Deluge (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
March 7, 2017 by Dennis Amith
“Deluge” on Blu-ray can be seen as a watching an entertaining 1933 natural disaster film, which was once considered as lost. Others may find the Blu-ray as a wonderful collection of two films starring actress Peggy Shannon. I will say that this Blu-ray release is a fantastic collaboration between Kino Lorber and Lobster Films giving audiences the opportunity to watch and enjoy two entertaining films from the 1930’s. Recommended!
© 2017 Kino Lorber. All Rights Reserved.
DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 1933
DURATION: 70 Minutes
BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1:33:1, English DTS-HD 2.0
COMPANY: Lobster/Kino Lorber Inc.
RATED: NOT RATED
RELEASE DATE: February 21, 2017
Based on the Novel by S. Fowler Wright
Directed by Felix E. Feist
Written by Warren Duff, John F. Goodrich
Produced by Samuel Bischoff, Burt Kelly, William Saal
Music by Val Burton
Cinematography by Norbert Brodine
Edited by Martin G. Coh, Rose Loewinger
Art Direction by Ralph M. DeLacy
Peggy Shannon as Claire Arlington
Lois Wilson as Helen Webster
Sidney Blackmer as Martin Webster
Lane Chandler as Jack
Ronnie Cosby as Ronny Webster
John Elliott as Preacher
Ralf Harolde as Norwood
Samuel S. Hinds as Chief Forecaster
Fred Kohler as Jepson
Matt Moore as Tom
Newly Restored! Earthquakes in the Pacific send a massive tsunami around the globe, reducing New York City to rubble. Martin Webster (Sidney Blackmer, Rosemary’s Baby) survives the catastrophe but is separated from his wife (Lois Wilson) and children. Pairing up with a headstrong young woman (Peggy Shannon), Webster struggles to rebuild civiilzation and cultivate a new post-apocalyptic moral code amidst the pillagers and vigilantes who remain. For years considered a lost film, and later emerging in a poor-quality Italian-dubbed version, Deluge is the holy grail of disaster movies. In 2016, Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films, with the help of the Library of Congress, located the original 35mm film elements, including the English-language soundtrack, and it is from these materials that the restoration has been meticulously performed. Directed by Felix E. Feist (The Devil Thumbs a Ride, Donovan s Brain), DELUGE lives up to its near-mythic reputation. Not only are the destruction scenes truly extraordinary, the drama of survival among the rubble is presented with a dark candor that is far more complex than one expects of a film of this vintage. Also featured on this disc is the Pre-Code drama BACK PAGE, starring Peggy Shannon (DELUGE) as a small-town newspaper woman who tries to bring down a notorious white-collar criminal.
In 1933, RKO Radio Pictures released a loose adaptation of S. Fowler Wright’s 1928 novel “Deluge”.
A film about life after a worldwide disaster, the film was directed by Felix E. Feist (“The Big Trees”, “Donovan’s Brain”, “The Man Who Cheated Himself”) and a screenplay co-written by Warren Duff (“Angels with Dirty Faces”, “Varsity Show”, “Frisco Kid”) and John F. Goodrich (“My Lady’s Lips”, “The Last command”, “Lilies of the Field”).
The film stars Peggy Shannon (“Back Page”, “Hotel Continental”, “The Devil’s Mate”), Lois Wilson (“Guiding Light”, “Miss Lulu Bett”, “Bright Eyes”), Sidney Blackmer (“Rosemary’s Baby”, “High Society”, “Little Caesar”), Lane Chandler (“Winds of the Wasteland”, “Samson and Delilah”, “The Well”), Fred Kohler (“Underworld”, “Fighting Caravans”, “The Iron Horse”), Ralf Harolde (“Murder, My Sweet”, “I’m No Angel”, “Smart Money”) and Samuel S. Hinds (“It’s a Wonderful Life”, “You Can’t Take It With You”, “Scarlet Street”).
The film was a modest hit for RKO Radio Pictures but the film (which was later bought by Republic Pictures) is more remembered for its destruction footage which was used for films in the ’40s.
But for many decades, the film was lot until an Italian print dub was found (note: there are two versions of how this Italian version of the film was found, one via a film archive in 1981 discovered by Forrest J. Ackerman. The other is Wad Williams discovering a nitrate version of the film in an old mansion in Rome in 1981). The film was eventually subtitled in English and released on VHS.
But in 2016, the nitrate dupe negative with the English soundtrack was discovered and Lobster Films did a 2K scan restoration and the film would receive a theatrical released and now a Blu-ray and DVD release courtesy of Kino Lorber.
The film begins with scientists discovering that a violent storm is heading towards New York City and they issue warnings throughout the city. Suddenly an eclipse of the sun leads to global destruction as unending earthquakes slam cities causing major tsunamis and leveling cities.
We are introduced to Claire Shannon (portrayed by Peggy Shannon), a world-class long distance swimmer who was supposed to go on another challenge but since the change of weather, she ends up going with a friend and staying with her family in the country.
