Plot: After a train wreck, two Americans traveling through France meet up with a German girl, who they help escape the chaos. Al (Guinn Williams) and Travis (George O’Brien) were just enjoying life and burning through cash, but they cross paths with Marie (Dolores Costello), sparks fly and right from the start, Travis finds himself head over heels. But when World War I begins, Marie’s German roots cause concerns for Travis, while Al enlists and eventually while Travis does join up, problems emerge for Marie in the wake of the conflict. She is accused of being aligned with the Germans and nearly put to death, before a twist of fate allows Travis to save her. But when the entire town is soon under heavy barrage and everyone is forced into hiding, it looks as if no one will survive the assault.
Entertainment Value: This screen epic from Michael Curtiz is infamous for the flood scene, which proves to be a spectacle that lives up to the reputation, though at a tragic cost. I’ve read that several extras drowned in the flood sequence and numerous others were injured, which led to drastic changes within the movie business. The flood scene is likely what will draw in most viewers, but there’s more to Noah’s Ark than that. If you have an interest in the period where cinema transitioned from silent to talkies, this movie is one you should seek out. This is a hybrid production, with some voiced scenes, but a lot of silent scenes as well, so a mix of narrative cards, voice work, and even some sound effects. Noah’s Ark also features an overture and exit music, which help bolster the atmosphere of an epic picture. About half an hour of the movie remains lost as of this review, most of which is reported to be talking scenes that weren’t effective, so most copies run about 108 minutes. The dual narrative is interesting and the cast is quite good, so the large scale set pieces are just one lure of Noah’s Ark, which I think is better than its reputation sometimes suggests. If you appreciate cinema epics, infamous movies, or historical curios, it is well recommended.
Although the movie’s grand set pieces are the real stars, especially the flood scenes and the train wreck, the cast is also quite enjoyable in Noah’s Ark. George O’Brien doesn’t show the most impressive thespian skills here, but he looks the part and has good screen presence. He is able to carry his performance via charm and charisma, as well as a voice that works well in the talking sections. That wasn’t a smooth transition for most performers, but O’Brien was a natural, I think. I think he’s a capable hunk here and for what the movie requires of him, that proves to be enough. Dolores Costello also has a prominent role and again, not the best performance in terms of technical merits, but she looks great and her eyes do a lot of work here. A notable small role in Noah’s Ark belongs to Myrna Loy, who doesn’t have much screen time, but she is memorable and she even has some lines. John Wayne was also said to be one of the myriad of extras during the flood scene, though you can’t pick him out, of course. The cast also includes Louise Fazenda and Noah Beery, while Michael Curtiz directs.