I always had a complicated relationship with my father. A would-be survivalist, who liked guns and fishing, couldn't relate much to an awkward dweeb like me, who liked comic books and monsters. However, we occasionally bonded over movies. As long as they were, in his words, the “right movies.” One of my Dad's favorite genres was the disaster epic, especially the ones from the seventies. During my long weekends at his place, we'd frequently watch films like that.
So, I've always had an odd fondness for the disaster movie genre. With summer movie season upon, the time of year once dominated by films like this, I decided now was the time to devote an entire month of reviews to this type of film. I'll be watching 31 films and going through as many of the odd mutations it went through over the years as possible. Hold onto your butts and watch out, we've got lots of mayhem and chaos in front of us.
The End of the World,” a Dutch film about a passing comet causing global calamity, and 1913's “The Last Days of Pompeii,” the first of several Italian films depicting Pompeii's destruction by volcanic eruption. As far as I can tell, the first proper American disaster movie, disregarding melodrama crossbreeds like 1928's “Noah's Ark,” is 1933's “Deluge.” The film predates many of the genre's cliches, depicting national landmarks being destroyed by massive natural disasters. The film has been pegged as a likely inspiration for later masters of disaster like Irwin Allen and Roland Emmerich.
The world is imperiled, scientist all over the globe warn. An enormous earthquake destroys the entire western coast of America. This causes a massive tidal wave to wash over the eastern coast, destroying most of New York City. In this time of apocalyptic upheaval, the story focuses in on two key figures. Martin Webster is a family man living in the Hudson Bay Valley. Following the flood, he assumes his wife and two children are dead and attempt to start over. Claire, a swimming champion, survives the flood just to be harassed by two men, who try to claim her as their own. She escapes and meets Martin. A romance soon forms as the two try to survive in the post-flood world.
The enormous devastation only occupies the first ten minutes or so of “Deluge.” The film then becomes about society rebuilding in the aftermath of the apocalypse. “Deluge” soon starts to feel like a weird combination of a melodrama, a romance, and a frontier western. Martin and Claire quickly fall in love, the man assuming his wife and kids are dead. They aren't and, in a brief epilogue, we see a love triangle form between the two women Martin loves. Despite the devastation, “Deluge” depicts the post-apocalyptic world as almost cozy. Barbers shave customers on the street. Martin ends up setting up a bank and an auction, rebuilding a form of currency. There is conflict, as a more violent group of settlers, lead by Claire's attempted rapist, kidnap her and try to murder Martin. The film begins with Biblical references to Noah's flood but never portrays our modern world as especially depraved or evil. Yet “Deluge” seems to think the global slate being wiped clean and everyone starting over wouldn't necessary be a bad thing.
Ultimately, “Deluge” is a fairly mediocre film that is more historically significant than creatively important. Notably, RKO released this film the same year as “King Kong,” so 1933 wasn't a great time for New York. The footage of widespread destruction would crop up as stock footage in several Republic serials. Following that, “Deluge” would be considered lost. In 1981, Forest Ackerman uncovered a print dubbed in Italian. In 2016, an English nitrate negative was found, forming the basis of Kino Lorber's recent Blu-Ray release. It's interesting to see “Deluge,” if only for its impressive special effects, even if the movie itself is somewhat forgettable. [6/10]
[THE DISASTER MOVIE CHECKLIST: 7 outta 10]
 Awards Bait Ballad
[X] Corrupt or Incompetent Authority Figures
[X] Destruction of Famous Landmarks
[X] Grim Predictions
[X] Group In-Fighting
 Heroic Sacrifices
[X] Massive Collateral Damage or Explosions
[X] Pets or Kids are Imperiled but Survive
[X] Romantic Couple Resolves Problems
 Star-Studded Cast