Today, when it comes to the disaster film, style is usually chosen over substance, meaning that a huge budget is mainly spent on the special effects rather than the overall production. This is a sad case, because there were once good and accessible flicks dealing with doomsday and its aftermath, including The Quiet Earth (1985) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Director Felix E. Feist’s 1933 early Pre-Code outing, Deluge, sort of falls into the middle, where the more odd elements tend to overshadow everything else. Despite its minimal running time, it contains enough tone and complexity to overcome its obvious flaws.
The film centers on survivors, in particular, Martin Webster (Sidney Blackmer), trying to rebuild civilization, and a new moral code, after a massive earthquake destroys most of New York City. Martin is a lonely man who believes his wife and children were lost during the floods from the quake, and encounters a headstrong woman named Claire (Peggy Shannon), fleeing Jepson (Fred Kohler), a backwoods brute, and his henchmen who cause chaos and threat just because they can. Martin and Claire, building a life together and falling in love, soon find themselves cornered by Jepson, but are saved by a group of kindhearted pillagers. Just when they decide to get married, he is reunited with his wife and children which pushes Claire away from him. In the film’s ambiguous ending, Claire swims away to a much uncertain fate.
What makes the film a weird but abstract watch is how it successfully depicts the madness and confusion of civilians when faced with impossible lengths of challenges while trying to survive a the post-apocalyptic new society. Another interesting aspect of its reputation is that the special effects, while crude and dated, manage to be more convincing than those of today’s disaster epics. You have to appreciate how much time and effort was put into the entire film, in order to be as bring as much accuracy as they possibly could. You definitely don’t get that in modern movies today.
The special features include a revealing audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith with enough facts, tidbits. and production stories to help you understand the ambitious film; trailers (The Hurricane, Avalanche, and Meteor), and the complete 1934 feature film Back Page, another interesting pre-Code film that also stars Peggy Shannon as a young hotshot reporter trying to bring down a notorious criminal.
Overall, while not a perfect film by any means, I think that it does deserve to be rediscovered, especially in the right mood. You can’t help but respect the 1930’s (golden age) disaster movies, where innovation and thought were way more important than loud explosions and highly expensive budgets.