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  Deluge Deep Disaster
Year: 1933
Director: Felix E. Feist
Stars: Peggy Shannon, Lois Wilson, Sidney Blackmer, Matt Moore, Fred Kohler, Ralf Harolde, Edward Van Sloan, Samuel Hinds, Marianne Edwards, Ronnie Cosby, Lane Chandler
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction, Romance, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The barometers are going crazy, and it seems like the weather is taking a major turn for the worse, as a team of scientists in New York led by Professor Carlysle (Edward Van Sloan) set about preparing for the a tumultuous event. As the wind rises and the seas rage in turmoil, nobody knows why this is happening though it may be connected to the unexpected solar eclipse overhead, but the preachers react in their separate ways, the fire and brimstone merchants declaring Judgement Day has arrived, while the milder ministers reassuring their congregations that God will look after them. It may be too late for everyone as huge earthquakes strike the world, and the whole of the West Coast of the United States falls into the Pacific Ocean - will the East Coast be next?

Could be, in what was often cited as the first (major) post-apocalypse movie, though for decades it was unavailable for viewing as it was believed lost thanks to the independent nature of the production, in spite of its distribution by RKO at the time. However, in 1988 an Italian-dubbed print was discovered, which at least offered an idea of what the original version would have been like, not ideal but something to assess its quality by - then, miracle of miracles, an intact, English language print was uncovered in 2016 and we could finally see what audiences of 1933 saw. Which was a melodramatic meditation on the implications of a global disaster, yes, this was an early disaster movie.

That genre came into its own in the seventies, but there were examples before it was even termed that, well before, and Deluge was one, drawn from the popular novel by S. Fowler Wright (an early sci-fi writer) and resembling a prototype of blockbuster Deep Impact or The Day After Tomorrow and their ilk. RKO plundered its impressive for the day special effects sequences for other productions, largely serials, and that was the sole part of the film that had survived for so long that they did tend to overshadow the rest of it. We see tidal waves crashing through a model of New York City, skyscrapers crumbling into rubble, and that old favourite, the Statue of Liberty drowned under the waters, such an arresting series of images that they affected what followed.

You could well believe civilisation had been almost wiped out, but there are survivors, and one of them was Clare Arlington, a professional swimmer played by Peggy Shannon. A rising star of the era, her early promise was ruined when her psychological issues made her unpopular to work with (though she made a fair few movies nevertheless) and drove her to the bottle; by 1941, she was dead from her drinking problem (to make matters worse, her distraught new husband killed himself days after), another casualty of Hollywood. Watching her here, you can see she had the ability to carry a film with ease, and though her scenes in the first half leave her a damsel in distress thanks to evil men wishing to rape her (we are in no doubt about their motives since this was a Pre-Code effort), she proved her mettle as the second half wore on.

Our leading man was Sidney Blackmer, who cut a rather dashing figure at this stage in his career, a far cry from the refined old fellows he would specialise in later (a neighbour in Rosemary's Baby remains his best known role), and as a man who believes he has lost his wife (Lois Wilson) and two young children he gets together with Shannon's survivor who he falls in love with. This was where the modern audience may lose interest, for the love triangle was contrived for maximum heartstring-tugging when he finds out his family is still alive, which resulted in a somewhat absurd denouement that may make you think of classic sitcom The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. But before that, there were provocative questions raised about what kind of society would endure after a catastrophe, the same issues raised in the genre to this day: do you turn to scavenging lawlessness, or do you try to rebuild what was good about what was lost? Interestingly, even in the positive community women become a commodity. You had the impression they were just getting to grips with the implications, but it was a good start.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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