Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Noah built himself an arky arky

Over the weekend, I watche Noah's Ark, as I noticed it's available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive. (Note that the title is common enough that there are quite a few movies that will register hits, if you're looking to buy this at Amazon or whatnot.)

After a brief opening about the original Bible story, we fast forward to 1914. Travis (George O'Brien) and Al (Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, credited here as Gwynn and with no "Big Boy") are two idle Americans traveling around Europe. If you notice the date, that's when World War I began, so you can guess that the war is going to play a big part in the movie. As the two men are traveling on a train near the Franco-German border, the train derails, and the two rescue young Maria (Dolores Costello) from the train. The only thing is, she's German, and pretty much just as they're rescuing her war is declared. There's a Russian espionage agent Nickoloff (Noah Beery), and he wants to arrest her since he thinks she's spying for Germany.

Travis and Marie (rechristened Mary) fall in love and idle around Paris, while Al gets ticked and thinks he should fight in the war. Al enlists, and eventually Travis follows him. Mary is left to fend for herself, becoming a showgirl and getting spotted by Nickoloff. Travis, however, gets trapped in a cellar somewhere in Belgium, at which point a clergyman who just happened to be on train that crashed all the way back at the beginning of the movie. He compares World War I to the Biblical deluge, and proceeds to tell the trapped people the story of Noah and the ark.

We get a cinematic view of that story with all the actors from the first part of the movie taking roles in the Biblical story. Travis becomes Japheth, one of Noah's sons; Al becomes Ham; Mary becomes Miriam, Japheth's beloved; and Nickoloff becomes Sumerian king Nephilim. Miriam is taken by the King's men to be a virgin sacrifice, while Japheth is forced to work in the mill as a slave. Then the rain comes, and everybody tries to escape to the ark.

The rain, as it turns out, was real; director Michael Curtiz created a hellacious deluge that injured quite a few extras. The movie is also a partial talkie; several of the scenes in the modern half are talking while the Ark sequence is silent. However, since it's Vitaphone, there's a synchronized music score and sound effects.

Overall, Noah's Ark is an interesting movie in parts, and the flood scene is certainly spectacular until you realize the human cost. However, the plot has far too many coincidences that turn the film into over-the-top melodrama at times. If this were in a box set, I'd give much more consideration to buying it; at Warner Archive prices, however, I think it's a bit too expensive for me.

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