We are then introduced to lawyer Martin Webster (portrayed by Sidney Blackmer) and his wife Helen (portrayed by Lois Wilson) putting their two kids to sleep. As the couple know bad weather is coming their way and their home may be destroyed, Martin takes his children and wife to stay behind a huge boulder in hopes it would protect them from the bad weather.
As Martin knows they need more provisions and clothes, he leaves his wife and children to go back to the house. But the next major earthquake hits, which destroys New York City and destroys the home.
Martin is knocked unconscious and when he awakes, his home and land is gone and water has covered the ground all around him. And he fears that he lost his family to the tsunami.
Meanwhile, at a small house nearby, two men, the burly Jepson (portayed by Fred Kohler) and the anxiety-filled Norwood (portrayed by Ralf Harolde) are afraid they may be the last two people on the planet. As Jepson goes outside the cabin, he discovers an unconscious Claire.
Fastforward and over a month and a half has passed. Martin has built a shelter behind a rock and uses a nearby tunnel in a cave to store many provisions.
As for Jepson and Norwood, the two get into a major disagreement of who owns Claire. Jepson tells Norwood that since he found the house and Claire, she belongs to him. As Jepson goes to work on the boat, Norwood tries to sexually assault Claire and Jepson walks in and angered, he chokes and kills Norwood. As for Claire, it gives her the moment to slip away and swim away from Jepson. Who then gets his rifle and boat to go after her.
As Martin walks out of his home, he sees a body from the distance. He goes to it and discovers Claire who is nearly unconscious and nurses her back to health. Meanwhile, he sees from a distance, Jepson arriving near his home with his boat. As he trails Jepson from a distance, both men discover a woman who was raped and killed.
Jepson comes across a gang of ruffians and he tells him that he is looking for a woman that belongs to him. Meanwhile, Martin goes back hom to make sure he can protect Claire. And the two start to have feelings towards each other.
Meanwhile, not far from the area, survivors in a nearby town have gathered to start a new civilization. Among the survivors are Helen and her two children. One of the townsmen, Tom (portrayed by Matt Moore) has taken care of Helen (and has fallen in love with her). He tells her to forget about her husband, but she says that she believes Martin is alive. She can feel it.
Tom tells her that soon, the women in the town will be assigned a man. If she wants to prevent being hooked up with someone else, she should marry him now.
What will happen to Martin, Claire and Lois?
“Deluge” is presented in 1080p (1:33:1 aspect ratio). Before I begin, it’s important for everyone to know that when it comes to film cleanup, Kino Lorber and Lobster Films do not invest in significant cleanup compared to major film releases from the large studios or film foundations. What you are going to get are HD scanning of the original negatives to feature the film in the best resolution, but you will see white specks, scratches, slight frame damage, mild flickering, etc.
For those who watch silent films to early talkies, I’m just grateful these films are released and for this release, Lobster Films had done a 2K scan of this film once considered lost.
Picture quality is good considering the age of the film and the fact that a nitrate version of the film with an English soundtrack, “Deluge” is no doubt a film that looks very good. The film maintains its grain structure and I’ve seen classic Hollywood films with major damage and this film does not suffer from major damage. Yes, there are white specks, scratches, and some frames with an occasional larger white speck but really, this is common with older films, let alone nitrate films. So, I felt the picture quality was very good in HD!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Deluge” is presented in English DTS-HD 2.0 Surround. The lossless soundtrack is crystal clear through the front channels and the dialogue and soundtrack is crystal clear with no major crackle or pops.
“Deluge” comes with the following special features:
- Audio Commentary – Featuring an insightful audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith.
- Interview with Director Gabriel Mascaro – (21:09) Interview with filmmaker Gabriel Mascaro about “Neon Bull”
- Back Page (1934 film) – (1 hr., 04 min.) In this film starring Peggy Shannon, the film features Peggy as Jerry Hampton, a young female reporter who was fired from a major big city newspaper. Jerry decides to take over a troubled small town newspaper and learns about small town politics and the difficulties of finding advertisers to keep the newspaper afloat. Also, the troubles she receives as people don’t feel confident a woman can run the newspaper.
- The Hurricane Trailer
- Avalanche Trailer
- Meteor Trailer
“Deluge” is a fascinating 1934 natural disaster film that despite its visual effects for its time and at times for its corny dialogue, I actually enjoyed “Deluge” more than many other natural disaster films, including big budget natural disaster films that came out decades after.
A loose adaptation of S. Fowler Wright’s novel, “Deluge” focuses on a global natural disaster during a time when technology and natural disaster warnings was limited, where earthquakes become rampant and along with a tsunami, cities were destroyed and humanity is reduced.
While no one knows how many people survived, the storyline of “Deluge” shows a side of humanity that is often depicted in post-apocalyptic films and that is the worst of society where gangs are rampant and some reverting to troglodyte behavior. Women are raped and murdered and women are seen as possessions and not equal partners.
