Friday, November 10, 2017

Tonight's Movie: S.O.S. Tidal Wave (1939) - An Olive Films DVD Review

S.O.S. TIDAL WAVE (1939) is a Republic Pictures "B" rarity released last week on DVD and Blu-ray by Olive Films.

I missed the movie when it was shown in 35mm last spring in the UCLA Festival of Preservation, so I was glad to have the chance to catch it now via Olive's DVD.

The story of this 62-minute film centers around newly minted TV star Jeff Shannon (Ralph Byrd). Shannon is a newsman who travels all over his Eastern city covering stories with his cameraman Peaches (Frank Jenks), and his broadcasts have built up quite a following.

Shannon wants to bust open the story on political corruption in his town, but he backs off when his wife (Kay Sutton, LAWLESS VALLEY) and son (Mickey Kuhn, Beau of GONE WITH THE WIND) are threatened. However, another TV star, ventriloquist "Uncle Dan" Carter (George Barbier), is determined to see justice done.

This is an oddball little film -- a ventriloquist fighting the political machine? -- and it's also frankly fairly dry for much of the going, with the main interest for a modern audience being a look at the early use of television. With the exception of a typically animated Frank Jenks, the characters are fairly flat, if not downright silly at times; Uncle Dan may be noble, but he's more of a dummy than his wooden doll.

The finale, however, is worth waiting for, when the bad guys lure everyone in town away from voting with a fake broadcast about a tidal wave hitting New York City. The broadcast uses footage from the disaster film DELUGE (1933) to mesmerize everyone into watching the developing story that NYC is underwater. (Incidentally, I have the Kino Lorber release of DELUGE in my "to watch" stack!) This sequence is quite amusing, including Shannon's dawning realization that the story is "fake news" (couldn't resist), and for me it made the movie worthwhile.

It's interesting to contemplate that although this is a movie about television, much of the plot was clearly inspired by radio. Uncle Dan and his ever-present sidekick are an obvious nod to Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, who themselves would also appear in movies; and the fake TV broadcast was, of course, inspired by the 1938 radio broadcast of WAR OF THE WORLDS.

Leading man Ralph Byrd was the star of DICK TRACY serials and had also starred in the similarly titled serial SOS COAST GUARD (1937). (As an aside, I really enjoyed him in the 1948 crime film STAGE STRUCK.) Byrd makes a smooth TV guy, although his refusal to explain to his wife and friend why he's reticent to go up against the political machine doesn't make much sense; the fellow crying into his beer midway through the movie seems far removed from the man we initially met. He bounces back later, but let's just say this script and character development don't have much in common with each other. The fun is in seeing what folks in 1939 thought about TV and the media's ability to incite mass panic.

S.O.S. TIDAL WAVE was directed by John H. Auer. It was filmed in black and white by Jack Marta. The supporting cast includes Marc Lawrence (good as a slimy bad guy), Dorothy Lee, and Don "Red" Barry. Supposedly George Montgomery and Robert J. Wilke have bit parts but I didn't spot them.

This isn't really a very good film, but it's watchable and as noted above it has points of interest and some historical/cultural value. Kudos to Olive for making it available in this good-looking print, which has excellent sound. There are no extras.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this DVD.


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