A professional swimmer survives the end of the world but drowns in her jealous greed for a married man. DELUGE may be one of the very first Post-Apocalypse films to depict not only the destruction of New York City in miniature detail but the rag-tag collection of humanity as it descends into anarchy. It’s rather brutal at times (We see a savaged woman, raped and hog-tied whom we only glimpse in extreme close-up) and yet wholesome in its portrait of other women who miraculously manage perfect hair and makeup! It denounces anarchy as the Commune in the final act encourages democracy but it’s a hard-won victory.
The story is thrust upon us from the very first moment as a scientist declares a major storm is coming while checking a barometer. Soon, an Eclipse causes earthquakes that rattle the continent as the West Coast falls into the sea and the Gulf of Mexico devours coastal states (or so we’re told via scientists and radio announcements). As the earthquakes extend towards New York City, we are introduced to the three characters who shall be our focus in the next two Acts: Professional swimmer Claire and the married couple Martin and Helen (and their two children). The couple flee from their crumbling home to the apparent safety of a quarry and Claire just treads water, I suppose. It’s never explained exactly how they survived as the Second Act begins but Martin and Helen are separated and both assume the other dead.
The miniature destruction of New York City is awe inspiring especially for an early Pre-Code drama. Even though it isn’t Ray Harryhausen stop-motion magic, the disintegration of NYC by earthquake and tsunami is brilliantly realized in slow-motion and detailed close-up as skyscrapers break apart and collapse onto throngs of panicked citizens. The huge wave that follows crashes into the rubble as only the Statue of Liberty remains standing, arm raised in defiance against the wrath of god. The devastation lasts for a good five minutes of screen-time until every last building is swallowed by the sea. The strident score’s continuous riptide is overwhelming and is like a thunderclap in a storm of strings and brass. The entire film is scored with this non-diegetic music which, in my experience of early talking pictures, is rare.
Of course Claire and Martin discover one another after she escapes from two men who fight to the death for access to her dissenting body. Soon a mob of entitled white men descend upon the pair as they hide out in a cave, their desire for ownership of her sex their only goal. But another group of survivors from a nearby settlement appear just in time to save our weary protagonists. So Claire and Martin fall in love but they soon discover that Helen and the children have survived and are part of the commune. A happy reunion turns sour as Claire feels pushed aside, her possessive love dominating her instincts. Helen even understands and approaches Claire to form a bond, to share their feelings (and possibly Martin) but Claire is too angry, her good conscience submerged in the deluge of jealousy.
Martin is elected leader by the group which is trying to create a new stable democratic government by vote, but it’s unclear if women and the black survivors are included in this new constitution. Could it be the dawning of a new era of equality, or will the new Boss be the same as the old Boss? Claire gives up and strips to her birthday suite, swimming away to a sure death. She could have inherited the Earth but she didn’t want to share it.
Final Grade: (B)