Friday, April 21, 2017


Deluge is must-see viewing for movie fans and global-warming enthusiasts alike. For not only was Deluge considered lost for several decades, it also shows what happens when tides rise high enough to destroy the entire coast line of the U.S. -- even if global warming has nothing to do with it.

No, all the mass destruction is caused by an monstrous, 3,000-mile long earthquake triggered by a solar eclipse -- an event which captures the world's scientists by surprise. They obviously missed the newspaper headline featured in Deluge screaming WORLD DOOMED!

"Now you stay here, sweetheart, while
Daddy goes back to higher ground."
What remains of society post-destruction can be divided up into the good, the bad, and the horny. Among the former is Martin Webster (who decided it was a good idea to bring his family to the shoreline when the tsunami was approaching), and professional swimmer Claire Arlington, whose backstroke is good enough to make it through waves as high as the Empire State Building. I'd like to see Michael Phelps try that.

Because, well, why the hell not?
   Among the bad and the horny are louts Jepsen and Norwood, who discover the now-unconscious Claire clad only in her underwear. (Note to survivalists: this is the best way to survive those aforementioned skyscraper-sized waves. Well, that and the killer backstroke.) When Claire realizes that the guys have more on their mind than playing canasta, she does what any woman would do: take off her bra and swim away. This should be a new Olympic sport.

"Shoot now, sex later, right?"
Webster finds Claire washed-up near his cabin, and, having lost his wife and kids, immediately falls in love with her. Not only is she hot and athletic, her hair is perfect without a swimming cap. All this is enough for him to singlehandedly rescue her when she's kidnapped by a gang led by Jepsen (you remember, the lout). When Webster later staves them off in a cave armed only with one rifle, Claire rewards him by doing the deed with him. Boy, what a guy has to do for a little action!

"Darling! Thank God I interrupted your affair!"
Webster and Claire are in turn rescued by a friendly posse from a nearby town filled with other storm survivors. The happy couple are ready to start a new life together... until discovering Webster's wife Helen and their brats alive and well and waiting to reunite with him. Talk about buzzkill.

While Helen is ready to calmly work things out with her husband's girlfriend -- something all wives would do, right? -- Claire isn't so liberal-minded. Eventually, she decides to leave the same way she entered: half-naked in the ocean. This dame knows how to make an entrance and an exit, that's for sure.

Deluge's legendary status is due to its opening 20-minute mass-destruction scene, which climaxes with New York City being wiped out by an earthquake and tsunami that makes Fukushima look like a puddle of dog urine.

While it's not necessarily realistic to 21st-century eyes, the sequence is genuinely remarkable. The set is huge by 1933 standards, and the amount of water used to flood it is incalculable. No CGI here, folks; this was clearly one of those rare moments where the crew had only one chance to get it right.

Buildings shake and fall; railroads are destroyed; waves wipe out the Battery Park area, Midtown and the West Side. Only my Upper East Side neighborhood is apparently unscathed. I knew I lived here for a reason.

"Now let's get laid,  pronto."
Nothing in Deluge's remaining 50 minutes lives up to what we've just scene. In fact, despite the pre-credit Radio Pictures logo, the post-earthquake portion Deluge looks like nothing more than a low-budget, independent picture with a no-name cast, mediocre direction, an irritating score that literally never stops, and risible dialogue. (The most romantic thing Webster says to Claire is, "You mean more to me than a cure for loneliness," which women everywhere are just dying to hear from the men in their lives.)
Behind the scenes of Deluge: the crew puts finishing touches on the
Manhattan set before wiping it out.

As it turns out Deluge was indeed an indie production, with Radio Pictures providing only the distribution. Not having much skin in the game, Radio sold Deluge to Republic Pictures  four years later. Republic then incorporated the tsunami scene for its SOS Coast Guard serial, and junked the rest of the negative. Ah, sentimental Hollywood!

And so, Deluge was doomed to survive only in old movie magazines until a battered print with Italian subtitles turned up in 1988. A better, non-subtitled copy was discovered in 2016, and released on Blu-Ray last month. 

Despite Deluge's shortcomings, fans can take heart. First of all, it exists. When you consider that half of movies made before 1950 are allegedly missing, that alone is worth celebrating. 

Second, there's plenty of welcome pre-code hijinks to liven things up (semi-nudity, sex, violence, death by makeshift spike, etc.). And, of course, its rasion d'etre, the lengthy destruction of New York City, which can still electrify even today. Deluge might not quite live up to its legend, but it creates a flood of gratitude for movie fans today.


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