Narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, "Johnstown Flood" tells a true story of heartbreak, heroism and the courage to survive. On a stormy day in May of 1889, the South Fork Dam explodes, unleashing a 40-foot wall of water. Fiercely thrashing at frightening speeds, the flood devastates the 14-mile valley between the Conemaugh Lake and Johnstown, Pennsylvania under the force of a 20-million-ton tidal wave. "Johnstown Flood" depicts this tragic event which claims more than 2,200 lives and wipes out 99 entire families and is still considered to be one of the worst disasters in American history. Horrified survivors watch as the bustling industrial city of Johnstown is instantly reduced into a wasteland. The deadly torrent overcomes terror-stricken townspeople who are tragically lost in the flood. As the waters recede, people from all over the world rally around the survivors to help victims regain all that is lost. Special Features include a 20-minute documentary with Richard Burkert, Executive Director of the Johnstown Area Heritage Association, a feature-length historical commentary track with Richard Burkert and "The Johnstown Flood," an 1889 piano illustration by Alberto Rivieri, performed by Patricia Prattis Jennings exclusively for the DVD.
plays this 1889 disaster for all the drama and suspense of a horror movie. As he describes the factors leading up to the collapse of a dam on a Pennsylvania river, narrator Richard Dreyfuss has an almost ghoulish relish. The flood itself--in which a wall of water 50 feet tall destroyed the town of Johnstown and everything in the vicinity--is chock-full of shocking and engrossing details: personal testimonies describe an entire roundhouse of locomotives being swept away; a mother tells about setting her children afloat on driftwood from the top of her rapidly submerging house. When the debris carried by rushing water reaches a heavy stone bridge, the cataclysm only worsens, leading to a devastating fire. If most documentaries aspire to the cool objectivity of The New York Times
, Johnstown Flood
dives into the sensationalism of tabloid journalism, and the results are enticing, unsettling, and thoroughly entertaining. --Bret Fetzer