Greatest Disaster
Film Scenes

Part 1

The Greatest Disaster Film Scenes
Title Screen
Film Title/Year and Description of Disaster Film Scene

Saved From the Titanic (1912)

This 1-reel, 10 minute film from the Eclair Film Co. (a lost film) depicted the sinking of the Titanic, told in flashback by the film's star and screenwriter Dorothy Gibson, who was an actual survivor of the tragedy. It took less than a week to film. The Titanic sinking has become the most used disaster film subject, with dozens of retellings.

Night and Ice (1912, Ger.) (or Night Time in Ice) (aka In Nacht und Eis)

One of the earliest disaster films, this rare and restored film was the first of many feature films about the doomed ship that sank in 1912 on its maiden voyage, after striking an iceberg. This film was made in studios in Berlin, and on an actual shipboard (the German liner Kaiser Auguste Victoria) and released a few months after the RMS Titanic's actual sinking! It was of epic length (35 minutes) in comparison to other films of the time. The filmmakers sunk a real boat to show realism.

Atlantis (1913)

One of the first full-length films ever made, with a 1 hour, 53 minute running time; this version of the Titanic story, made only a year after the disaster, was from Denmark (but filmed off the coast of New Zealand) and made by director August Blom; it told about a doctor's voyage on an oceanliner that hit an obstruction and began to sink. It was a very realistic and naturalistic-looking Titanic film with a well-staged action scene of the ship's sinking. It was also one of the most popular films of the 1910s, and a worldwide smash hit.


Beloved Adventurer (1914)

This early silent film (a 15-episode serial of one-reel melodramas), from the Lubin Film Manufacturing Co., portrayed a small-scale disaster - the head-on collision of two locomotive trains facing each other on the same track.

Male and Female (1919)

In this Cecil B. De Mille film - star actress Gloria Swanson (as spoiled and rich Lady Mary Lasenby) was put into peril when the yacht she was traveling on was shipwrecked on rocks of a deserted island. The interior of the boat filled with water as she was trapped below and struggled amidst the floating pieces of furniture, although she was eventually able to emerge from a hole in the yacht's side and escape.

Metropolis (1927)

This film climaxed with the spectacular flooding scenes of the underground city, with its tracking camera, when the children are led to safety from the rising waters.

Noah's Ark (1928/29)

Originally a silent film - and then made into an early 'talkie' a year later (with several stultifying scenes of Vitaphone sound-on-disk dialogue) -- about the Biblical story of the 'Great Flood', directed by Michael Curtiz. This early epic 'talkie" was intercut with a parallel melodramatic romance story about soldiers in the Great War - with moralizing about the hedonistic sins of the Jazz Age and Wall Street speculation. The parallel intercutting was reminiscent of D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916), with actors playing roles in both sections. This was Warner Bros.' answer to Cecil B. De Mille's Biblical epics of the 20s (especially The Ten Commandments (1923)), with a climactic flood sequence - that mixed miniatures, double-exposures, and the full-scale destruction of actual sets. Reportedly, when stored tanks of water were released for the sequence upon hundreds of unsuspecting extras, three of them died from drowning, and many others were severely injured.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

The final sequence of the film involved a terrifically destructive tornado/cyclone -- and one of the most suicidal and terrifying stunts and scenes in screen history. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (Buster Keaton), groggy and dizzy, stood up in front of the house that was about to be ripped apart from the forceful winds. As he paused there, the entire two-ton facade or front of the building fell forward and crashed down on top of him. All that saved him was a small window opening in the upper story, through which his body passed. He ran from the collapsed building on the ground and just avoided being flattened by another disintegrating house. When he turned to run away, he was propelled down the street - sliding, tumbling, and turning like other wind-blown objects. He struggled to run into the wind, bending forward at a significant angle but without making any progress.

The Wind (1928)

Victor Sjöström directed this silent film about the relocation of Letty (Lillian Gish) from Virginia to the windblown frontier ranch/farm of her male cousin, where she experienced jealousy, an unending desert prairie sandstorm, and ultimately madness in the face of misdirected passion and the relentless tempest. In the film's finale, she shot male assailant Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love), buried him in the shifting sands, and watched in horror as his corpse was uncovered. The film was made in California's inhospitable Mojave Desert under temperatures of up to 120 degrees, with sand projected by multiple airplane engine propellers.

