DELUGE (1933, Dir. Felix E. Feist)
RKO Radio Pictures
KL Studio Classics BD $29.95, DVD $19.95
70 min. / B&W / 1.33:1

It’s the end of the world as we knew it, or at least most of it, as an earthquake topples America’s West Coast and sends a tsunami hurtling across the globe, eventually turning New York City into a puddle. Now, THIS part of the scenario is familiar: stock footage from this 1933 independent product showed up throughout B-movies and serials of the next couple of decades, notably most of a whole chapter of the Republic serial King of the Rocket Men (1949). The film has been unseen in its complete, English-language form for decades, however, so imagine our surprise to learn that the destruction takes place in the first reel, leaving another hour of humans attempting to survive and rebuild society (or twist it for evil purposes).

Sidney Blackmer stashes his wife and two young children in a quarry during the downpour (what was HE thinkin’?!?) while he goes for help, and ends up the lone survivor in the neighborhood, living in a cabin next to a cave (which surely is in Bronson Canyon, East Coast locale notwithstanding). Pretty Peggy Shannon is a champion swimmer, which keeps her afloat long enough to fall into the clutches of brutish Fred Kohler, who wants to take a stab at repopulating the earth over her strong objections. Peggy and Sidney find each other, but Kohler and his pack of human wolves are in hot pursuit in what is the earliest post-Apocalypse movie I can think of right now. The film’s surprisingly good, actually. Those of us who come for the destruction and the primitive but fun special effects—a combination of miniatures, matte paintings, stock footage of real storms, and lots and lots of water—but stick around for the drama aren’t likely to be disappointed.

We were unfamiliar with Miss Shannon (she drank herself into an early grave) but she’s quite lovely (and in a few scenes, scarcely dressed at all) and a good actress. Sidney Blackmer is no great shakes, but Fred Kohler is terrific as the large, pitiless villain – he seems like Mickey Mouse’s nemesis Peg-Leg Pete come to life.

Million-dollar Dialog:

Radio announcer: “It’s becoming more and more difficult to verify our information. However, reports from Chicago and the Northwest indicate that the Arctic Ocean is rushing from Hudson Bay and overflowing the Great Lakes. Chicago is doomed! Other broken messages indicate entire Mississippi basin sinking!”

The two most well-known faces in the entire cast don’t survive the opening sequence: Edward Van Sloan, two years after tangling with Dracula and Frankenstein, and Samuel S. Hinds, way before It’s a Wonderful Life, are scientists who have a good handle on what’s about to happen but little in the way of useful, sensible advice for finding shelter from the stormongous circumstance befalling the globe.

The Kino Lorber disc, produced in conjunction with Lobster Films of France, is a pretty good, complete print of this rare film, and includes commentary by Richard Harland Smith and a second obscure feature with Peggy Shannon, Back Page (1934).

Deluge is way better than we were expecting and the disc is highly recommended, one of our favorite releases of the year so far.