Recently restored into its original English soundtrack in 2016, Deluge was considered a lost disaster movie from the 1930’s. Thanks to some excellent restoration work, this Hollywood blockbuster can show off some very impressive model work, green screen style effects and plenty of camp drama to round it off. When going back to the disaster genre roots, Deluge is an important movie for establishing some of the blueprints that we’ve come to love in decades that followed.
The disasters faced
Huge earthquakes, a global mega tsunami, some of the worst gun shooting I’ve seen, an awful lot of swimming and a gang of rampant men who want to claim any ‘broad’ for their own.
Deluge is a tight 67 minutes on the recent restoration. I am assuming three minutes are lost somewhere in the vaults as everywhere bills the movie as 70 minutes long. That being said, you don’t need a PHD to follow the plot.
A huge collection of earthquakes in the Pacific send a huge tsunami around the globe, wiping out most of civilisation as it goes. We see the unfolding of the carnage initially through the eyes of Professor Carlysle and his Chief Forecaster as they receive reports from around the world. This cues to dissolves and montages of newspaper headlines and radio reports which will fill the first ten minutes of the movie. As they decide to cut their losses and run, the main event reaches New York, which was already experiencing a huge storm.
New York is utterly smashed to bits in a spectacular model destruction. It is here where we meet Martin and Helen with their two children Ronny and Marianne. Escaping their house because of the storm the night before, they make for the nearby quarry for safety. Martin goes back to check on their house when the main event occurs which separates him from the rest. After the event is over, Helen and the kids are nowhere to be found – frankly nothing is left.
Enter Claire. She is an adventurous woman who was about to complete a swimming record when this all kicked off and she’s been stuck with Jepson and Norwood since the event. The problem is, they both want to claim her as their own woman. Events reach boiling point when Norwood attacks Claire and Jepson kills Norwood because he is horny and an animal. Claire escapes the hut they are stuck in, swimming her way right into Martin’s cabin and safety… for now. The two quickly gel well together and work to stay away from Jepson who has given chase. They form a new bond, giving Martin a new lease of life.
This is not great news for Helen, for she isn’t dead at all. She and the kids have been rescued by Tom and they are living in the shattered remains of a small village outside New York about 10 miles away from Martin and Claire. The town is not very functional though and Tom, alongside his right hand man Jack, are well meaning but struggling to keep order from restless people. One of the biggest issues is that men want wives and a gang outside the camp are stealing the women to take for their own. It is this very gang that Jepson runs into when he is searching for Claire and he decides to team up with them to get Claire back.
What starts off as a disaster movie turns into a gun totting stand off as Claire and Martin fight off Jepson’s gang whilst Tom, Jack and the townspeople are getting ready to smite the lot of them. Of course – all this means that Martin will now have two ladies and an impossible choice. Who will survive? Who will Martin choose? It will all be answered… in a quick fire Deluge!
Why is it worth watching?
Deluge is one of the earliest examples of a disaster movie. It has historic relevance. Here we have things like scientists trying to predict things, looking at data and screaming things like ‘Don’t ask me anymore stupid questions!’. It is the kind of thing we’ll be lapping up for decades to come. We also have weird love triangles and some extremely impressive early Hollywood effects. It is also long for a film of that time, clocking in at over an hour.
The film was made in 1933 but spent almost 70 years out of the public eye. The film deals with off-screen rape and murder of women to satisfy mens urges. It is done so in a non too subtle way and the conversations that are had around this are extremely dated. There is a scene in the movie where Tom tells Helen that they’ve passed a new law to make all women marry so they can stop a man from being lonely. Its this kind of societal slant in the script that may well have been the way of the world at the time but its aged extremely poorly. You can’t cut it from the script or plot because the entire film post destruction is around horny men trying to capture women. It is unusual, dark and whilst its dealt with like a Sunday afternoon TV movie, the more you think about it, the darker the movie feels as a whole.
One of the shining lights is Peggy Shannon as Claire. Whilst most women of this generation are damsels needing saving, Claire is her own person and capable of handling herself. The fact she gets the strongest and most defiant character arc flies in the face of what happens elsewhere in the plot and I wonder how much of that was noted back at the time.
