while the ship was on its way, and next the liner heads to the United States. As it waits off the Florida coast, the passengers learn that the United States also has rejected them, as Canada subsequently does; leaving the captain no choice but to return to Europe. The captain tells a confidante that he has received a letter signed by 200 passengers saying they will join hands and jump into the sea rather than return to Germany. He states his intention to run the liner aground on a reef off the southern coast of England, to allow the passengers to be rescued and reach safety there.

Shortly before the film's end, it is revealed that the governments of Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom have each agreed to accept a share of the passengers as refugees. As they cheer and clap at the news, footnotes disclose the fates of some of the main characters, suggesting that more than 600 of the 937 passengers, who did not resettle in Britain but in the other European nations, ultimately were deported and were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.



Faye Dunaway, Oskar Werner and director Stuart Rosenberg on location in Barcelona

The book was published in 1974. The Los Angeles Times called it "a human document of rare and discerning power".[6] The book was a best seller, and the authors earned an estimated £500,000 from it.[7]

Rights to the book were acquired in 1974.[2] It was originally envisioned as an ABC Movie of the Week but its budget of $7.3 million was too expensive.[2]

The film was the first feature of Associated General Films.[2]

Dunaway was paid $500,000 plus a percentage of the profits.[8]

The movie was filmed on board the chartered Italian ocean liner Irpinia,[9] which was fitted with two false funnels in order to resemble St. Louis.[10][1] It was also shot on location in Barcelona, Spain (standing in for Cuba),[1][2] St. Pancras Chambers in London, and at the EMI Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.[11]

Actual death toll[edit]

The true death toll is uncertain. The 1974 book that was the basis of the film estimated a much lower number of deaths.[5] By using statistical analysis of survival rates for Jews in various Nazi-occupied countries, Thomas and Morgan-Witts estimated the fate of the 621 St. Louis passengers who were not given refuge in Cuba or the United Kingdom (one died during the voyage): 44 (20%) of the 224 refugees that settled in France likely were murdered in the Holocaust, 62 (29%) Holocaust murders amongst the 214 that reached Belgium, and 121 (67%) Holocaust murders amongst the 181 that settled in the Netherlands, for a total of 227 (37%) of the refugees that came under occupation were likely murdered by the Nazis.[12][13] In 1998, Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum traced the survivors from the voyage, concluding that a total of 254 refugees or 40.9 percent were murdered by the Nazis.[14]


The film opened on 22 December 1976 in four theatres in New York and Los Angeles.[2]

Box office[edit]

According to Lew Grade who helped finance the film, the movie "should have done better" at the box office.[15] He wrote in his memoirs "I thought it was one of the most moving and important films I'd seen in a long time. I just couldn't understand why it didn't become a success" adding that "strangely enough, it did outstanding business in Japan."[16]

Alternate version[edit]

The complete, uncut version of the film was 182 minutes long. It was released only once, on the Magnetic Video label in 1980. Apparently this is an earlier version of the film, which was created by editor Roger Cherrill according to a note in the end credits[citation needed]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards[17] Best Supporting Actress Lee Grant Nominated
Best Screenplay – Based on Material from Another Medium David Butler and Steve Shagan Nominated
Best Original Score Lalo Schifrin Nominated
Golden Globe Awards[18] Best Motion Picture – Drama Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Oskar Werner Nominated
Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture Lee Grant Nominated
Katharine Ross Won
Best Screenplay – Motion Picture David Butler and Steve Shagan Nominated
Best Original Score – Motion Picture Lalo Schifrin Nominated
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Nominated


Voyage of the Damned
Soundtrack album by
Recorded12 and 13 April 1977
Wembley, England
GenreFilm score
ERS 6508-ST
ProducerJohn Lasher
Lalo Schifrin chronology
Towering Toccata
Voyage of the Damned

The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by Lalo Schifrin and the soundtrack album was released on the Entr'Acte label in 1977.[19]

Track listing[edit]

All tracks are written by Lalo Schifrin

1."Main Title"2:21
2."House Painter March"1:49
3."Hotel Nacionale"2:18
4."What's Past is Past; Affirmation of Love"2:51
6."The Arrival; Theme of Hope"3:21
7."The Captain; Goodbye Aunt Jenny; We Need Help"3:11
8."So Many Things I Wanted to Say"2:08
9."To Be A Woman"2:07
10."Tragedy; Time Pulse"3:59
11."Our Prayers Have Been Answered"2:16
12."End Credits (Foxtrot)"2:30


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Voyage of the Damned at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ a b c d e f Verrill, Addison (28 July 1976). "Devalued Pound Brings 'Voyage' In Under Budget; Recalls Nazi, and World, 'Hoaxing' of Jews". Variety. p. 4.
  3. ^ Robert Fryer--Clout Plus Taste: ROBERT FRYER Glover, William. Los Angeles Times 22 Dec 1976: e10.
  4. ^ Donahue, Suzanne Mary (1987). American film distribution : the changing marketplace. UMI Research Press. p. 296. Please note figures are for rentals in US and Canada
  5. ^ a b Thomas, Gordon; Morgan-Witts, Max (1974). Voyage of the Damned. Konecky & Konecky. ISBN 1-56852-579-6.
  6. ^ THE BOOK REPORT: Prelude to Horror of 'Final Solution' Kirsch, Robert. Los Angeles Times 13 May 1974: d9.
  7. ^ Money-making disaster: PUBLISHING Parker, Selwyn. The Observer 7 Aug 1977: 13.
  8. ^ Dunaway 'Trembling on the Brink of Great Stardom': Faye Dunaway Rosenfield, Paul. Los Angeles Times 20 Feb 1977: s38.
  9. ^ "Grimaldi-SIOSA Ocean Liner and Cruise Ship Postcards". Archived from the original on 24 December 2015. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  10. ^ "Irpinia page 2". Archived from the original on 2 February 2016. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
  11. ^ 'Tour' to Star Bette Midler Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times 13 Nov 1976: b6.
  12. ^ Rosen, pp. 447, 567 citing Morgan-Witts and Thomas (1994) pp. 8, 238
  13. ^ Rosen, Robert (17 July 2006). Saving the Jews (Speech). Carter Center (Atlanta, Georgia). Archived from the original on 18 June 2007. Retrieved 17 July 2007.
  14. ^ Lanchin, Mike (13 May 2014). "The ship of Jewish refugees nobody wanted". Archived from the original on 20 June 2018. Retrieved 21 June 2018.
  15. ^ Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, 1985 p. 197
  16. ^ Grade, Lew (1989). Still dancing. Ulverscroft. p. 508.
  17. ^ "The 49th Academy Awards (1977) Nominees and Winners". Archived from the original on 11 January 2015. Retrieved 3 October 2011.
  18. ^ "Voyage of the Damned". Golden Globe Awards. Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Archived from the original on 27 September 2012. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
  19. ^ "Lalo Schifrin 1976-1985". Archived from the original on 29 February 2012. Retrieved 16 March 2012.

External links[edit]