Voyage of the Damned

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

Voyage of the Damned
Voyage of the Damned (1976 film).jpg
Film poster by Richard Amsel
Directed byStuart Rosenberg
Produced byRobert Fryer
William Hill
Written byDavid Butler
Steve Shagan
Based onVoyage of the Damned
by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts
StarringFaye Dunaway
Oskar Werner
Lee Grant
Max von Sydow
James Mason
Malcolm McDowell
Lynne Frederick
Music byLalo Schifrin
CinematographyBilly Williams
Distributed byRank Film Distributors (United Kingdom)
AVCO Embassy Pictures (United States)
Release date
  • 19 December 1976 (1976-12-19) (Premiere)
  • 22 December 1976 (1976-12-22) (New York and Los Angeles)
Running time
155 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$7.3 million[2][3]

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 book written by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts with the same title.[4] The screenplay was written by David Butler and Steve Shagan. The film was produced by ITC Entertainment and released by Avco Embassy Pictures.


Based on historic events, this dramatic film concerns the 1939 voyage of MS St. Louis, which departed from Hamburg carrying 937 Jews from Germany, ostensibly bound for Havana, Cuba. The passengers, having seen and suffered rising anti-Semitism in Germany, realised 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 propaganda, and that it had never been 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, and 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, 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 the United Kingdom but in the other European nations, ultimately were deported and were murdered in Nazi concentration camps.



The book was published in 1974. The Los Angeles Times called it "a human document of rare and discerning power".[5] The book was a best seller, and the authors earned an estimated £500,000 from it.[6]

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.[7]

The movie was filmed on board the chartered Italian ocean liner Irpinia,[8] which was fitted with two false funnels in order to resemble St. Louis.[9][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.[10]

Actual death tollEdit

The true death toll is uncertain. The 1974 book that was the basis of the film estimated a much lower number of deaths.[4] 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.[11][12] 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 were murdered by the Nazis.[13]


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

Box OfficeEdit

According to Lew Grade who helped finance the film, the movie "should have done better" at the box office.[14] 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."[15]

Alternate versionEdit

The complete, uncut version of the film was 182 minutes long. It was released only once, on the Magnetic Video label in 1980.[citation needed]


The film was nominated for three Academy Awards:

It was nominated for six Golden Globe Awards, winning one:

It was nominated in the categories of:


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.[16]

Track listingEdit

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 alsoEdit


  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. ^ a b Thomas, Gordon; Morgan-Witts, Max (1974). Voyage of the Damned. Konecky & Konecky. ISBN 1-56852-579-6.
  5. ^ THE BOOK REPORT: Prelude to Horror of 'Final Solution' Kirsch, Robert. Los Angeles Times 13 May 1974: d9.
  6. ^ Money-making disaster: PUBLISHING Parker, Selwyn. The Observer 7 Aug 1977: 13.
  7. ^ Dunaway 'Trembling on the Brink of Great Stardom': Faye Dunaway Rosenfield, Paul. Los Angeles Times 20 Feb 1977: s38.
  8. ^ "Grimaldi-SIOSA Ocean Liner and Cruise Ship Postcards".
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 February 2016. Retrieved 27 January 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ 'Tour' to Star Bette Midler Lee, Grant. Los Angeles Times 13 Nov 1976: b6.
  11. ^ Rosen, pp. 447, 567 citing Morgan-Witts and Thomas (1994) pp. 8, 238
  12. ^ Rosen, Robert (17 July 2006). Saving the Jews (Speech). Carter Center (Atlanta, Georgia). Retrieved 17 July 2007.
  13. ^ Lanchin, Mike (13 May 2014). "The ship of Jewish refugees nobody wanted".
  14. ^ Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, 1985 p. 197
  15. ^ Grade, Lew (1989). Still dancing. Ulverscroft. p. 508.
  16. ^

External linksEdit