- Directed by Felix E. Feist
- August 13, 1933
A series of unexplained natural disasters around the world devastate civilization and the survivors are left to rebuild.
I first learned of this film while on the Twitter. It was a quick blurb about the film that also included the link to the clip I have here. It intrigued me. Deluge is a very old disaster epic. Maybe even the first given its age. 1933? I did not even think they would consider making something like this then.
The film is very loosely based on a 1928 novel by S. Fowler Wright. How loosely I do not know but considering what “loosely adapted” equates to in a modern context I am guessing it is barely related. The similarities are just enough that you could get in trouble for copyright infringement.
The main reason to see this movie is because of the level of destruction shown in this film. This was 1933 and it all had to be done in the real world because CGI effects were 60 years away at least.
By necessity the use of miniatures was quite extensive in this. They did not just imply destruction. They showed it. You get to see New York City wiped out by a tsunami. Buildings crumbled on screen. That for me is the most impressive part. That was a once and done thing probably because you just cannot easily rebuild something to be sturdy enough to remain stable until it is time to break it apart.
There are three key figures in this story. Martin (Sidney Blackmer), a lawyer, who is married with two kids to Helen (Lois Wilson) and a young swimming champion named Claire (Peggy Shannon). They are all introduced in the first 10 or 15 minutes of the film at a breakneck pace. Truthfully though I did not realize that the girl in the cabin where we next see Claire after her first moments on screen initially was the swimmer from the beginning of the movie. It just did not click nor was it made all that clear in what they did in those post disaster moments.
We have two interesting appearances early in the film. Edward Van Sloan appears in the beginning as Prof. Carlysle. You may know him as Professor Van Helsing in the 1931 film Dracula. Samuel Hinds plays a chief weather forecaster. He is perhaps best known for playing Jimmy Stewart’s dad in It’s A Wonderful Life. Found that interesting.
The major problem with Deluge is that it moves so quickly to the point it rushes through important things or just does not bother to set them up. After the devastation we see at least one pocket of civilization up and running. It is largely Caucasian too. They were in the mountains but that is told very quickly and it could easily be missed.
At around 70 minutes they pack a great deal in. Martin (believes) he loses his wife, meets and falls for the swimmer, saves her from a roving gang, finds the town of survivors, meets back up with his wife and kids, and becomes the leader of the town.
This film was most definitely a product of its time when it came to the script. I am not talking about the chain smoking or the rapid patter dialogue. There were instances of what could be described as casual sexism and even some casual racism. For example of the two African-American characters shown on the screen, the woman never speaks and then is only shown briefly once. The man is almost childish and exists purely for comic relief. And his total screen time amounts to probably not more than five minutes.
The women are not well-rounded characters. Claire is a little better done than Helen, but both exist to give the character of Martin reasons to do things. In my perception this was not uncommon in adventure stories of the era.
By the time Martin and Claire reach the town of survivors they have fallen madly in love (though why could be because they are each other’s only options) and then upon the discovery of his wife Martin is torn between the two. The resolution to the romantic plot is not much of a resolution at all. It is just a cheap copout which may have played as more original when this film was made. Martin goes looking for the Claire and sees her swimming off towards the sunset with the implication she is going to kill herself because she cannot live without his love.
I find a certain charm in older films possibly because I try to view them with the understanding of the times in which they were made. Times change and that does not mean a film becomes bad because of the times in which it was made. Though it does have its flaws it was a serious effort on the part of the creators. They put a great deal of work into this and despite the quick pace they made a story that you will want to watch. And from a technical perspective it is a massive achievement for the time. The effects work alone makes this worth a look.
Deluge is a film that was considered lost for decades. Bits of the film survived but those were effects shots used in other movies. Special effects were harder to do back in the day and shots were often reused in lower budget or just other films. The Internet did not exist so there were not people sitting there to point out that footage had been reused. An Italian dub was eventually found in an archive in Rome in 1981. Then in 2016 a 35mm nitrate dupe negative with the English soundtrack was discovered and a 2K restoration occurred.
Stories like this make me wonder what else might be out there sitting in somebody’s attic or storage vault completely forgotten about. The potential always exists for someone to have in their possession a lost film that they do not know is lost.
Deluge is an entertaining film that if you can view it understanding the times it was made you will enjoy it. The main reasons to see it are the effects and how they were done. I gave this an if you want but it is an if you want that you should strongly consider.