Voyage of the Damned

Voyage of the Damned

Film poster by Richard Amsel
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Produced by Robert Fryer
William Hill
Written by David Butler
Steve Shagan
Based on Voyage of the Damned
by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts
Starring Faye Dunaway
Oskar Werner
Lee Grant
Max von Sydow
James Mason
Malcolm McDowell
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography Billy Williams
Distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures
Release dates
  • 22 December 1976 (1976-12-22)
Running time
155 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Voyage of the Damned is a 1976 drama film, which was based on a 1974 book written by Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan-Witts with the same title.[1]

The story was inspired by true events concerning the fate of the MS St. Louis ocean liner carrying Jewish refugees from Germany to Cuba in 1939.


Based on actual events, this film tells the story of the 1939 voyage of the MS St. Louis, which departed from Hamburg carrying 937 Jews from Germany, ostensibly to 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 them as refugees, no country can blame Germany for the fate of the Jews.

The Cuban Government refuses entry to the passengers, and as the liner waits off the Florida coast, they learn that the United States also has rejected them, leaving the ship 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.

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 make it to the UK ultimately lost their lives in Nazi concentration camps.


Director and crew

The 1976 film was directed by Stuart Rosenberg, with a screenplay by David Butler and Steve Shagan. It was produced by ITC Entertainment and released by Avco Embassy Pictures.


The movie was filmed on board the chartered Italian ocean liner Irpinia,[2] which was fitted with two false funnels in order to resemble the St. Louis.[3] It was also shot on location in Barcelona, Spain, St. Pancras Chambers in London, and at the EMI Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.

Actual death toll

The true death toll is unclear. The book of these events estimates a much lower number of deaths. By using the survival rates for Jews in various countries, Thomas and Morgan-Witts estimated 180 of the St. Louis refugees in France, 152 of those in Belgium, and 60 of those in the Netherlands would have survived the Holocaust. Adding to these the passengers who disembarked in England, they estimated that of the original 936 refugees (one man died during the voyage), roughly 709 survived and 227 were slain.[4][5] (See the relevant article.) In 1998, Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum traced the survivors from the voyage. They concluded that a total of 254 refugees died at the hands of the Nazis.[6]


According to Lew Grade who helped finance the film, the movie "should have done better" at the box office.[7]

Alternate version

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


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 Lalo Schifrin
Released 1977
Recorded 12 and 13 April 1977
Wembley, England
Genre Film score
Label Entr'Acte
ERS 6508-ST
Producer John 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.[8]

Track listing

All tracks 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
5."Lament"  2:30
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


  1. Thomas, Gordon; Morgan-Witts, Max (1974). Voyage of the Damned. Konecky & Konecky. ISBN 1-56852-579-6.
  4. Rosen, pp. 447, 567 citing Morgan-Witts and Thomas (1994) pp.8, 238
  5. Rosen, Robert (2006-07-17). Saving the Jews (Speech). Carter Center (Atlanta, Georgia). Retrieved 2007-07-17.
  7. Alexander Walker, National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties, 1985 p 197
  8. Payne, D. Lalo Schifrin discography accessed 16 March 2012
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