23 July 2000 | Ron Oliver
Forgotten Biblical Epic
A young American living in France suffers severe emotional trauma after joining the Army during the First World War. Eventually he gains enormous comfort after listening to a saintly old Minister relate the story of NOAH'S ARK & The Great Deluge, showing that the evils of the present day will also be washed away.
This movie epic is a wonderful viewing experience, with plenty of romance & excitement. Warner Brothers lavished a great deal of money on the film - and it shows. Produced right at the very cusp of the talkie era, this is a mostly silent film with some talkie sequences - which makes it quite fascinating from a technological point of view.
While perhaps it would be easy to laugh at the somewhat gauche vocal efforts of some of the cast, this would be to miss the point. Talking pictures were brand new & the entire society of movie actors were scrambling to learn how to perform in the perplexing new medium. NOAH'S ARK shows the best efforts of these particular actors at that time. Actually, Noah Beery, as the villain, uses his dramatic deep voice to good effect.
It was a favorite convention in lavish film epics of the 1920's to tell two concurrent stories: one modern & moralistic, the other from some far distant -and decadent- past. (DeMille tried this format more than once.) This gave the filmmaker the opportunity to both preach & serve-up generous quantities of sin. It also gave the actors, as here, the chance to play dual roles - each used as a counterpoint to the other.
Rugged George O'Brien & sweet Dolores Costello do fine work as the romantic leads in both stories. Guinn Williams is a stalwart support to O'Brien. Noah Beery is detestable as the wicked villain, and Paul McAllister is memorable as the Minister/Noah. Young Myrna Loy has a small part as a dancer.
Scriptural purity is not entirely adhered to in the Noah scenes; elements from the stories of Moses & Samson are interpolated and far more attention is given to the evil outside the Ark than what went on inside it. The thrilling Deluge scenes are truly epic, however, and were just as dangerous to the extras as they appear.