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Kudos to all involved for restoring this screen epic, Michael Curtiz's American Directing Debut. He definitely pulls out all the stops on this one! For those familiar with the Biblical account of Noah and the Ark, some extra bits of information are included such as Noah's son Japheth being blinded and forced to push a huge stone mill as punishment for attempting to rescue his lady-friend from being sacrificed. And God appearing to Noah as a burning bush and telling him of the flood via a huge book of stone tablets--a very cool scene, by the way. These parts of the story are only found in the rare "DFZ" version of the Bible. These variances do nothing to hurt the film however, as it's strong anti-war message comes through. How ironic though to see them speak of WWI as the last war, and that the covenant of peace would now shine throughout the world. A wonderful sentiment, one that too few people seem to hold dear.
Michael Curtiz' direction is of such exceptional calibre that one is completely absorbed into the parallel stories from the first to last frame. Everything about this late silent (it is a part talkie with two talking sequences mid way through)is exceptional- the sets, the editing, the special effects, the writing, the earnest performances from all in the cast (especially Dolores Costello). Why it is not hailed along with other anti-war classics of the silent screen (FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE, BIG PARADE, WINGS) is difficult to understand. I viewed the restored print of 100 minutes that was a joint effort of a number of archives, domestic and foreign, and played on TCM. (It originally premiered at 135 minutes and a shorter 75 minute version was re-released in the 1970s). For anyone who loves silent film, epics, or just plain exceptional film making, this is a must-see.
The film which cemented versatile director Curtiz' reputation in Hollywood is a part-Talkie spectacular which, despite the title, is not entirely concerned with the famous holocaust depicted in the Old Testament. Rather, it purports to parallel the Deluge with the massive losses in human life incurred during the so-called Great War; in that respect, NOAH'S ARK survives not merely as a solid example of late 1920s film craftsmanship but also as a heartfelt morality play delineating the long-lasting effect of that particular combat upon society pity that, for all its good intentions, a second (and infinitely harsher) World War would be waged in the space of just 11 years! Anyway, to get back to the topic at hand, I knew the film enjoyed a considerable reputation among epic productions of the Silent era but, aware of the fact that the Biblical tale was only illustrated in the form of a vision (lasting for about 40 of its 100 minutes) embedded within the main plot, I had expected to be disappointed by it. However, we open on a remarkably elaborate prologue (superbly-edited in the contemporary Soviet style) and the WWI sequences themselves are well done (featuring even a spectacular train crash early on) and prove surprisingly absorbing in their own right (especially the interaction between the four protagonists Noah Beery, Dolores Costello, George O'Brien and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams). Incidentally, all four (and a few others) play additional roles in the Noah story; this section is done on a truly grand scale, in clear imitation of Cecil B. DeMille (with a couple of obvious nods to THE TEN COMMANDMENTS  which, coincidentally, I watched 2 days later!) with the flood itself still highly impressive after all these years and undoubtedly deserving to be ranked among the finest sequences in all of cinema (though controversy still rages about the apparent disregard for the consideration and safety of those involved with three extras reportedly drowning and several more getting injured during its shooting)!
A young American living in France suffers severe emotional
trauma after joining the Army during the First World War.
Eventually he gains enormous comfort after listening to
saintly old Minister relate the story of NOAH'S ARK & The
Deluge, showing that the evils of the present day will also
This movie epic is a wonderful viewing experience, with plenty of romance & excitement. Warner Brothers lavished a great deal of money on the film - and it shows. Produced right at the very cusp of the talkie era, this is a mostly silent film with some talkie sequences - which makes it quite fascinating from a technological point of view.
While perhaps it would be easy to laugh at the somewhat gauche vocal efforts of some of the cast, this would be to miss the point. Talking pictures were brand new & the entire society of movie actors were scrambling to learn how to perform in the perplexing new medium. NOAH'S ARK shows the best efforts of these particular actors at that time. Actually, Noah Beery, as the villain, uses his dramatic deep voice to good effect.
