The Johnstown Flood Blu-ray Review

4.5 Stars The Fox epic from 1926 has been restored wonderfully by preservationists Robert A. Harris and James Mockoski from a new 4K transfer.
The Johnstown Flood Review

Today, The Johnstown Flood. Movie audiences in 1926 might have recalled the Johnstown Flood of 1889 as a major calamity of the post Civil War years.  A year before Janet Gaynor and George O’Brian costarred together in F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise(1927), they appeared together in this epic of the Jazz Age directed by Irving Cummings(In Old Arizona, The Cisco Kid).

The Johnstown Flood (1926)
Released: 28 Feb 1926
Rated: Passed
Runtime: 60 min
Director: Irving Cummings
Genre: Drama
Cast: George O'Brien, Florence Gilbert, Janet Gaynor
Writer(s): Edfrid A. Bingham, Robert Lord
Plot: Tom O'Day is loved by two women, Anna Burger and Gloria Hamilton. Tom has no idea of Anna's love for him, and he becomes engaged to Gloria. Gloria's father, John Hamilton, is a wealthy lumber man who controls a dam upstream of the...
IMDB rating: 6.4
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: None
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 5 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Amaray
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: ABC
Release Date: 10/17/2023
MSRP: $35.45

The Production: 4/5

The Johnstown Flood Screenshot
The Johnstown Flood(1926) is a cinematic retelling of the true story of the Johnstown Flood of 1889, and the film’s producers wisely focused on colorful characters in their screenplay to convey the gravitas of over 2000 lives being lost in this man-made natural disaster.  John Hamilton(Anders Randolf) owns a lumber camp and controls the river necessary to deliver on his lucrative contracts.  Hamilton’s daugher, Gloria(Florence Gilbert) is engaged to marry engineer Tom O’Day(George O’Brian), while Anna Burger(Janet Gaynor) pines away for Tom.
The Johnstown Flood Screenshot
Tom warns Hamilton of the risks of failing to repair the dam during the rainy season, but to no avail.  Pure-hearted Anna Burger becomes the real hero as she risks life and limb on horseback to warn the oblivious residents of Johnstown when disaster strikes after torrential rains elevate the levels of the dam past its breaking point.
The Johnstown Flood Screenshot
The Johnstown Flood also provides its own social commentary on how hubris may lead to disaster, particularly when these elements are combined with avarice and greed.  This may be an accurate description of the real cause of this disaster of the 19th Century, and the film does an admirable job of distilling the somewhat complicated causes of this calamity down to its essence.  The emphasis on character, relationships, and a love triangle in buildup to a natural disaster in The Johnstown Flood may make the film seem vaguely reminiscent of a certain James Cameron disaster epic.
The Johnstown Flood Screenshot
The original producers of The Johnstown Flood created a film epic with special effects that were state of the art in 1926. Although viewers of this film in the 21st Century might be quick to spot the fake elements, the special effects are of such high quality for their time that this film puts to shame many later efforts at merging film mattes and miniatures.  This is an exquisite restoration, as discussed below in greater detail regarding video and audio presentations.
The Johnstown Flood Screenshot

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The Johnstown Flood appears on Blu-ray in a 1.33:1 screen aspect ratio.  This restoration was created by use of original elements in possession of the George Eastman Museum Motion Picture Collection.  The elements have been lovingly restored to eliminate debris and dust, with only a few occasional emulsion lines to remind the viewer that this is actually derived from film.  The video presentation changes hues of tints in the middle of scenes, which is attributable to footage being derived from separate film rolls in production.
The Johnstown Flood Screenshot
Robert A. Harris recalls that they had four or five tints in The Johnstown Flood – yellow, light amber, amber, blue and black and white.  The tints in the first five reels are the same tints actually appearing on the original 35 mm nitrate. The final reel, reel six, was a black and white dupe, but he and James Mockoski were able to exact the correct tints from the continuity.  They corrected a few errors, along with adding a missing inter-title, and relocated another that had been missing or cut.
The Johnstown Flood Screenshot
It is remarkable that a film from virtually 100 years ago can be reproduced so nicely in digital form for audiences of the present and future. As mentioned earlier, a select few title cards have been restored and reinserted or extended in duration, where appropriate, in a manner respectful to the original producers’ intentions.

Audio: 5/5

The Johnstown Flood has an audio presentation of original music score (and sound effects) recorded in a Jazz Age style by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.  The DTS-HD 2.0 audio tracks are booming, so much so that I turned my volume down moderately from its default setting.  The audio presentation is all that a film audience in 1926 might have expected, and then some, with some appropriate use of sound effects.
The Johnstown Flood Screenshot

Special Features: 4/5

Special features include all of the following:

Special Effects Featurette with VFX artist Craig Barron and sound designer Ben Burtt(29:08):  Barron and Burtt discuss the special effects of The Johnstown Flood in an audio feature accompanies by stills and footage from the film.

