Review

  • Warning: 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.

    Highly Recommended.