Completest that I am, I have made it my business to own on DVD every key disaster movie released to theaters from 1970 to 1980 (except City on Fire, 1979, which I've yet to get my hands on and Tidal Wave, 1973, which I don't count – and haven't seen.) Recently, I discovered an online special in which I could select any three Warner Archive movies for $33.00 and decided to jump off the cliff, so to speak, and also become the owner of Flood! (1976), Fire (1977) and Cave-In! (1983), TV-movie catastrophes produced by “Master of Disaster” Irwin Allen. I'd seen these in their original airings (and perhaps once since), but eagerly awaited revisiting them lo these many years later to see how they held up.
Flood! (imaginatively titled, just like these other two classics!) was made as a series pilot, with the intention of pairing a small airplane pilot and a helicopter pilot in a series of weekly dramas and adventures. In the end, the concept was abandoned and so we were left with just the set-up, which happened to involve the destruction of an entire town (so we're informed... we only ever see little side bits and the aftermath, never anything resembling the actual event!)
Robert Culp stars as a helicopter pilot who freelances jobs such as transporting wealthy people from here to there for a fee. His buddy Martin Milner is an airplane pilot in Brownsville, Oregon, where Culp has just dropped off a customer (Roddy McDowall, in a shockingly brief appearance.) Milner is engaged to a pretty local nurse, played by Barbara Hershey (seventeen years his junior, by the way.)
Hershey's little brother, Eric Olson, is traipsing about the area fishing when he heads up the side of an earthen, rock-covered dam. He notices a spurt of water coming through (caused by recent heavy rains which have caused the lake to rise and increase pressure.) Suddenly, another, more violent, spurt pops out and knocks him to the ground where he is knocked unconscious and cut on the head. Culp lands his helicopter, offers him his bandana as a bandage and then sends him walking on!!
Back at the hospital, Culp is romancing nurse Francine York (who seems hell bent on keeping her face as waxenly immobile as possible, even during the later distress!) Here we see him in a pair of those blessedly worn '70s jeans which seemed to show off men's packages to great effect.
Milner believes that the dam is going to burst and consults with a local sage about it before taking on the staid town council. Richard Basehart (Hershey's father) is the mayor and head of the town. He and the others don't wish to drain off the lake because they know it will remove the fish and kill off the town's chief source of income. You may recognize Jack Collins (who played the mayor of San Francisco in The Towering Inferno, 1974) and perhaps Ann Doran (a busy character actress who portrayed James Dean's mother in Rebel Without a Cause, 1956.) But who is the brunette next to Collins in the two photos? She's strangely familiar isn't she? I'll reveal in a moment or two while you dwell on it.
Now, if you look at this shot of Roddy McDowall, you've basically seen his whole perfor-mance. It's quite a rip-off and anyone tuning in 8 or 10 minutes late probably wondered if he'd ever appeared in the movie at all! His costar from The Poseidon Adventure (1972) is here as well, Carol Lynley, playing the very pregnant wife of lodge owner and dam supervisor (?) Cameron Mitchell. This couple never appears together on screen, only via telephone. Mitchell was 24 years older than Lynley (and very grossly refers to her as “kitten” a couple of times.)
Milner enlists a gaggle of local kiddies to run around town, knock on doors and tell everyone that the dam is going to burst. (Yeah, that sounds like a REALLY effective plan!!) One of those kids is soon-to-be teen sensation Leif Garrett, already a veteran of showbiz since 1969 when he was eight years old.
Now, that lady, by the way, who was next to Jack Collins in the town council scene and who has several lines, is none other than Miss Gloria Stuart, who would later star in and receive an Oscar nomination for Titanic (1997), the most successful disaster movie of all time (and one of the few 1990s ones with any sort of glamour.)
Basehart's wife is played by Oscar-winning actress Teresa Wright. Ms. Wright was fifty-eight at the time and a rather surprising addition to the cast (she even did some thrashing around in the water towards the end of the movie!) She shares no scenes with her thirteen year-old “son” Olson in the film and I don't know what's harder to believe: that she's the mom of a son that young or that the pleasantly attractive lady could have such a snarl-faced kid! (Maybe he took after papa Basehart?)
So, anyway, the dam begins to spring leaks like crazy and Mitchell strives to hold it together with a construction crew, rocks and dirt. It begins to look like one of those visual gags when someone who's been shot drinks water and the liquid squirts out of his clothes!
A really questionable model depicts the previously rocky-covered dam – now looking more like a large chocolate cake with blue sugar crystals on it! - falling apart as toy trucks and Jeeps flounder around, ultimately sliding into the crevasses. Water lazily begins to pour through and it seems like we might get some good disaster sequences, but instead we are treated to grainy, blurry stock footage of some real floods and then a few instances of watery aftermath...