Audio Interviews With Star George O’Brian:  This feature includes 2 sepaate audio interviews.  The first, entitled “Early Career” was done by Robert S. Birchard at the home of George O’Brian on February 3, 1975(8:21).    The second, entitled “The Johnstown Flood” was done by Dave Martin in San Francisco on January 8 and 9, 1961(9:08)

Janet Gaynor at the 50th Annual Academy Awards (3:44): On April 3, 1978, Janet Gaynor joined Walther Matthau to present the Academy Awards for Best Actress to Diane Kearton for Annie Hall.  This footage from the ceremony is a nice way to connect Janet Gaynor with the present (or at least the more recent past) as she is present in the same auditorium with the likes of Jane Fonda and Michael Caine.

Photo Gallery:  This feature has photographs from the actual Johnstown Flood in 1889.  The photographs may be navigated on the menu with the forward and reverse selections.

3-D Photo Gallery:  This feature has stereoscopic photographs of the actual Johnstown flood in anaglyphic 3-D.  This first edition of The Johnstown Flood on blu-ray includes one set of 3-D glasses with red and blue lenses.

Also included is an illustrated paper insert with an article by Shelley Stamp.

The Johnstown Flood Screenshot

Overall: 4.5/5

The Johnstown Flood on Blu-ray is a terrific restoration of the 1926 Fox epic.  The special features are worthwhile viewing, particularly the footage of Janet Gaynor presenting at the 50th Academy Awards Ceremony, which nicely connects the film stars of the distant past to the present.  The Johnstown Flood is also noteworthy for having both Carole Lombard and Clark Gable appear in uncredited background roles.  See if you can spot them!  If you enjoy classic cinema, then The Johnstown Flood on Blu-ray comes highly recommended.

Timothy has worked background in theatrical features and television, just for the fun of it, in films directed by Peter Segal and Christopher Nolan. His favorite film star is Bugs Bunny, and Timothy has discovered that most of the problems in life can be solved successfully (strangely enough) by asking “What would Bugs Bunny do?” Timothy has been involved with the Home Theater Forum since 2007 and has reported from Comic Con, interviewed Bruce Campbell and Danny Trejo, and reviewed classic animation and new theatrical releases on disc.

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Mark McSherry

Second Unit
Apr 5, 2013
Real Name
Mark McSherry
Great review! My copy arrived today. Will watch tonight. And then I'll have to rewatch that other 1926 "Flood" movie- The Winning of Barbara Worth.
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Timothy E

Jul 20, 2007
Real Name
Timothy Ewanyshyn
As I was preparing my review of this release, it led me to contemplation about the nature of storytelling on film, from silent film through talkies. I cut this out of my review, as it did not really seem to fit in the body of the review, but I share my thoughts here now, as I believe they are relevant to The Johnstown Flood, and why we should continue to enjoy and appreciate early films in the 21st Century.

Silent films might be anathema to some audiences. Why does one watch a silent film in the 21st Century? If you have to ask that question, you probably do not love film, and you may not have a genuine appreciation of the artistry of cinema. One might as well ask why a black and white film is worth watching, when so many films are produced in color. If you are one of those Philistines who refuses to watch a black and white film, then you do not really appreciate cinema because you are excluding yourself from enjoying some of the greatest masterpieces of motion pictures. If this describes you, then asking you to watch a silent black and white film may be more than your sensibilities can bear.

Anyone who loves film knows that celluloid and film storytelling are miracles of creation. If you do not believe this, consider for one moment the magic that is required to create a single photographic image with analog technology. Most of us do not really understand it, except that you have images from a moment in time captured in true fidelity by projection of an image by light and shadow. A photograph was a miracle of creation in 1826, no less so now, even for those who could not fathom Aristotle’s idea of the camera obscura.

You have to take 24 of those images, in sequence, to create one second of the illusion of movement on film. Multiply that by 60 for the number of images necessary to created 60 seconds of the illusion of movement. Multiply by 60 again to create just 1 hour of motion picture footage. In order to create a motion picture story, you must assemble these pieces into a cohesive whole, and this is all before you introduce things like sound, or color, or script, or acting, or camera angles, much less film editing.

In silent films, technological limitations drove artistic innovations. Before sound could be added, and synchronized, to film, celluloid stories were told in pantomime, or with title cards inserted to convey dialogue, by an actor writing out their thoughts to convey to the audience, and by other subtler means. Even after The Jazz Singer, some of the greatest films tell stories most compellingly without requiring dialogue. If you do not believe that, you have probably never seen Rififi, or The Wages of Fear, or some of the other masterpieces of motion picture storytelling. If this is you, then you have probably missed out on Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and the other greats.

If you truly love cinema, then The Johnstown Flood on Blu-ray should be right up your alley.
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