It was a favorite convention in lavish film epics of the 1920's to tell two concurrent stories: one modern & moralistic, the other from some far distant -and decadent- past. (DeMille tried this format more than once.) This gave the filmmaker the opportunity to both preach & serve-up generous quantities of sin. It also gave the actors, as here, the chance to play dual roles - each used as a counterpoint to the other.
Rugged George O'Brien & sweet Dolores Costello do fine work as the romantic leads in both stories. Guinn Williams is a stalwart support to O'Brien. Noah Beery is detestable as the wicked villain, and Paul McAllister is memorable as the Minister/Noah. Young Myrna Loy has a small part as a dancer.
Scriptural purity is not entirely adhered to in the Noah scenes; elements from the stories of Moses & Samson are interpolated and far more attention is given to the evil outside the Ark than what went on inside it. The thrilling Deluge scenes are truly epic, however, and were just as dangerous to the extras as they appear.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I viewed this film this week on a tape I made about 20 years ago. I had not watched it since. Darryl Francis Zanuck (!), who wrote the script, used a familiar device of paralleling "modern" and a "historic" plots. in a more condensed form than Griffith had used the device in Intolerance; however, the parallels were just about as loosely drawn: comparison of World War I(a metaphorical "deluge") with the Biblical deluge that overwhelmed the world. It was interesting that the modern plot also ended like a Griffith film, with what turned out to be the vain vision of the coming of a world without war, as in Birth of a Nation. All that being given, one must say that the two parallel plots were equally well handled. The modern plot of three young people caught up in the war may have been clichéd, but it was so persuasively acted by Dolores Costello, George O'Brien, Noah Beery and, to my surprise Guinn Williams, who never before or after had an equal opportunity to demonstrate his capability as an actor. (His death scene was performed with both a masculine dignity and a display of his masculine love toward his buddy.) In my opinion, the friendship was handled better than the contemporary bond in Wings. Of course, the impact of the film, somewhat skewed by the clumsy interspersing of titles and spoken dialog, and its fame, will always rest upon the re-telling of the Noah legend. The delivery of the ten commandments, with the mountainside opening like a book, is extremely imaginative, even though it borrows from Moses'vision. But the impact of the advent of the flood has never been duplicated. It makes deMille's two-time separation of the Red Sea in a studio tank look weak. Of course, our later knowledge that several extras died in the cascade of water affects our reaction. However, one must say that no computer technology can ever match the sight of real water and real persons running for their lives. Actually, I'm rather ashamed that I can watch the scene and discuss it for its entertainment value. But I personally felt drained by the time the film ended. For me, it is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
The conclusion of the movie leaves a bitter taste in the mouth .In his
remake of his classic silent "J'accuse" (1937) ,Abel Gance too
proclaimed universal peace.It was not to be the last of all the wars
and men are still fighting at my time of writing.And there's another
flood "in which we are engulfed which is more treacherous and
persistent:the deluge of the mass production (and consummation)moves
inexorably forward ,capturing everything that walks in whirlpools" of
frozen food,rusted cars,DVDs and CDs,cans ,boxes ,hamburgers ,tons and
tons of Bumf (papers) ,growing in an exponential way...
Curtiz's movie was obviously intended to match the scale and quality (and commercial appeal)of De Mille'' "the ten commandments " .The structure is the same:a fine mixture of two stories ,a modern one (WW1,the deluge of blood)and a "biblical story" ,reversing De Mille's order .The connection between the two stories is perhaps tighter than in the 1924 work although in the first part of the movie the viewer may sometimes wonder what Curtiz is driving at.
The biblical story has been " expanded " ,which was necessary for Noah's story is rather short and not particularly eventful if spectacular. Curtiz borrowed a lot from De Mille in the scenes of the deluge and when God "writes" to Noah (using thunderbolt).But his deluge is superior to John Huston's "the animals went in two by two" sequence in "The Bible" (1967)
All in all,this is a very exciting show ,which features talking scenes ,including a whole version of "La Madelon" the Poilus' songs during WW1.The parade on the Champs D'Elysées with a painted Arc De Triomphe in the background and women throwing flowers when Travis sees Al marching on to war is a great moment.Melodrama reaches peaks of kitsch when the same is to execute ...his own wife ,condemned in mistake for spying.
