Man Against the River (in the Ephemeral section of Open Video Prject. Also, film #884 on Prelinger Archive). [Category: Public Service]

This 30s film documents the severe floods in Ohio, Kentucky, and Arkansas when the Ohio river overflowed its banks, and the efforts of WPA workers to provide disaster relief. The task was a huge one, involving rescuing people trapped by the flood waters, setting up emergency hospitals to care for the sick and wounded, inoculating people against typhoid, distributing food, setting up refugee camps for the homeless, piling sandbags and building levees in places where the river had not yet overflowed, fighting fires and removing dangers to public safety, and engaging in cleanup efforts after the flood waters had receded, including disposing of hundreds of dead cattle before they could cause disease. There’s no film that portrays the “Dirty Thirties” more than this one; everyone seems covered with dirt and grime, all seem to be suffering in one way or another, and the constant reminders of the accomplishments of the WPA only remind you that the rescue workers were previously unemployed because of the Depression. The 30s must have been a terrible time; on top of the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and social unrest were widespread disasters like this one. This makes the film a fascinating portrayal of one aspect of one of the most trying times in our nation’s history.

Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.

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