We (yours truly) cannot resist Disaster Movies.
No matter how implausible, and never mind any gaping plot holes, we must see how the Disaster will play out, and how survivors will Overcome.
You know the drill: The movie usually begins with an introduction to the characters in their Daily Life, so we can assess what kind of people they are. Then Disaster strikes, complete with dazzling special effects, and, as things Sort Themselves Out, our suspicions are confirmed about who will survive and who will Not.
You can see this formula at work in RKO’s Deluge (1933).
Yes, you read that date right. During one of the worst years of the Depression, RKO Pictures released a Global Flood movie, which features earthquakes, flooding, and a whole lot of destruction.
The film opens with panic-stricken meteorologists analyzing weather data. A Violent Storm is approaching all continents on earth, but the movie concentrates the United States, and, specifically, New York City, the darling of disaster movies.
We are introduced to two main characters. One is an athletic young woman (Peggy Shannon) – a champion swimmer, no less – who is preparing for a gruelling long distance swim. (Hint: Her training will come in Very Handy during this film.) The other protagonist is a lawyer (Sidney Blackmer), a man with an adoring wife and two children, and his experience will be useful after the waters recede.
About the Flood: The movie tells us the American west coast has been destroyed, and the Great Lakes are overflowing. Now the waters threaten to destroy New York!
When the water appears, it quickly drowns the city, and it’s hard to imagine anyone could survive it.
Deluge has a run time of 70 minutes, and the Weather Disaster is completed in the first 20 minutes. The rest of the film deals with the survivors and how they organize a new society.
Compared to today’s slick CGI effects, the miniature sets used in Deluge look somewhat amateurish. Even so, these scenes are not without tension.
For example, look at how filmmakers spliced footage of (A) frantic crowds running from (B) massive tidal waves. This was pushing the limits of equipment and special effects at the time, and would have been impressive stuff for audiences in 1933.
Republic Pictures bought the film specifically for that special effects footage, which was then used in a few other movies in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Wikipedia has an interesting note about some of the stock footage used in the film. “Part of the stock footage of ships and planes returning to base under storm warnings includes actual footage of the Navy Zeppelin USS Macon (ZRS-5) which would be lost at sea in 1935.”¹
Deluge is a Pre-Code film, and, therefore, it raises a few eyebrows. For example, we see a gang of mean, creepy men who Take No Prisoners, especially when it comes to women.
We were also taken aback by the Love Triangle between Shannon, Blackmer, and Blackmer’s wife (Lois Wilson). Spoiler Alert: Wilson’s character manages to survive the flood, which leads to Complications.
One of the many things the film does effectively is to suggest violence without being graphic. Even so, there are a couple of images that we’ll never forget. (If you’ve seen this film, let us know if you agree.)
Deluge is based on a 1928 novel by British sci-fi author S. Fowler Wright, who was disappointed in the final result. Wikipedia says “he felt the film was ‘ghastly’ and advised his children not to see it.²
(What? An author disappointed in a Hollywood adaptation of his work? Say it ain’t so!)
It was also considered a lost film for decades, until a print was found in Italy in the early 1980s. Kino Lorber restored the film in 2K and released it in 2017. This is the version we saw, and it is pretty spiffy.
Deluge is worth the 70 minutes, especially if disaster movies are your Thing. It’s more philosophical than we’ve let on, especially when it comes to building a new society after a global disaster.
This post is part of The SECOND DISASTER Blogathon, hosted by Dubsism and Pale Writer.
Deluge: starring Peggy Shannon, Lois Wilson, Sidney Blackmer. Directed by Felix E. Feist. Written by John F. Goodrich & Warren Duff. RKO, 1933, B&W, 70 mins.
1Wikipedia. (Retrieved June 9, 2022.) Deluge (film).