The Glamorous Ocean Liner: Movies Set on Floating Palaces

I recently tweeted a link to an article about an event called¬† “Cinematic Passages: Ocean Liners on Screen” that was taking place at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Sponsored by the ocean liner company Cunard, the event’s goal was to bring the golden age of ocean travel to life by showcasing the glamor of ocean travel in movies from the last 50 years. When one of my followers subsequently asked me for some recommendations of ocean liner movies that I love, it gave me the idea for this post highlighting a few of my favorites.

The reason that event caught my eye is that I absolutely love watching movies set on ocean liners (called “floating palaces” by some), and an event like that would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, I live far away from New York and could not attend. :-( I can’t really pinpoint the reason for my fascination with ocean liners, but there is just something about them that intrigues me. Perhaps it has something to do with my nostalgia for the tv show “Love Boat” which I loved watching when I was younger, even though I know cruise ships are different than ocean liners. Or maybe it’s just that I wish I had lived back in that era and experienced the glamor and excitement of ocean liner travel for myself.

Whatever the reason may be, following is a list of some of my favorite movies from the 1930’s and 1940’s that are set on ocean liners. I will be covering five of my favorites from the 1950’s in a separate post. Please keep in mind that these movies do not all take place entirely on the featured ocean liner. Many of them have scenes that are set in other locations.

Black Sheep
Year of Release: 1935
Directed by: Allan Dwan

Black Sheep is an example of one of many hidden gems that I’ve found through Netflix Instant. Claire Trevor, known more for her serious roles in film noir, gives a delightful and fun performance as an actress who teams up with a professional gambler (Edmund Lowe) to rescue a young man from a blackmailing jewel thief, played by the beautiful Adrienne Ames. Be sure to check it out if you have the instant streaming feature.

Year of Release: 1936
Directed by: Four-time Academy Award Winner William Wyler

Based on a play by Sinclair Lewis, Dodsworth is an interesting drama starring Walter Huston as a retired automobile executive who is becoming increasingly estranged from his philandering wife, played by Ruth Chatterton. In addition to the great performances of its lead actors,  the film also contains a wonderful supporting cast including Mary Astor, Paul Lukas, David Niven, Spring Byington, and Maria Ouspenskaya.


Shall We Dance
Year of Release: 1937
Directed by: Mark Sandrich

The seventh of ten movies starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Shall We Dance was supposedly one of their least popular and profitable films together. Despite that fact, there are still many things to like about this movie including a great score by George and Ira Gershwin and a fun tap dance routine by Fred and Ginger done on roller skates and set to the song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”


Love Affair
Year of Release: 1939
Directed by: Leo McCarey

This is a movie I watched for the first time recently, having seen its remake An Affair to Remember (1957) many years ago. Although I enjoyed the remake, I don’t think anything can compare with the original. Charming performances by its stars Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne along with a warmth that is somewhat missing from the later version, I think Love Affair is one of the best romantic movies of all time.


The Lady Eve
Year of Release: 1941
Written and Directed by: Preston Sturges

This is my absolute favorite movie on my list! In my opinion, The Lady Eve is a movie that every classic film fan should see regardless of their level of interest in ocean liners. It has everything that I love most about classic films; witty dialogue, great performances by an impressive cast (Barbara Stanwyck, Henry Fonda, Charles Coburn, and Eugene Pallette), superb direction by Preston Sturges, fabulous sets, and gorgeous fashions by designer Edith Head. If you haven’t yet seen this movie, I high recommend you do so soon!


Well, that concludes the list of my favorite “ocean liner” movies from the 30’s and 40’s. If you know of or have seen any that I missed, I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below!

P.S. Stay tuned for a list of my favorite ocean liner movies from the 1950’s. I hope to have that posted in the next few days. Thanks for reading! :-)

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  1. Hollywood Legacy says:

    Ginny, I am so happy to discover you expanded your tweet recommendations with this lovely article. Thanks for sharing. BTW, any plans to go on the TCM Cruise? I wish I could go but it’s too close to the holidays. I hope the schedule works out next year! Sounds so fun, doesn’t it? I am looking forward to your 1950’s ocean liner favorites.

  2. Ginny says:

    You’re welcome and thank you for the inspiration! I won’t be going on the cruise this year, but I could definitely see myself going in the next year or two. It sounds like it would be an amazing experience. I think I’ll start a TCM cruise fund. :-)

  3. […] Favorite Movies Set on Ocean Liners Part II In my last post, I highlighted some of my favorite 1930′s and 40′s movies that were set (at least […]

  4. John says:

    I don’t know if BETWEEN TWO WORLDS qualifies for this category but is does take place on a ship “between two worlds.” John Garfield stars and doesn’t know he is dead. Edmund Gwynne(Miracle on 34 St.),the keeper of the ship is the only one that knows why everyone is there. He has made the fateful journey many times. There is great tension in this film as there are people on this ship who have died in various ways. Therefore different fates await them all.

    Classic Hollywood made some great movies dealing with many aspects of the after life. The Ghost And Mrs. Muir and Here Comes Mr. Jordan being two of my favorites. This fascinating subject can be explored in many genres.

    Anyway this hidden classic will keep your attention all the way through. The magnificent character actor George Colouris gives his usual great villainous portrayal as a man heading toward hell. I remember him also for his wonderful role in the Bette Davis film Watch On The Rhine.

  5. John says:

    Sorry, hit the send button and realized I misspelled the great character actor Edmund Gwenn’s name wrong. The man with the gentle, calming voice. I will always remember Edmund Gwenn fondly for his holiday movie role in Miracle On 34th Street.

  6. Ginny says:

    Yes, Between Two Worlds would definitely qualify. I have seen it and although I love John Garfield, I had mixed feelings about the movie so it didn’t quite make the cut for this list as one of my favorites. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is one of my all time favorite movies. I am a big fan of Gene Tierney and I really enjoyed Rex Harrison’s performance.

    Miracle on 34th Street is one of my favorite Christmas movies, and I absolutely loved Edmund Gwenn in the role of Kris Kringle.

  7. Trent says:

    This site really has all the information and facts I wanted about this subject and didn’t know who to ask.

  8. […] – Okay, I’m stealing this description from my post about my favorite movies set on ocean liners, but this is why I love The Lady Eve and think you will too, especially if you could use something […]