There Will Be Flood

FLOODS OF FEAR, rather nicely directed by Charles Crichton (THE BATTLE OF THE SEXES, A FISH CALLED WANDA), is a B-thriller with an A budget, and an intriguing mix of good and bad qualities, both of which are equally entertaining at times.

Good qualities — escaped convicts taking charge of a flooded house during a destructive deluge in Canada: it’s a great dramatic situation. The cast is strong and the budget surprisingly fulsome, offering convincing special effects, both life-sized and miniature (and you generally can’t see the join).

Even though the central set-up in the film’s first third — convicts menace cute girl — is a little Victorian in its implications, there’s room for suspense and the film isn’t afraid of being exploitative and vulgar, which is somehow refreshing in a British movie of the 50s. And for a former Ealing director like Crichton to go as racy and pulpy as this is quite surprising.

Bad qualities — restlessly, the movie shifts out of the half-submerged house, dissipating suspense and pursuing a more complicated but less interesting narrative, rooted in a convoluted backstory we never see. But all his forgiven during the violent climax, set in a flooded shipping office.

Also — crummy title.

The most amusing bad quality, however, is the filming of a Canadian adventure story in England with English and Irish actors. In the lead, Howard Keel, in his first non-musical lead, is able to show the way with authentic North American vocalisations. Opposite him, the lovely Anne Heywood just plays it English, which is acceptable in the circumstances. Now the trouble starts. Cyril Cusack, as the psychopathic con, essays a dialect melding his own Irish tones with a rich blend of wildly different American sounds and mannerisms. These were the days before dialect coaching, when accents were largely expected to partake of the same generous suspension of disbelief that applied to rear-projected car journeys, bloodless stabbings, balsa barroom bannisters and people falling from high places who transformed into flailing, disarticulated dummies for the descent.

“Disarticulated” is actually a pretty good word for Cusack’s speech patterns — his voice belongs to a Frankenstein’s monster of American accents, with Tennessee legs supporting a Texas torso from which depend Brooklyn arms, the whole surmounted by an Irish-South African head, the bits strung together with fraying thread, flapping loosely as his performance plummets towards the murky waters below.

As hilarious as Cusack’s performance is, bundling together tics and tropes from a generation of sleazeball gangster characters, it pales next to that of Harry H Corbett, who is much funnier because his character, a stuffy prison guard, is more dignified, and because his accent, if we can even justify the use of the singular, is even worse than Cusack’s. In his very first sentence he manages to segue from Humphrey Bogart to Cary Grant. Grant, of course, had an accent unknown to Henry Higgins (“Nbody tawks like that!” as Jack Lemmon protests in SOME LIKE IT HOT), making it an unsuitable case for impersonation outside of a comedy. I think even if you were playing Cary Grant you might want to tone it down a bit.

“You dirty old man!”

Corbett was a serious stage actor at this point, remarked upon for his proletarian grit and manliness. How he wound up spending twelve years in a single sitcom is mysterious, but his ambition to be a great thespian informed his playing of Harold in Steptoe and Son, a study in frustration, disappointment, pretension, great dreams and lowly surroundings — perfect for a once-hot classical actor.

There’s nothing perfect about most of Corbett’s movie work, although he features in Gilliam’s JABBERWOCKY, Eric Sykes’ much-loved silent comedy THE PLANK, Mackendrick’s SAMMY GOING SOUTH, Joan Littlewood’s SPARROWS CAN’T SING, and of course CARRY ON SCREAMING. The rest tend to be dowdy British sex comedies of the kind clearly intended to put the British working man off sex for life, although COVER GIRL KILLER, made the same year as FLOODS, features an inventive and grotesque turn from Corbett, possibly patterned on Cusack’s pebble-glasses maniac in this movie.

Howard Keel is mainly staunch and shirtless as the stoic con with a tragic past — he has the kind of musculature, coated in soft flesh, that you just don’t see on leading men anymore. He’s holding his gut in all the time, like Mitchum or Shatner. But he cam move! That musical training pays off whenever he has to clamber or jump, suggesting that a deluge-based thriller is not actually the best vehicle for him. He could have played Burt Lancaster type swashbucklers, because he’s beautiful in motion.

