Plenty of Soap in This Restored Pre-Code Global Bath
DIRECTED BY FELIX E. FEIST/1933
STREET DATE: FEBRUARY 21, 2017/KINO LORBER
Earthquakes! Floods!! Destruction on a global scale!!! 1933 never had it so bad. It’s positively a deluge of world-ending spectacle and pre-code sexiness of the broadest order. The characters are paper thin, the visual effects are top notch for their day, and the post-cataclysm human storyline is deliciously soapy. In short, where the heck has this movie been all of my life??
To watch Deluge, in all its base-level pandering, is to confront the reality that movie allure hasn’t altogether cheapened since Hollywood’s golden age. Collectively we carry a notion that movies in the 1930s were classy, unlike today when we’ve lost out to the likes of Transformers, The Day After Tomorrow, and San Andreas. Deluge is ambitious, unapologetic proof that if they could’ve made Transformers movies in 1933, replete with high-end mass destruction and Megan Fox bending over motorcycles, all for the lowest common denominator, they likely would’ve been.
Deluge is an of-its-time charmer of the ridiculous order, the kind of thing Irwin Allen might’ve seen as a boy, then grew up, got rich ripping off, and then had sealed in a vault for good measure.
Thankfully, they couldn’t. So we got Deluge instead. Deluge is an of-its-time charmer of the ridiculous order, the kind of thing Irwin Allen might’ve seen as a boy, then grew up, got rich ripping off, and then had it sealed in a vault for good measure. That’s not what happened. It was actually its own studio, RKO, that locked it up for fifty years, in order to inflate the resale value of its disaster effects footage for use on other movies. (Thank you, commentary track, for that tidbit.) Long thought lost, Deluge is only now washing up on the shores of high definition Blu-ray.
The vintage complete and total end of Great Depression era civilization never looked so good. The banks are destroyed, everything is destroyed. Some sort of half baked natural disaster, as reported by Everett Van Sloan (Dracula), “The Earth is doomed!” And then, in a prolonged stunning sequence of entire model metropolises and superimposed people being crushed by oceans of water, it happens. And that’s only the first fifteen minutes.
Threatening to steal the thunder from all of that is top-billed would-be starlet Peggy Shannon. Shannon plays Claire Arlington, a champion swimmer who finds herself on a tropical island when all hell breaks loose. Shannon’s role and situations allow plenty of opportunity for her to strip down to her two-piece (or less) and hit the waves. This, incidentally, is also mostly within the first fifteen minutes.
Claire’s self-assuredness (“I can take care of myself!”) is awkwardly stationed alongside the film’s frequent mission to exploit her “shape”, a mission also shared by the members of a horrific gang of post-apocalyptic thugs who constantly fight over her. Their neanderthal base nature is played for condemnation, strikingly highlighting the notion that so much of male endeavor comes down to sex (for avoidance of a more appropriate and female specific crude term used by our President). That the film itself – and by extension, the viewer – is also guilty of objectifying her… Well never mind that. As usual.
Sidney Blackmer is Martin Webster, an upstanding square-jawed lawyer and family man turned resourceful survivalist. Best known for being Ruth Gordon’s husband in Rosemary’s Baby, this is Blackmer in agreeable leading man form. He’s plenty serviceable if a bit stiff as Martin, laying some groundwork for eighty-five-plus subsequent years of cardboard disaster movie heroes.
Claire is understandably leery of Martin, him being the film man who isn’t out to make her his sex slave. He is, however, like those libidinous brutes, unable to resist her charms. Believing his own wife and children to be dead, he one night gives her a sincere, impassioned ultimatum: Declare a marital commitment to him right there and then in that horny moment, or part ways, leaving her to try her luck alone in the horrible world.
Eventually, they reach a group of survivors looking to rebuild civilization. Discovering his family considerably less dead than he thought, he then must face the reality of having – and loving – two wives. This being a pre-code film, any number of solutions are on the table. How will this end-of-the-world soap opera resolve?
Although the commentary track does go on about how superior the source material novel is to the film, it’s abundantly clear that film historian Richard Harland Smith has great appreciation and enthusiasm for the movie. The track is a lively one; entertainingly conversational while also being fence with information.
Deluge, as presented by Kino Lorber Blu-ray, is a remarkable find for most any film buff.
Just as Criterion saw fit to include the 1930 source material The Front Page on its recent fantastic Blu-ray release of His Girl Friday, KL has thrown in an entire bonus film, The Back Page (1934). The connection is Peggy Shannon, who stars as a big city reporter who, after getting the sack, takes a job at a small town paper. The film is a very nice bonus, something not quite warranting its own individual release, but nonetheless deserving to be seen. Apparently, ’tis the season for early 1930s bonus films with titles ending with “Page”.
Deluge, as presented by Kino Lorber Blu-ray, is a remarkable find for most any film buff. It demonstrates that even on a meager budget and mishandled and disregarded by its parent studio at every turn, Hollywood storytellers were keen to realize the B-movie model as A-movie spectacle. Deluge shows that even in 1933, a far-from-perfect effects picture, if realized with spirited care, can be a great flood of fun.
The images in this review are not representative of the actual Blu-ray’s image quality, and are included only to represent the film itself.