Michael Curtiz was imported to the US by Warners on the strength of the epics he’d made in Austria in the early 20s. Were they all this strange? I said something recently about the oddness of the part-talkie in the early days of the sound film, and this is an example of that curious form, but it would’ve been an eccentric beast anyway as a silent. It’s actually mostly well done, but god/dess what material Curtiz had to work with. A bit over ten years since I first (and last) saw this, it hasn’t got any less preposterous with time; a melange of WW1 action, romantic melodrama, and Biblical spectacle, fuelled by religiosity, narrative contrivances of towering absurdity, tenuous plot linkages, and moments of genuinely moving power. None of these are in either of the two talking sequences, and we may be glad only two were kept; of the half hour of material missing from the film since it was cut for general release in 1929, I gather most of it was more talking scenes and we perhaps needn’t regret their loss. The mix of ancient and modern is like what DeMille used to do at that time, though less well-managed, and the wartime business in the first hour is a bit of a drag. Once the film goes into Genesis territory, though, we’re in the presence of vintage old-school Hollywood blockbuster, especially once the flood gets underway (three extras supposedly drowned in the flood; amazing to think only three did so); it’s an exceptionally fair imitation of DeMille’s own Biblical extravaganzas (and about as Biblically precise). If the talking scenes were problematic at best, then the Biblical ending to the film reminds you just how good silent film could be at delivering sheer massive bloody spectacle, and just about redeems the problems of the first two-thirds of the film.
Noah’s Ark (1928)