The people of Brownsville are thus thrown into total panic, represented by a few shots of unpro-fessional extras jogging up the sidewalk in mock horror, many of them looking into the camera as they pass by on the way to their nanosecond of TV-movie fame! I love this lady in the blue coat who studies the ground before her with great determination as she runs so as not to trip in her white vinyl open-toe sandals! I was staggered, at the end of the show when the credits rolled, to find that Brownsville, Oregon is a real town and that these were the real inhabitants! The name Brownsville sounds so made up, such like Marysville in Irwin Allen's The Swarm (1978.)
Folks begin converging at the hospital, which is on high ground. I cracked up at this stupid bitch carrying a painting with her during her dramatic escape!!! Right... a housewife in Brownsville has a priceless piece of art she needs to salvage as she darts out of her hovel...
Other staff on hand at the hospital include Whit Bissell (of Airport, 1970) as a concerned doctor and Elizabeth Rogers as another nurse. Rogers was a close friend of Allen and he put her in many of his TV shows and movies. In The Towering Inferno, she was the lady petrified of entering the breeches buoy. She was forty then and average in figure, but somehow, just two years later, she's all burly and nearly unrecognizable here, looking like she could have played a women's prison guard!
One of the more entertaining sequences involves hapless Lynley. For starters, she's about 13-1/2 months pregnant, but shows no outward signs of pain or anything, just discomfort from the king-sized pillow under her muu muu. Then the very first contraction comes and its so severe she is thrown to the ground and knocked unconscious!! When she some to, she tries to use the phone, but is met with an out of order sound (requiring hilarious expressions to go with!) She then falls unconscious again (who's in there? Damien?!?!) Next her house is flooded and Milner and Hershey come to rescue her. She's apparently so heavy that her feet have broken through the hardwood floor beneath her and become lodged between two boards!
Again, we have an actress who in 1972 was the (at times radiantly beautiful) pop singer in short-shorts and leather boots on board the S. S. Poseidon, but now, just a scant four years later, is a frowsy, frumpy housewife!
In still another Poseidon connection, there is an extra in the hospital scenes (shot not in Brownsville, but back in Hollywood) who was also on board the famous capsized ship. Affectionately known as “Bun Lady” by fans of the movie, she nearly always wore a large salt & pepper hairpiece in movies and TV shows of the 1970s, but such glamour wouldn't do for this backwater epic, so she's seen in a simple gray dress with her hair hanging straight down.
Allen was nothing if not loyal to his favorite actors. During this time he had an almost John Ford-like coterie of folks he hired again and again. Apart from those previously noted, Basehart had starred in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968), Bissel was a regular on The Time Tunnel (1966-1967), York worked on many of his TV shows and TV-movies and Milner, Olson and Mitchell had all just been part of his recently-cancelled series Swiss Family Robinson (which also featured Willie Ames and Helen Hunt!) Hershey hadn't worked for Allen, but Flood!'s director, Earl Bellamy, had directed her series The Monroes (1966-1967), which helps explain her presence here.
Released as a feature outside the U.S., Flood! is run of the mill despite having boasted the highest budget for a TV-movie to that time! ($2.5 million.) The situations are contrived and pat and the effects are warm to very cold. Several of the actors do try to give their performances everything they can, though. It's primary asset is the joy of seeing a raft of familiar faces in darn near every role, some of whom never worked in the disaster genre outside this entry. This composite poster certainly offers more epic drama than ever occurs in the movie itself!
The story of this one focuses on a collection of folks in and around the mountain town of Silverton, Oregon. Ernest Borgnine (of The Poseidon Adventure, 1972, and When Time Ran Out..., 1980) plays the owner of a lumberyard who has long been carrying a torch for Vera Miles, who owns and operates a successful lodge. When the two main characters of a film called Fire own a lumber company and a knotty pine hotel, you just know that these locales are not going to remain unscathed!
Miles, Astin and Mills, along with Nolan and the children, are tensely awaiting rescue via Gavin's helicopter as fire licks the trees in the front yard, but he doesn't show up. Engine failure has caused him to crash land and suffer a head injury that nearly causes him to go completely blind!
Also on hand is craggy professor Ray Milland, who is there to examine the caves for any signs of early man in the area. With him, seemingly against her will, is his daughter Sheila Larken. He orders the distracted young lady around while she makes slight attempts to tame his impatient temper.
By this stage, Allen had practically exhausted all forms of nature's fury and with the release of Airplane! (1980), the genre was put to rest until a decade or so later when a spate of CGI-heavy feature films reignited it for a while. (Almost none of those films was any fun, however.) He had other TV opuses as well, though, which I've seen long ago, but haven't got on DVD. (Now I feel like I have to obtain them... that completest thing again!)