Noah’s Ark (1928)

“This War — it is a Deluge of Blood drowning a World of Hate!”

Synopsis:
On the eve of World War I, two friends (George O’Brien and Gwynn Williams) meet a beautiful young German girl (Dolores Costello), who O’Brien marries; when both men enlist, Costello becomes prey to the evil intentions of a Russian official (Noah Beery), who accuses her of being a spy when she refuses his advances. Meanwhile, in a parallel story set during Biblical times, Noah (Paul McAllister) and his three sons (George O’Brien, Gwynn Williams, and Malcolm Waite) build an ark as defense against an impending flood sent by God, who is angry that a king (Noah Beery) has turned himself into a false god.

Genres:

Review:
After years of making silent films in his native Hungary, Michael Curtiz was given a chance to direct this epic Hollywood disaster flick, which remains an historical curiosity simply for its status as a hybrid silent-talkie film (with just a handful of scenes utilizing the Vitaphone process to record voices). Unfortunately, the movie itself is disappointingly “hybrid” in another way: rather than focusing exclusively on its titular topic (which is what most audience members would surely be curious to see), the first hour or so of the screenplay is spent telling a decidedly insipid “modern” tale set during World War I, meant to draw tenuous parallels between the horrors of War and the rampant godlessness which brought lethal flooding to all but a handful of God-fearing folk during the Biblical era. However, it’s not until we see our lead actors donning Biblical garb and experiencing life under the rule of evil King Nephiliu (Beery) that the action becomes truly exciting — particularly, of course, once the Great Flood unleashes its power upon the heathens. This sequence is remarkably dramatic, and one shudders to think about the lives that were purportedly lost during its filming.

Note: As in Clarence Brown’s Flesh and Fantasy (1926), there is some undeniable homoerotic tension between the two lead actors in this film (O’Brien and Williams); was this sort of male bonding viewed differently in an earlier era, I wonder?

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine cinematography


  • Impressive historical sets

  • The highly effective flood sequence

Must See?
No — though the flood sequence is certainly impressive, and worth a look. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Noah’s Ark (1928)”

  1. First viewing. A once-must but mainly for the undeniably powerful sequences near the end, for the film’s place in cinema history – and, well, frankly, the homo-eroticism. 😉

    I’m in rather complete agreement here, so there’s little to add. All of the war stuff is more or less…meh. ~nothing we haven’t seen done to better effect in other war films of the period. (I must say, though…O’Brien and Williams make an exceedingly handsome…ahem…’couple’. Some of their tenderness with each other is downright dreamy!) And much of the biblical stuff is a bit too precious as well. (God writing in fire for pages and pages of a gigantic notebook comes off as slightly silly, especially as the pages turn.)

    Costello, sadly, hardly registers – tho she’s convincing when held standing in chains. (Myrna Loy can be seen with Costello in a brief bit, already effective even with next-to-nothing to do!)

    The climactic scenes are utterly gripping – almost freakishly so. They do make the film worth sitting through.

    Overall, the film is unfortunately schizophrenic and it’s too bad that the whole middle really doesn’t gel with what we’re led to believe will be the film’s theme. Seems a case of too many cooks in the production kitchen. But Curtiz’s skill is clearly already in evidence here.

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