Man as a creature has always been imperfect. After the great flood came the tower of Babel where man fractured into different beliefs. Then mankind worshipped a golden calf. In 1914 on the eve of the First World War man is still imperfect, still fractured in his beliefs and still worshipping a golden idol.
Travis (George O’Brien) and his buddy Al (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams) are on the Orient Express. There are several other passengers aboard. A minister (Paul McAllister), a German girl named Marie (Dolores Costello) a prisoner (Malcolm Waite) and a Russian named Nickoloff (Noah Beery). When the train derails the prisoner unlocks his chains from the dead officer and helps Travis and Al pull Marie out of the ruins. The passengers that are still alive go to a nearby lodge to rest.
At the lodge Nickoloff has intentions of raping Marie but Travis saves her. At that moment the French military comes in and says that war has been declared. Nickoloff gives up Marie as a German but Travis and Al whisk her away before they find her and head off to Paris.
In Paris Travis and Marie fall in love and get married. Al enlists as soon as America enters the war. Feeling guilty that Al joined Travis joins as well. Travis looses touch with Marie but meets up with Al. During a fight with the enemy Travis tosses a grenade in a German foxhole not knowing that Al is already in there holding a couple Germans at gunpoint. Al is killed.
Back in Paris Nickoloff sees Marie on stage as part of a dance troupe. He threatens to turn her in if she doesn’t agree to see him. Marie tries to slip out of Paris but is caught. Nickoloff frames Marie as a spy and she is sentenced to the firing squad. On the squad is Travis, her husband. Travis interrupts the squad before they can shoot. A German artillery shell opens up the ground and they are all buried in an underground catacomb. The minister that was giving last rites to the spies relates the story of the great flood and compares it to the events that caused the war and the lessons that have still not been heeded.
“Noah’s Ark” was released in 1928 and was directed by Michael Curtiz. It is an epic disaster film. The story was by Darryl F. Zanuck and it was produced by Warner Brothers. The film was made during the transition from silents to talkies. As such it is a hybrid film. Part of the film is talkie and part is silent with instrumental and sound effects accompaniment, known as a part-talkie. The sound portion was on a Vitaphone disc system.
The movie was originally going to be just a silent film. Talking sequences were added bring the released film to 135 minutes long. The talking parts of the film were directed by Roy Del Ruth. After the film premiered Warner Brothers cut it down removing a lot of the talking sequences. The film then ended up at 108 minutes. Eventually it was cut again to 75 minutes and released to television as a silent film with narration added. UCLA Film and Television Archives restored the film back to its 108 minute length including the overture and the exit music. It is believed that the original film of 135 minutes is now lost.
The comparison between WWI and Noah’s Ark in the film is tenuous at best. However, the way they present it makes it look plausible. The whole thing is well told and the visuals are extraordinary. The second half of the film is the story of the great flood the preacher tells to everyone buried underground.
The flood scene in the second half of the movie is reported to have been so great that three extras drowned, another had to have a leg amputated and many others had broken bones and other serious injuries. It led to changes in the safety regulations for stunts. 600,000 gallons of water were used for the scene which was quite an impressive special effect sequence.
John Wayne, Andy Devine and Ward Bond were among the hundreds of extras in the flood scene.
I did enjoy this film a lot. The only fly in the ointment was the filmmakers’ assumption that WWI would be the last war. But then this was 1928 when the film was made and the war to end all wars had been over for ten years. Still it’s a fascinating film. It’s full of action and has some unbelievable special effects for any time let alone 1928.