When will we see Noah's dove?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Noah's Ark" was one of Warner Brothers most ambitious and spectacular
movies of the late 20s. It originally ran 2 hours and 15 minutes, but
when I saw it back in the 60s, it was just over 70 minutes. I can't
remember much about it other than being bowled over by the sheer
grandeur of it. It was a part talkie, but when Robert Youngson
re-edited it for re release in 1957, it was the talking sequences that
were eliminated. So the 1950s "Noah"s Ark" emerged as a silent movie
with a voice narration filling in the gaps. It was designed along the
lines of "Manslaughter"(1923) and "The Ten Commandments" (1923) - as a
split story drawing parallels between sin and salvation in the Biblical
days to youthful folly in the 'teens. So the famous story of Noah's ark
is sandwiched between a World War 1 romance between a German showgirl,
Mary (Dolores Costello) and an American soldier, Travis (George
O'Brien). Costello and O'Brien also play the parts of the two lovers,
Miriam and Japhet, in the Biblical story.
In my opinion the Biblical sequence was the most spectacular - the building of the Ark, the herding of the animals, the Tower of Babel and the massive destruction and flooding of the city, including the drowning of the jeering mob. Japhet has been blinded and is forced into a life of slavery on a treadmill - the flood sets him free to be guided by God to rescue Miriam, who was to be sacrificed on the altar to a pagan God - very stirring stuff.
Like a lot of silent films with added talking sequences, dialogue trivialized the characters and situations. This occurred in the modern story where a beautiful romance was made banal by long stretches of talk - about patriotism, how wonderful it is to be an American etc. Mary, who is German and at one point is reading a German newspaper on a train, suddenly starts to talk - Travis says to her "You will never be taken for a German spy, you talk just like an American"!! In another scene, a behind the scenes conversation between Myrna Loy and Mary. Loy kindly asks something like "Do you want to talk things over", to which Mary huffily responds "There are some things you'll never understand". Apart from Myrna Loy, who sounded completely at home with dialogue, Noah Beery (who played the villain in both sequences) was the one main star who really acted with his dialogue - he definitely had the type of voice you imagined his character to have. Beautiful Dolores Costello was Warner's top female star (it's top male star was Rin Tin Tin). Before "The Jazz Singer' saved it, Warners was not the powerful studio that it became in the 30s. Costello seemed completely at home in these extravaganzas, in which the only acting required was to look helpless and lovingly into the hero's eyes.
The director, Michael Curtiz, was bought to the U.S. in 1926 and had a dictatorial reputation. Chief cameraman Hal Mohr left the film prior to completion because he felt that the handling of the flood scenes and the destruction of the massive sets were a danger to life and wanted safety precautions set in place. Curtiz said extras "would have to take their chances" and as a result several extras drowned.
One year before Jean Harlow caught the eyes of two war-embittered
soldiers in "Hell's Angels" (1930), this gigantic, vivacious,
masterfully scored drama hit theaters. It was the most expensive film
of the early sound era up to that time. Thanks to TCM and numerous film
archives who pitched in for the restoration, we are now able to
treasure it further for future generations to behold. Mike Curtiz was a
tyranical perfectionist and put everything he had into this picture as
he did with every such as "Casablanca" (1942), "The Adventures of Robin
Hood" (1938), "Mystery of The Wax Museum" (1933), etc. There is always
something big in his pictures, whether it cost $2 or $2,000,000 to produce, his imaginative genius and careful observation make his end results all the more astonishing. One of the even greater things about this picture is it's score. God bless Louis Silvers for writing it. Silvers also conducted the same Vitaphone orchestra that scored "The Jazz Singer" (1927) which also sported some pretty awesome tunes. The love theme is definitely one to behold. The cast is very nicely cast. George O'Brien makes a nice talkie transition with his suave and cunning voice that makes him sound 5 years younger. Noah Beery's voice was even better; deep, deceptive, conniving. Dolores Costello?
She's alright, nothing eye-candyish about her but, she's alright. Altogether, this picture is one that I believe needs more frequent distribution because of how important it was in it's time as a form of entertainment, but now for a play in modern-day morality. A must for everyone!