Worth a look for the sheer spectacle and the hilarity of the Canadian accent drag acts. A good candidate for remake status, except that HARD RAIN kind of went there.

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36 Responses to “There Will Be Flood”

  1. The first still with the furniture floating looks a lot like TITANIC… near the end

  2. A real influence might have been A Night to Remember, which had just come out the previous year. That’s by some way the best Titanic movie, and just over half the length of Cameron’s arse-marathon.

    Some spectacular stuff in both films, I must say.

  3. Another influence for TITANIC seems to be the Negulesco TITANIC with Barbara Stanwyck, screenplay by Charles Brackett.

    My favourite is of course Borzage’s romance on sinking ship – History is Made at Night which was perhaps too esoteric for a non-cinephile like Cameron to know about.

    Getting back to Crichton, I love The Lavender Hill Mob. I must say although The Ladykillers is considered “the best”, I prefer Hamer’s films for Ealing and this small comedy(which has a terrific car chase near the end). The Crichton movie is fascinating because the bankrobbers are really banal types, far away from the Depression gangsters or the deadbeats of Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle(which launched the heist film genre) leave alone the glam crooks of modern heist films(of which Spielberg’s Ealing-esque Catch Me If You Can is an able example of).

  4. david wingrove Says:

    Believe it or not, a bizarre mix of inteterminate accents is fairly spot-on for Canada. I’ve been mistaken for everything BUT Canadian in my years of living abroad, not least by fellow Canadians. More or less the only thing that holds us together is our pride in not being American.

  5. I think the intermediates heard in this movie might surprise even you…

    It’s been too long since I watched The Lavender Hill Mob. The central joke is the middle class partaking of a traditionally working-class activity, the robbing of banks. There was an unacknowledged strain of rebellion always at work in Ealing. TEB Clarke’s most successful scripts tended to explore some common fantasy, whether it be independence from the workaday misery of post-war England in Passport to Pimlico, or a joyous and conscience-free descent into brazen criminality in LHM.

    John Cleese asked Crichton if he was the best Ealing director. “No, I was the second best. Sandy Mackendrick was the best.” I might put Hamer even higher, but only intermittently, and not so much for his visuals.

    I saw Cleese and Crichton introduce A Fish Called Wanda at the Film Fest here. Cleese introduced his buddy as “The oldest film director in captivity,” and the Crichton bounded onto the stage waving his walking stick and crying, “I’m not dead yet!” A quote from Monty Python and the Holy Grail…

  6. For me Mackendrick’s Ealing work is while interesting often missing in the poetic feeling you get in Hamer’s, especially Pink String and Sealing Wax which I consider a masterpiece(along with his other work like KH&C and IARIS.) I find The Man in the White Suit more interesting, it has a fable-quality to it, although I feel that the ending is a cop out and kind of defeats the purpose but Alec Guinness gives a wonderful performance.

    And also interesting about The Lavender Hill Mob is that save for the framing prologue(which has Audrey Hepburn’s very first movie appearance), the film is lacking in women. It’s a film that looks at criminality as escape and adventure but without any of the cynicism or post-modern irony or psychology of other films.

  7. Wingrove: A little disappointed to read of your “pride in not being American”. I take pride in being an American unlike most Americans, since I think the vast majority are pretty contemptible in their outlook. But I was born and raised here, so until the means and opportunity present themselves looks like I’ll be here a while.

  8. There’s something J.G. Ballard-ish about this movie.

  9. Yes, we go from The Monolith Monsters as a version of The Crystal World, to Floods of Fear as a progenitor of The Drowned World. And The Day the Earth Caught Fire makes a pretty good version of The Burning World.

    Guy, I know David has many American friends and isn’t anti-American in the sense of being prejudiced. I suspect Canadians like to feel distinct from their neighbo(u)rs, just as we Scots enjoy a certain smug feeling about not being English. Which is kind of weird, when you consider which is the more successful nation.

    All national pride tends to corrupt, is my feeling, although it’s not at heart a wholly negative thing.

