Copyright 28 May 1929 by Warner Brothers Pictures. Talking sequences and music score by Vitaphone. Hollywood premiere: 1 November 1928. U.S. release: 15 June 1929. Silent version released 27 July 1929. 11 reels. 9,507 feet. 105 minutes. (Silent version: 9,058 feet). New York opening at the Winter Garden: 12 March 1929. (Available on a superb Warner Archive DVD that runs an amazing 108 minutes).
NOTES: Reportedly three extras drowned in the flood sequence, but these stories may be apocryphal. Certainly cinematographer Hal Mohr so objected to the extras being placed in danger, he walked off the set in protest and was replaced by Barney McGill.
Negative cost was around $2 million, only part of which was recovered at the box-office, mainly due to extremely negative reviews.
COMMENT: I think it fair to say that "Noah's Ark" is a typical example of the silent film spectacle. Masses of extras are often impressively marshaled in awesomely impressive sets and on the whole the action and "spectacle" scenes still evoke wonder and excitement.
Curtiz's direction not only has verve and pace but moments of glory. The movie is by no means the total write-off derided by many contemporary critics.
In fact, I wouldn't write it off at all except for the hammy performance of Paul McAllister. He is simply plain awful in the modern story, but as Noah he is not just awful but derisive, insulting and so highly offensive, one wonders how such a deliberately, wickedly inaccurate portrait ever got past even the most liberal-minded censor.
The Bible itself presents Noah as a robust, strong-minded, fearless drinking man in the prime of life, not a sanctimonious old goat. Admittedly, the writers got the "fearless" right. And I can understand their reluctance at the height of Prohibition to present Noah as a drinking man, even though the Bible does so. God describes Noah as "righteous", not as sanctimonious.
The Bible writers also go out of their way to tell us that Noah and his wife, and their sons and their wives were VEGETERIANS; Noah and his family did not eat any of the animals in the ark. It was only after the flood had subsided and because all vegetation had been destroyed that God relaxed this rule. So the clothes that Noah's sons wear are probably wrong too. They don't look like cotton garments to me.
Nonetheless, despite the movie's title, Noah doesn't figure in the picture all that much. Aside from McAllister, I thought the players acquitted themselves well.
However, I'm amazed the Warner Brothers were able to get away with their extremely negative view of the U.S. army and the movie's finger-pointing depiction of incompetent army brass not only at the climax but even earlier on in the story. No wonder the movie was soon hidden away and never re-issued in its complete version.
REVIEWS from newspapers and magazines of 1929: "An idiotic super- spectacle with parallel Old Testament and Jazz Age sequences — Moses against Scott Fitzgerald... Widely conceded to be the worst picture ever made." — Alva Johnson, The New Yorker.
"A solid bore, with a very second rate war story in which everything from The Big Parade to date has been shabbily copied." — New York Post.
"You never saw so much rain in your life... A wet blanket — just plain awful." — Los Angeles Times.
"Frequently borders on the ridiculous... After sitting through this cumbersome production, one feels that it is a great test of patience." — Mordaunt Hall, New York Times.
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