... was my reaction and my desire when I sat through the painful
talking portions of this movie. The dialogue was uninspired if not just
plain weird and Delores Costello has never sounded more ridiculous.
I'll chalk that up to the dialogue coach, since so many early female
vocal performances in films sounded similarly falsely aristocratic.
She's supposed to be a singer/dancer in a vaudeville-like troupe and
they have her speaking like she's the queen of England? See Ms.
Costello in Magnificent Ambersons if you want to know what she really
I still give this film an 8/10 though. As a spectacle film in the De Mille tradition done by Warner Brothers before they had truly emerged into the studio big leagues, it is a sight to behold. No special effects here - those are real buildings falling on real extras and real water pouring onto them. I know director Michael Curtiz had a reputation for holding in great disdain actors who required a lunch break, but you'd think that he at least realized they require oxygen.
The silent style of the players is pretty good. In fact, so good there are a dearth of title cards in the silent portion, since everyone is so adept at conveying their feelings through pantomime. The Vitaphone musical score accompanies the action well and the introduction to the film is particularly well done with water swirling around, sound effects, and the rather haunting musical introduction.
There's some historically interesting points of view being shown here too. Filmed in 1928 over a year before the stock market crash there is a rather prescient visual montage at the beginning of the film equating stock brokers and their obsession with money with the worship of the golden calf of biblical times. However, the end of the film has a moral that is not so prescient - basically equating World War I as that wasteful pointless war to end all wars when a much more horrible conflict was a little more than ten years away.
I'd highly recommend this one for two reasons. For the parts that are silent it is quite a work of visual art. For the parts that are talking it is a good example of how studios were so obsessed with sound that art was thrown out the window in the process, at least for a year or two. I'd rate this as one of my favorite although somewhat guilty cinematic pleasures.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
No matter how good this silent movie is, it could never make up for the
horribly tragic deaths of several extras due to an indifferent director
and studio. When I saw the incredibly spectacular flood scenes, I
couldn't help but think about this...as three died to make these
The film is not exactly a film about the flood. Like DeMille's first "Ten Commandments", the Biblical tale is only a small portion of the film--and much of the rest of the film is a heavy-handed contemporary story that only tangentially relates to the Bible. The bulk of the story is about WWI and the film compares this to the flood(!)--about how man's inhumanity that lead to the flood is the same as what lead to the war. And, like the promise of no more earth-covering floods, the film makers were bold enough to promise that with the end of WWI that there would be no wars!! They go so far as to say that the death of over 10,000,000 in the war was NOT in vain! Wishful thinking...especially in light of WWII and countless other wars since! On top of this, the WWI sequence is filled with one amazing one in a million occurrence after another--such as George O'Brien meeting his bestest buddy on the battlefield AND accidentally killing him only minutes later AND having the friend (Guinn Williams) die in his arms! The coincidences were too many to believe and are the result of bad writing--a problem through much of the film.
The film goes back and forth several times from the time of Noah to the present. It also throws in several Bible stories that occurred AFTER Noah--and I assume this is because the writers didn't do their homework. There are also one crazy spectacular scene after another--great to look at but poorly written as well, as much of it was just confusing hogwash.
A few things to look for (other than amazing special effects for 1928) are the idea of the same characters in WWI playing the sons of Noah and one of their wives. The most prominent of these women is played by Delores Costello--a huge silent star who became one of several wives for John Barrymore (and grandmother of Drew). Also, the scene where O'Brien looks up to Heaven as the rain falls is used on Turner Classic Movies' intro for Silent Sundays.
For the most part, the special effects are THE movie. The story itself is confusing, preachy and nonsensical at times. But, in a bizarre way it's all still very entertaining...but hardly a film for the general public. Christians may well object to the fast and loose way the film mixes up the Biblical account as well as creates a lot of back story for Noah's children--from where it got this, I have no idea. Atheists, on the other hand, probably won't like the film because of the whole notion of a world-wide flood and God. So, as a result, much of the potential audience for this film is negated in the process! Overall, confusing, weird yet pretty exciting at times.
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