  10. Sounds very interesting, even if Floods of Fear sounds like an uncomfortable urinary problem.

    I wonder from the description if the only film Dick Powell directed, Split Second from 1953, could also have been an influence on this film? That features the convict dragging a group into a deserted town in an atomic bomb testing range rather than a flooded town, but perhaps the dramatic beats could be similar.

    The brief discussion of Titanic above also allows me to link to the greatest dissection of James Cameron’s film that has ever been produced:

  11. Dick Powelldirected SIX films, including the one that killed him — The Conqueror

  12. Randy Cook Says:

    Aggie, despite what this scene may indicate, is about the only one who came away from this picture unscathed…in a non-carcinogenic sense.

    The Tartar Woman, of course, is beautiful in her wrath.

    David E, have you any of the riper one-liners handy to upload? I loaned my disc to someone in New Zealand and it disappeared. Love this film, in a kind of “If-Ed-Wood-Had-Money” way…

  13. I think I have the film on VHS but I haven’t actually watched it all. It has kind of the feeling of a slow, invisible snuff movie, as the cast gradually are irradiated to death before your eyes.

  14. Oops, my mistake :)

  15. It seems a shame that filming The Conqueror caused all that (and it proves the basic lesson of Split Second – make sure you check radition levels before you visit – wasn’t learnt!) as surely if the making of a film was to kill you, you’d want it to at least be in the service of a truly great and profound film, like Stalker.

  16. Anyway, in answer to your point, I think Split Second is a bit different because the convicts unexpectedly find themselves out of the frying pan into the fire. In Floods of Fear they’re employed to shore up a levee so that the flood actually causes them to get free, so then they’re on the loose in the middle of a national emergency. And then the story doesn’t stick to one place or group of characters but unwisely splits them up and drifts around before reuniting them for the climax.

    Split Second is a FANTASTIC plot idea.

  17. I saw The Conqueror, and the “if Ed Wood had money” quote Randy provided above was my reaction. Since years ago I liked the straightforward, modest The Enemy Below, I thought maybe another Dick Powell film was worth a look. I got The Conquerors just because it was available. Nobody died of embarrassment, but irradiation is almost as bad.

    If what was said about Powell (and Allyson) telling Reagan he should run for political office is true, I’d say he got what he deserved. I went through the California school system just as Reagan started stripping it of funding. It’s personal with me.

  18. I live three blocks from the site of the old RKO studio. A 1980s L.A. Times story about the radiation deaths from THE CONQUEROR said that the red desert earth and sand brought back from Utah to cover the floors of RKO sound stages, was given away to local nurseries when the film was finished. I’ve often wished I could drive around the neighborhood with a geiger counter, to see if I could find any irradiated traces …

    Oh Randy, a new DVD of THE CONQUEROR is readily available on Amazon, in a set with three or four other Wayne pictures, including the uproarious JET PILOT:

  19. John Seal Says:

    You forgot to mention Harry’s greatest role–as straight man to Sooty and Sweep!

    I kid, of course…I know that was the OTHER Harry Corbett, but I thought they were the same person for donkey’s years…

  20. Harry H adopted that middle initial to distinguish himself. Nowadays he’d have to change his name, according to union rules.

    Jet Pilot starts really well, like Sternberg making a comic book… but teh narrative and characterisation seems to disintegrate as it goes on. Having complained that there were too many fingers in the pie on Macao, Sternberg wrote of Jet Pilor, “and instead of fingers in that pie, a whole army of clowns rushed to immerse various portions of their anatomy in it.”

    Reagan was reportedly a very nice man. Which suggests that stupidity may be a more destructive force than evil. In any case, his advisors were undoubtedly swine.

  21. The H stood for “Hanyfink”

  22. There’s another SPLIT SECOND, which is set in a flooded version of London. There is a monster in it. Also Rutger Hauer.

  23. A number of years back I heard of a documentary beign made about the shooting of The Conqueror and its aftermath. The working title was The Downwinders. Not sure what became of it.

  24. It seems like a compelling story to tell. The nursery school connection is just incredible. Of course, it would be kind of a downer…

    I’ve seen Rutger’s Split Second, which also stars Kim Cattrall. Who was the English co-star? The producers hyped the teaming of RH with this unknown, saying their chemistry was so great they were going to make a whole series with the pair. They didn’t, of course.

