Flood! is one of the five Irwin Allen TV disaster movies he produced within the 1970’s as part of a deal to make primetime TV disasters. Camp is the name of the day here. Overacting, cameos from Hollywood stars that make zero sense and some overly sentimental 180 personality switches make Flood! entertaining. It isn’t always for the right reasons though.
The disasters faced
Floods, flying rocks, explosions, drowning, racism, bizarre backstories, mistaken identities, helicopter porn and scarves! Scarves everywhere!
Brownsville is about to become Wetsville. After weeks of rainfall, the rickety old dam is springing leaks left, right and centre – with water flowing into surrounding valleys. The dam has been subject to years of chatter around its safety with the council. Paul wants the thing to be condemned and rebuilt safely. That is not what Mayor John wants though. Brownsville is built on fishing and tourism around the dam and so if they go, so does the town itself. Mayor John has hidden an engineer report as he knows best although his wife Alice is mar more sceptical. Their daughter Mary is a nurse and engaged to Paul, who decides to start preparing for the worst by alerting the town and getting ill patients out of the local hospital, which is built on a hill. It’ll be the place of refuge for the town should the worst happen.
Paul enlists the help of helicopter pilot Steve Brannigan to fly around the dam a lot, ferrying supplies and sick people back and forth. This gives Flood! the ability to pad its runtime with a lot of chopper shots but also kickstarts off the strangest subplot too. Steve spots John & Alice’s youngest son Andy get caught up in an early leak and gives him his scarf to wrap around the wound. The scarf is a sentimental one to Steve and it will pop up over and over again as Steve and Andy cross paths throughout the film. Steve is also dating fellow nurse Daisy, who is the all American gal.
Whilst political arguments over the dam continue, its poor Sam Adams at the dam who is left trying to plug the leaks and stop it toppling over. His wife Abby is heavily pregnant and goes into labour and faints (repeatedly) just on the wrong day. You see, Sam is stuck on the dam as it finally breaks, sending him and his Tonka toy car plummeting to his death, right in front of Steve and Paul’s eyes.
The town breaks into panic with most heading for the hospital if they can to be greeted by Daisy, Mary and Dr Horne. There are a few exceptions though. In telling everyone the dam is going to be fine, Mayor John has left his secretary Emma stuck making house calls at the office. She doesn’t seem to know how much danger she’s in as she stays to save others. He has also not found his son Andy, who is stuck clinging onto a tree as the Flood! appears. Similarly, Paul has sent local kid Johnny out to tell as many people to evacuate as possible and Johnny has been caught up in the water too. Meanwhile, Abby, still fainting in almost every scene she’s in, is now trapped in her flooded living room whilst in labour. Overcome with panic, guilt and shock, Mayor John shuts down and becomes a gibbering wreck.
Now its up to Paul, Steve and Mary to pull off some daring rescues whilst Daisy, Dr Horne and Alice do their best at the hospital. Who will survive the – as the advert says… flood… Flood…FLOOD!
Why is it worth watching
Irwin Allen always knows how to cut hammy action sequences and it certainly shows in Flood! as he works well with what he’s got. The budget is small and so he makes a huge thing of each helicopter related scene, and there’s plenty. When the actual flood happens, its a mixture of miniature effects, flooded sets and some perspective tanks. This means that some of the set pieces involving the sets actually still hold up today. Whilst it is no Poseidon Adventure, it does well.
Irwin Allen is also well known for his campy scripts and acting. His films pulled more this way over the years as his budgets got smaller and this is the start of that slide. It’s one of those towns where everyone knows, and is related, to everyone. This means the first hour is very much a scene setter as the tension rises. Thankfully the acting covers up a lot of script issues and you can also play spot the cameo from Irwin’s previous films too. It does annoy me though that Roddy McDowall and Jack Collins do their scenes and then vanish from the rest of the movie though. To match a campy script, there is some outrageously camp acting too. Carol Lynley spends the entire film going in and out of fainting. Cameron Mitchell is trying to out Ernest the Borgnine. Richard Basehart tries to chew as much scenery as possible. Eric Olsen shouts ‘Mr Brannigan’ over and over like he has taken so many, many drugs.
Flood! was filmed at a turning of acting time where camp was going out of fashion for gritty reality and so it feels like a last bastion of those silly, fun, out to entertain you TV movies. Take the score for instance. Almost the entire film is orchestrally scored in such an intense overwrought manner, it is nearly comical. Someone enters a room – strings will swell! Mary and Paul about to have a heartfelt chat? In comes the soft strings and harp. John feels sad? Out comes the low brass. What TV disaster movie would do this now? I wish they would.
Of the five TV movies made, Flood! and Fire! were the best of the bunch by far. Cave In, Hanging By A Thread and The Night the Bridge Fell Down are spread too thinly over a two night special and drag out as a result. If you want to see good TV disaster movies, Flood! is a great place to start.
Mixing in stock footage with miniatures works relatively well but its the flood sets that work best. The best set is Abby’s house. Not only are they landing on a house roof in a chopper but then wading through water downstairs in a flooded living room and showing underwater footage too. Aside from that, the dam breaking features a Tonka truck getting crushed by mud! Less convincing perhaps, but just as fun.
One of the best things about Flood! is the slow twist of responsibility that Paul drags Steve through as their friendship becomes a budding rescue duo. Steve starts out as a man who is after his paycheck and his lady. Over the course of the movie, every time he cares for something, Paul reminds him has promise and it becomes their thing. By the end, they are plotting how to rebuild the town. It is a nice arc. Slightly more jarring is Mary’s 180 from loving fiancée to stern cold matriarch for her father but she’s likeable too. Daisy is Lisolette from The Tower Inferno. Andy is Corey from Earthquake if Corey wasn’t knocked out for most of the film. By far the funniest character is Abby ‘ I LOVE YOU’ Adams. Carol Lynley nails a fragile damsel in distress so well and her she goes nuts. I also wished Roddy McDowell’s character was in the film beyond the opening as he too, plays the camp face responses beautifully.
I know what that dam can take!John, ignoring scientific advice to sort the dam out. is the earth flat john?
Three memorable moments
- Abby’s fainting (collectively as a montage).
- Sam’s Tonka truck goes tumbling down the broken dam set piece.
- Alice, running out to save her son but its actually Johnny stuck in the water.
The obligatory weird moment
Anything that involves that bloody red scarf. It is one of the most bizarrely random shoehorned in side story I’ve seen in years. What makes it stranger is that the scarf isn’t the only item of clothing that is used for emotional scenes. There will be a cardigan passing about in the second half of the film a lot too. Was there a deal somewhere I’m not aware of?
The drinking game
Each time Steve’s helicopter gets a shot from underneath it. Apparently, this was meant to be the pilot of a series of shows focused in on helicopter pilots but it never came into fruition. That perhaps explains why there is so much screen time to the chopper.
Flood! isn’t quite as good as Fire! (exclamation marks aplenty) but it is still good fun as a lower spectacle disaster movie. Don’t expect massive pyrotechnics and you’ll enjoy the silliness more. A very guilty pleasure, I’m happy to experience over and over again. I just wished some of the characters didn’t just vanish part way through.
Rating: 4 / 5 – Excellent
If you enjoyed flood, you may also like…
- Killer Flood: The Day The Dam Burst – 2 Part TV special at the turn of the century.
- Fire! – Irwin Allen’s other TV disaster classic.
- Flood: A Rivers Rampage – Another TV flood movie that’s character driven
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Review updated to new format 21/02/21.