Directed by: Earl Bellamy
Starring: Robert Culp, Martin Milner, Barbara Hershey, Richard Baseheart, Carol Lynley, Teresa Wright, Roddy McDowall
Flood! opens with one of the least inviting title sequences I’ve seen: the film’s title in a purplish colour against a backdrop of brown sludge. Yummy!
We’re introduced to helicopter pilot Steve Brannigan (played by Robert Culp), who’s way cool in shades and a bandana. Having delivered a businessman on a fishing trip to his destination, Brannigan discovers a kid passed out by a large dam. The kid was knocked out by flying rocks as the dam sprung a leak. Brannigan ties his bandana around the kid’s head and sends him on his way, never considering that it might be a good idea to fly the boy back to town and maybe take him to the hospital.
Back at the airport, Brannigan mentions the incident to mechanic Paul Burke (Martin Milner). Burke happens to be a member of the city council, and is worried that the dam might collapse. He calls an emergency council meeting where he tries to convince the mayor that the dam needs to be drained to prevent a catastrophe. The mayor, fully aware how politicos are supposed to behave in disaster films, refuses, because it would be bad for business. Burke decides he has to do something on his own.
With the reluctant help of Brannigan, who is more interested in chatting up a nurse at the hospital than being an action hero, Burke tries to stop the inevitable. (Yes, inevitable: The dam is leaky. It’s been raining lots. The movie is called Flood!. You do the math.) The relief gates at the dam have somehow got stuck, and even helicopter power can’t move them. The dam bursts, flooding the town. The dam supervisor is killed and his pregnant wife is trapped in her flooded home. The kid from the opening scenes, who turns out to be the mayor’s son, is lost in the chaos, fighting for his life in a raging river. It’s up to the dynamic duo of Burke och Brannigan to save them.
Flood! was the first project producer Irwin Allen did for Warner Bros., after leaving 20th Century Fox where he had made disaster movie history with The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. Unfortunately, Flood!, though promoted at the time as the most expensive made-for-TV film to date, leaves a lot to be desired.
Part of the problem is that even if the 2.5 million dollar budget was a lot at the time, the flooding effects are generally quite underwhelming, even for 1976. The main dam bursting scene is shot at night and features rather lackluster model work. We never get any coherent picture of the flooding of the actual town, and a handful of continuity errors give the proceedings a slightly disjointed feel, as the water seems to come and go in certain areas.
Plot- and character-wise, the by then well-established disaster movie formula is in place, but without embellishments or twists. It’s all basics, lacks personality, and to be frank it frequently gets a bit boring.
I did enjoy watching Robert Culp doing the cool guy thing, however, and the movie features some slightly ridiculous details and dialogue that are good for a chuckle. (In an early scene, Culp asks Roddy McDowall how he is. “Hom am I?!”, McDowall answers incredulously. No elaboration. Then McDowall disappears from the plot after five minutes, never to be seen again.)
Milner is fine, though the decision to cast him as the boyfriend of Barbara Hershey, who is 17 years younger and looks like she could be his daughter, is quite questionable. Carol Lynley from The Poseidon Adventure appears as the pregnant wife of Cameron Mitchell in yet another age-wise mismatch. Luckily, they never meet onscreen.
It’s not rock-bottom horrible, but not good either. Primarily for genre enthusiasts.