I’m not sure I can remember the last time I saw so many well-known 70’s actors in one movie other than those classic disaster films like The Towering Inferno and the various Airport movies. In Voyage of the Damned a bunch of these familiar faces, peeps like, Faye Dunaway, Malcolm McDowell, Max Von Sydow and even Orson Welles meet on a ship escaping Europe. Jewish couples and German soldiers and citizens become acquainted at the start of the movie at the Captain’s dinner and their wariness and cautions, sometimes their paranoia, make for some tightly woven personal stories which meet and collide as the boat heads for America.
Max Von Sydow is the good guy, high-moral captain, trying to maintain the dignity and safety of his Jewish passengers, arresting German ship crew who continue to play at propaganda displays, insisting on religious services some of these passengers have not enjoyed in a very long time. There’s of course some romance here, with the impish McDowell popping around to make time with one of the more paranoid crewmember’s daughters.
The voyage on the ship is cut with the scenes in Cuba, the supposed safe port and destination for the Jewish refugees. Bribes, politics and Orson Welles are on the little island, in a place where Welles says: “In Cuba, the only thing one can be certain of is…cigar.” I like how the movie runs back and forth between the ship and Cuba, in fact it is masterfully done, just enough of the little snippets of private stories on board and the ‘will-they-won’t-they-be-able-to-port that creates the movie’s subtle tension. (I’m not going to reveal what happens at the end of this true story).
If any one message comes through loud and clear in Voyage of the Damned it is, that once a person experiences something truly horrific it is not soon, ever really, forgotten. Especially when there are people philosophically opposed to your freedoms and will do anything to keep you from them.