Lastly, from a technical standpoint – this film is a marvel to watch for the earthquake and flood sequences. You can see how all the effects were done but there is some incredible attention to detail and either some great projection or early green screen style work that really adds to some of the shots. If you are a fan of early cinema, this, along with The Rains Came from 1937, are two fine examples of early effects.
Let’s examine those effects. New York and its harbour are rebuilt with small scale models. The boats actually propel around in the harbour like toys and someones even made a wave machine. All the structures are hollow but when the earthquake hits, they all crack, crumble and break. Some pile into each other and knock each other down – its like a child’s play set dream come to life. Then when the water comes in, like most model effects, you can see the disparity of water size but its easy to get swept up in the chaos. Pun intended. Sometimes actors are filmed in front of collapsing sets projected behind them and then they have some debris thrown on them. Other times images of crowds running and imposed over the top of the model carnage. You can see their outline, like a newbie green screen streamer but its huge for the time of making. Add to that cameras jinking upwards to imply people sliding out of camera frame to their death and you have all you need to make a guerrilla movie in 2020.
The reason I mention this is that Deluge was made as an independent movie. It had a large budget for an independent movie at $171.000 but you can see every cent of it on the screen.
Oh boy. Martin. Oh boy. Deluge takes a one month time jump after the event to pick up on how screwed civilisation has become. During that time Martin has been living alone but when he meets Claire and they start working together, I think about three days maximum pass before he declares he loves her and wants them to be married. Rather annoyingly Claire seems to then give in and fall for it too. She is strong minded and willed but she has fallen head over flippers for Martin. If I’m honest they suit each other better than Martin and Helen but then we only see Helen being a victim throughout the entire film. What greys the whole situation is that Martin is clearly a soppy fool but I’d have also thought he’d be in mourning for his wife for longer than a month…
Jepson as a character is utterly hilarious in how much of a cartoon character he is. Yes, he is utterly vile and repulsive but he throws Claire over his should like a caveman and growls like one too. More fun is that he is shot in the heart and then shouts ‘I’m OK just get her!’ Hmm… Literally the only people in the film not horny are Jack and the scientists, the latter of which vanish half way through the movie for no reason. Maybe this isn’t a PG movie after all…?
Don’t ask me any more of your stupid questions! I don’t know what’s going on!Professor carlysle – sounding very confident at the end of the world
Three memorable moments
- The whole earthquake and tsunami section for its amazing use of effects on a budget.
- The really weird auction on found possessions and properties around the concept of money credit. It’s almost like they invented credit cards.
- The many wounds and lives of Jepson, our caveman baddie.
The obligatory weird moment
This section moves into spoiler territory so please skip if you don’t want to know who survives to the final section.
After the final gun showdown and everyone comes back to the village, Martin discovers Helen is still alive and is stuck together. He has known Helen for years but declares that he loves her and Claire equally but in different ways because of what they went through together. What is fiercely frustrating is that Martin is told by everyone is that he is a leader (‘you’re straight’ says Tom) and can organise the town but he is totally unable to sort out his private life. He is largely absent and its left for Helen and Claire to try and sort out who gets dibs on their man between them. I can imagine that it would have been an awful decision to make but Martin needed to own a choice and not string both of them along. This leads to an ending that allows Claire to make the decision to move on herself but the ending is then left ambiguous. Has she swum off into the sea to drown or to move on? I guess your interpretation depends maybe on your own self-worth. It is an interesting conclusion though and one that made me think afterwards.
The drinking game
Every time a man is putting his sexual desires before the welfare of the women.
Unusual, dark, destructive and memorable. Deluge is a great discovery from early independent cinema. The effects are great to watch and deconstruct and the animalistic nature of men was both admired and abhorred. Fascinating.
Rating – 4 /5 – Excellent
If you liked Deluge then you may enjoy…
- The Rains Came – Impressive bid budget earthquake and dam busting 1937 movie.
- The Day After Tomorrow – You can see some of the shots replicated here.
- The Last Voyage – For wholesome husbands who save their family with politeness.