Titanic: Disaster in the Atlantic (1929, UK) (aka Atlantic)

This mostly fictionalized, overacted, melodramatic tale was based on Ernest Raymond's play The Berg. It was another film inspired by the Titanic sinking - although the ship's name was Atlantic, not Titanic. (The White Star Line had forbid the production company to use the name Titanic.) It was the first sound film about the doomed ship - a compilation of the best footage from both the German-language talkie version and the English-language version.

Deluge (1933)

The first big-budget "talkie" disaster film with impressive visual effects about tidal waves devastating various California coastal cities and New York City.

King Kong (1933)

The first "gigantic monster rampage" film, a classic adventure film about Beauty and the monstrous ape Beast. The colossal hairy creature, once returned to Manhattan Island, went on a rampage (attacking the elevated subway) and created havoc, before falling to his death from the 'Empire State Building' (the World Trade Center in a later version). Remade in the 'disaster film' decade of the 70s as a modernized King Kong (1976) by producer Dino De Laurentiis, starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange - and then an awful followup called King Kong Lives (1986) that added a Lady Kong, and another remake by The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, as King Kong (2005), starring Adrien Brody, Jack Black and Naomi Watts - with a computer-generated ape.

The Last Days of Pompeii (1935)

Merian C. Cooper's and Ernest Schoedsack provided special-effects for this version of the Mt. Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D - a holocaust of flowing lava over the Roman city of Pompeii. It was made earlier as an Italian silent in 1913 and in 1926 - and also later remade in 1959 (with Steve Reeves) and 1984 (as a TV mini-series).


San Francisco (1936)

This Best Picture-nominated film recreated the famous April 18th, 1906 earthquake in the City by the Bay at its conclusion (with the earth splitting apart and a subsequent devastating fire). The film was a big moneymaker for MGM, and out of its five Academy Awards nominations, it won for Best Sound.

Things to Come (1936, UK)

British producer Alexander Korda's cautionary and epic view of the future was directed by visual imagist William Cameron Menzies and starred Raymond Massey (as pacifist intellectual and messianic scientist John Cabal). The imaginative, speculative and preachy English film was based on an adaptation of H.G. Wells' 1933 The Shape of Things to Come and was set during the years from 1940 to 2036 in 'Everytown' (London) - spanning a time of international warfare to a future time of television, jet planes, dictators, and a rocket to the Moon (a Giant Space Gun). The visionary anti-war film included a lengthy global world war (presaging WW II!), a despotic boss-tyrant named Rudolph (Ralph Richardson) in a "dark ages" 1970s, a prophetic Brave New World-view, the dawn of the space age, and the attempt of social-engineering scientists to defeat the warlords, save the war-ravaged world with superior technology, and make a new start for mankind.

The Good Earth (1937)

This Best Picture-nominated film featured a buzzing, marauding locust attack on the land recreated with special effects, accompanied by the frantic efforts of poverty-stricken farmers to save their lands. With five Academy Award nominations, including two wins for Best Actress and Best Cinematography.

History is Made at Night (1937)

A suspense thriller that featured a ship-and-iceberg subplot. It also told about an insanely jealous shipping magnate (Colin Clive) who ordered his ship's captain to pilot his ship, The Princess Irene, into treacherous Northern waters in an attempt to kill his ex-lover and her suitor (Jean Arthur and Charles Boyer).

The Hurricane (1937)

Samuel Goldwyn's film was considered the classic movie spectacle - with a monstrous, South Pacific tropical storm, massive tidal waves and battering gale-force winds - and major stars Dorothy Lamour and Raymond Massey. Remade in 1979 with Mia Farrow and Jason Robards. With three Academy Award nominations, including Best Score, Best Sound, and Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Mitchell).

In Old Chicago (1937)

A Best Picture Oscar nominee, with a spectacular 20-minute fire sequence in the film's climax (a dangerous sequence filmed on the studio's back lot with 1500 extras and a herd of cattle) - the burning down of Chicago by a great inferno in 1871 - caused by Mrs. O'Leary's (Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winner Alice Brady) cow kicking over a lantern. This film was 20th Century Fox's answer to MGM's hit San Francisco (1936). With a total of five nominations and only one win.

Greatest Disaster Film Scenes
(chronological, by film title)
Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

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