Blu-ray blog: ‘Deluge’
By Bob Bloom
The discovery, restoration and release of a “lost” movie always is exciting news for film buffs.
The rediscovery of “Deluge,” though is a bit different because it’s a film that, though mostly unseen for decades, is one that has remained in the consciousness of a cinematic connoisseurs.
That is because footage from this 1933 disaster feature has turned up over the years in other movies — mostly notably two Republic serials — “Dick Tracy vs. Crime, Inc.” (1941) and “King of the Rocket Men” (1949).
So, basically, it’s exciting to see the entire destruction sequence of New York City destroyed by an earthquake and title wave, instead of simply snippets of the footage used as stock footage.
The movie, released in February by Kino Lorber, had been available through an Italian print in the 1980s, which — frankly — did not look or sound very good.
Lobster Films had acquired a nitrate dupe negative and restored the film.
The restoration is not perfect — some lines and a few minor blotches exist and the audio track contains a bit of hissing, here and there — but otherwise, the work reclaiming the film is impressive.
The science behind the worldwide calamity that begins “Deluge” is questionable — barometric pressure is falling, earthquakes are shaking the globe, creating tidal waves and inundating whole cities and nations.
We learn this through a montage of screaming newspaper headlines, newsreel stock footage of floods and hurricanes and teletype messages to scientists in the United States from around the world.
The cause of these events is never fully explained. Unlike audiences today, moviegoers in the early 1930s were generally less sophisticated and ready to rely on faith and accept suspension of belief to be entertained.
About 15-to-20 minutes into the movie’s 70-minute running time comes the big event — the destruction and inundation of New York City. Earthquakes tumble skyscrapers, the earth opens swallowing residents, waters surge, tossing ships — big and small — onto the land, toppling more buildings and covering most of the metropolis with water.
After this spectacular destruction sequence, the movie descends into a strange combination of survival tale and romantic triangle.
We find Martin (Sidney Blackmer) surviving in a cabin on some deserted piece of land. (The post-disaster geography is rather unspecific, we know it is about 40 miles from where New York City once stood.)
In a nearby cave, Martin has stashed a trove of provisions. Where and how he discovered them are never explained.
Soon, he is joined by Claire (Peggy Shannon), who has escaped from a shack where a brute named Jepson (Fred Kohler) had rescued her.
Jepson, of course, has lustful designs of Claire, and kills his cabin mate when he makes advances on the woman.
The resourceful Claire, a long-distance swimmer, knocks Jepson out and flees by swimming away.
Martin finds her exhausted on the beach, brings her to his cabin and, gentleman that he is, treats her with kindness and respect.
Oh, I forgot to mention that Martin is married with two small children and believes his family was killed in the cataclysm.
Without giving too much more away, let’s just say that, by the fadeout, everything works out as propriety and society would expect.
The cast is rather colorless — Blackmer, Shannon and Lois Wilson as Martin’s wife are competent but bland — with the jarring exception of Kohler, a perennial B-Western heavy, who portrays Jepson as if he were still out West trying steal Claire’s ranch and or virtue or rustle her cattle.
“Deluge” is not a great movie, but its restoration is thrilling. It’s a feature film buffs should experience, especially for — by today’s standards — the crude special effects used to obliterate the Big Apple.
After watching that, you may be hooked to see how civilization — like the film itself — rises from the ashes.
Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. He reviews movies, Blu-rays and DVDs for ReelBob (ReelBob.com), The Film Yap and other print and online publications. He can be reached by email at email@example.com. You also can follow Bloom on Twitter @ReelBobBloom and on Facebook. Movie reviews by Bloom also can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com