Deluge (1933) – the first disaster film to wipe out New York City

1933 saw King Kong scale the Chrysler building and a Film where New York City was completely destroyed by an unexplained earthquake and tsunami. This film was thought to be completely missing until an Italian dub surfaced in 1981. The film is also a departure form the disaster fare we have today in that the catastrophe opens the film and the remainder of the story is the survivors coping with the circumstances.

Deluge is a film with a strange history. Produced independently by a small outfit called Admiral Productions, Incorporated; sold to RKO (who were looking for a suitable cash-in follow-up to King Kong); and released during August of 1933 to a mixed but generally positive critical response, the film went through a successful cinema run and then, apparently, vanished from the face of the planet. The only evidence of the film’s existence lay in the vivid memories of those who had witnessed the cinematic destruction of New York during Deluge’s first and only run, and in the occasional reappearance of that spectacular special effects footage, which somehow ended up in the possession of Republic Pictures, and was integrated by that notoriously penny-pinching studio into a number of films and serials, most famously the climactic episode of 1949’s King Of The Rocket Men. Otherwise, Deluge seemed to have joined the tragic ranks of “the lost film”, until the serendipitous discovery of what is to all evidence the sole surviving print of it by the late Forest Ackerman, during a visit to a cinema archive in Rome during 1981 – which explains why all existing copies of the film are dubbed in Italian. English subtitles were subsequently added to the dialogue, but such internal signifiers as signs and newspaper headlines – and, for that matter, the film’s titles – remain untranslated; an arrangement that adds a distinctly surreal edge to a contemporary viewing of what is indisputably the progenitor of all modern-day disaster movies.

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