    I believe the monster was a giant rat.

  25. Whatever nice man Reagan might have been, his devastation of K-12 schools was pretty bad. Imagine being a kid in elementary school in the gifted program with a good ear for music (I could do the Hawaii Five-O theme on a baritone in the fourth grade), reduced to having to buy my own instrument on entry into junior-high school due to budget cuts. Our family couldn’t afford it. I was too young to have a paper route to buy one on time (I don’t know if my parents would have cosigned anyway). Too demoralized to go on, I didn’t play a musical instrument again until well out of high school, and didn’t learn how to read music properly until in university. Yes, I blame Reagan for that.

    Funny-but-true story. While governor, Reagan lived less than a mile and a half from my house. I used to canvas his neighborhood to sell Little League raffle tickets. One of the richest neighborhoods in the city, and one of the cheapest as far as charity. Never went to Reagan’s house. Couldn’t get near it for all the guards.

    Jet Pilot – when I saw that back in the ’80s, I thought either von Sternberg was crazy or senile. I didn’t learn until later the amount of interference involved in that production.

  26. The bits that feel Sternbergian were all at the beginning for me — Janet Leigh opening her jumpsuit to the sound of jets roaring overhead… but it’s a 50s va-va-voom Sternberg, not the JVS of old. And soon the film devolves into total incoherence.

    Reagan cut all kinds of programs, savagely. The problem is slavery to an ideology, leading to blindness in the face of evidence of harm. He could tell himself it would all be alright in the end, and he was devoted to simplistic ideas. The notorious Laffer Curve is a good example.

  27. The other guy is Neil Duncan. He’s from Edinburgh!

    They haven’t bothered to showcase much of that sizzling chemistry in the trailer.

    The monster is partly rat but mostly it is a lot of confusing DNA nonsense.

  28. Hmm, he’s now Alastair Duncan and does lots of voice work.

    Reminds me, I have some more news on my Vox Project, involving Larry Olivier.

  29. Tony Williams Says:

    David C, FLOODS OF FEAR was not Howard Keel’s first non-musical lead. He also appeared in his first film, a little known British film noir, titled THE STILL VOICE (1948). However, FLOODS OF FEAR is one of these films I only saw once on UK TV and not completely. Basically, I agree with your criticisms but what also remains in my mind is the role of the villain played by John Crawford who castigates the police for their inefficiency in not getting Keel and remarks “Each time this (implement) crashes, I lose a thousand dollars. He gives a great performance as the villain at bay and the fight between he and Keel could have become very memorable.

    The casting was less problematic that his role as a Manchester gangster in HELL IS A CITY. I wonder if he decided to work in the UK to escape the McCarthy climate in the USA?

  30. Tony Williams Says:

    What the hell is going on? I’ve just had a message asking me to subscribe and I thought I’ve already done so? Anyway, while I’m delaying collecting tax information I thought I’d comment on SPLIT SECOND. Although flawed towards the latter part, I thought it contains one of Rutger’s better performances in these low-budget films he seems confined to these days.

  31. Yes, Rutger seems to have woken up and enjoyed himself for SS. As I was saying, Hauer has been neglected — I don’t know if booze and drugs made him unreliable, but he should have been a bigger star. He was always more entertaining than the leading men he played opposite as a bad guy.

    The Small Voice looks interesting!

    Agree that Crawford is good. He’s effective in Hell is a City but his inappropriate accent is an undeniable problem. Nevertheless, I love HIAC so much I stole Stanley Baker’s character name for the detective in my film Cry for Bobo.

  32. Tony Williams Says:

    Crawford was very good in quite a number of British movies before he returned to Hollywood to appear in one STAR TREK episode and an unforgettable role in NIGHT MOVES, a still of which appeared on the cover of the contemporary MONTHLY FILM BULLETIN.

  33. Watching Rutger Hauer garotte a skier in a mini convinced me of George Clooney’s genius as a director. It’s the first thing I think of now whenever his name comes up.

  34. Damn, time I saw those again. Have forgotten Crawford AND Hauer! I wasn’t crazy about Clooney’s first, although it was beautifully shot. But I love Night Moves. I guess I never remember the storyline though.

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