Sure, its a film that rings loud and clear of society back in the 1930’s, but the film provides a glance of the 1930’s through its characters.
Ziegfeld Follies Peggy Shannon who was to be the new “It” girl, is glamorous and beautiful sporting a bikini (when most women wore one piece swimsuits) and a woman who behaved independently until being convinced by her protector that she must make a decision to fall in love.
I bring up Peggy’s character of Claire as being independent because Shannon starred in a film titled “Back Page” about a fired big city reporter who wants to prove that she can run a smalltown paper, despite people thinking she can’t do that because she’s a woman. The 1934 film is also included on this “Deluge” Blu-ray release, which makes the release quite enticing because it’s a film that follows a woman determined to succeed despite the challenges she may face.
Unfortunately, like a few other Hollywood talent of that time who were hooked on drugs and alcohol, Peggy Shannon’s star career was dimmed due to her alcoholism.
“Deluge” also stars Sidney Blackmer and Lois Wilson. Blackmer plays the main protagonist Martin Webster, a man who thinks his wife and children died from the earthquake/tsunami and has built a home near a rocky mountain and in better shape as he has managed to stockpile on provisions. His life changes when he meets Claire and slowly falls in love with her, not knowing that his wife Lois and her children are very much alive.
The primary antagonist is Jepson (portrayed by Fred Kohler), a burly man who thinks he is one of the last people left alive and since he found a house and also an unconscious Claire, he assumes that she belongs to him and no other.
Claire escapes from him and thanks to her world class swimming skills, she swims to the area that Martin is staying. But not far behind is Jepson, who wants nothing but to bring Claire back. Jepson meets the Bellamy Gang, who raped and killed a woman.
The film manages to establish that there is a good number of riff raff and in the new world, but there are good people who are willing to fight back which we have seen in movies such as “Mad Max” and other storylines.
This classic film manages to incorporate a lot of action and drama and definitely one of the earlier lower budget natural disaster films that is upstaged by the bigger budget MGM natural disaster film “San Francisco” starring Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and Jeanette MacDonald that was released three years later (1936).
Part of the problem with “Deluge”, while some may point to visual effects, while cheesy for today’s standards, I felt the visual effects were customary for its time and the fact it uses stock footage of a natural disaster (hurricane) in the film shows that RKO Film, really wanted to drive the images of chaos and panic, while many cities are being destroyed by a global natural disaster, leading to the death of millions. And one must remember, this is a low budget RKO film, not a big budget MGM film.
Where “San Francisco” focused on few characters, it also tries to show humanity really being affected by a major disaster. In “Deluge”, too many times where the female characters are just seen as objects meant to be possessed. They must make a choice to be with a man or else it’s too late.
Because it’s a pre-code film, I do like the fact we see violence in the film. People die in this film, not just through the natural disaster but because of greed or envy. The film goes to show how people are affected by chaos but even for those in the side of good, I feel later in the film, they aren’t more affected by the natural disaster, but the fact that their relationships are affected.
With the 1936 film “San Francisco”, the film was ambitious in special effects but the 1906 earthquake gave writers the opportunity to craft a story about the human spirit of willing to rebuild a city and start over. In the 1993 film, “Deluge”, it’s not about human spirit during a time of chaos but the man and woman and the importance of a relationship during a time of chaos.
But once again, there are differences between the two films from star power and money budgeted. And “Deluge” is in essence a low budget film, with no major big name talent, but still you see talent who had true potential and a natural disaster film that rivals big budget natural disaster films made in the last 40 years. I enjoyed “Deluge” and what they were able to accomplish.
And as mentioned, this Blu-ray release comes with the Peggy Shannon 1934 film “Back Page”, and it’s one of the few pre-code films which shows an independent business woman trying to prove everyone that she can be a leader and a woman who can run a small town newspaper. Also, for “Winnie the Pooh” fans, the longtime voice of the popular character courtesy of Sterling Holloway, has a role in the film.
But I found “Back Page” quite interesting because you rarely find career-driven women in classic Hollywood films. Far too often, women were portrayed as vamps seducing men, women who need saving by a man or women having to be good wives or mothers. But “Back Page” was interesting to see a protagonist running a newspaper and one that is so driven and standing her own ground. A rarity to see in older Hollywood films.
As for the Blu-ray, as mention earlier, picture quality is very good, not pristine but considering what Lobster Films was able to accomplish, I’m quite grateful to have the best presentation of “Deluge” and “Back Page” to date with this Blu-ray release. The lossless soundtrack features no significant crackle or pops and the special features include a wonderful and insightful audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith.
Overall, “Deluge” on Blu-ray can be seen as a watching an entertaining 1933 natural disaster film, which was once considered as lost. Others may find the Blu-ray as a wonderful collection of two films starring actress Peggy Shannon. I will say that this Blu-ray release is a fantastic collaboration between Kino Lorber and Lobster Films giving audiences the opportunity to watch and enjoy two entertaining films from the 1930’s. Recommended!
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