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Master of the World

Master of the World (1961) Movie Poster
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USA  •    •  102m  •    •  Directed by: William Witney.  •  Starring: Vincent Price, Charles Bronson, Henry Hull, Mary Webster, David Frankham, Richard Harrison, Vito Scotti, Wally Campo, Peter Besbas, Jimmie Booth, Al Haskell, Gordon Jones, Steve Masino.  •  Music by: Les Baxter.
       In Morgantown Pennsylvania in 1868, the local residents hear a booming voice coming from the local mountain, the Great Eyrie. John Strock from the Department of the Interior is tasked with finding out just what is happening there and approaches Philip Evans for the use of his balloon which would allow him to view the mountain from air. Accompanied by Evans' fiancée Dorothy Prudent and her father, they come under attack from rockets fired from inside the mountain. They are soon the prisoners of Captain Robur, a pacifist who is in command of the Albatross, 150 a foot-long airship. His mission in life is to stop all wars - even if he has to make war on nation states in order to achieve it.

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Image from: Master of the World (1961)
Image from: Master of the World (1961)
Image from: Master of the World (1961)
Image from: Master of the World (1961)
Image from: Master of the World (1961)
There is no denying that Jules Verne is one of the great surviving authors of the 19th Century. This despite poor translations, and a tradition of equating his work with "children's fiction". He was a serious novelist for adults, but his love of the industrial revolution in technology makes it useful to introduce him to teenagers as an imaginative novelist not a severe social critic.

Verne's novels are full of political (usually left-of-center) messages, attacking imperialism of sorts. He detested the British Empire and the hypocrisy of the Anglo-Saxons. Being French this was understandable, as was his dislike for Prussian militarism after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. He mistrusted the commercial thrust of American business. But he never saw the hypocrisy of French Imperialism (France was on a civilizing mission unlike Britain). He also could reveal traces of racism himself - witness his "Jew" in the novel HECTOR SERVADAC (known as LOST ON A COMET) who is a malignant money lender. But even here Verne equates the Jew with the "modern, greedy German Empire". Richard Wagner would have been truly shocked.

Still with all his flaws, he is a worthy writer to still read and reread as an adult. However many of his books do not get reprinted or reread. Actually there are about seventy novels, short stories, plays or his that are mostly unread except by his fans. Still, a careful student of movies will notice that besides the top titles there have been some obscure novels that did see the screen. For instance Yul Brynner and Kirk Douglas starred in THE LIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. George Segal and Orson Welles were in THE SOUTHERN STAR.

Because he predicted the submarine and space travel Verne was capable of noting the development of air travel. It used to be frequently mentioned that he wrote a novel called THE CLIPPER OF THE CLOUDS (1886). In fact the title is ROBUR THE CONQUEROR. It expounds the inevitable success of heavier than air flight over lighter than air flight. Like several of his novels it required a sequel, and in 1904 MASTER OF THE WORLD appeared. Robur returns in the sequel with a plane which is also a very fast power boat and automobile, but he is insane. Robur destroys himself because he believes he is unstoppable, only to be stopped by a lightning bolt.

The problem is that THE CLIPPER OF THE CLOUDS is a miserably bad novel. Verne had a contract with Hetzel, his publisher, in turning out novels, and while his best work is really good when he did a bad job he really blew it. Basically he takes the character of Nemo in TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES and transposes him to Robur in a different traveling device for a different element of our planet. But Captain Nemo (alias Prince Dakar of the Sepoy Rebellion) has a personal grudge against imperialism and the British Empire - something that Verne's novel only brings out when properly translated. This is why Nemo sinks British liners and warships, and why he supports freedom fighters around the globe. Robur is a self-centered engineering genius, who arranges the kidnapping of Uncle Prudent and two others to demonstrate that his "Albatross" aircraft can beat the balloons and dirigibles. In the novel THE CLIPPER OF THE CLOUDS there had been a debate that Robur came to, and his inflammatory comments set off similar comments by Prudent and the others. So he shows them his flying machine. But his intention is to keep them prisoner. Keep in mind, the prisoners in TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES were accidentally snared by the Nautilus when it was attacked. Nemo never intended to kidnap them - in fact, as he is carrying out a military campaign against the British his holding the men hostage has some rationale as a security matter. With Robur it's pure ego.

Also there is a lack of colorful scenes. Robur will announce they are in another part of the globe, but so what? Nemo was able to show his three prisoners Atlantis, the wreck of the "Avenger" (and in one passage other wrecked or missing ships) and out of the way islands, not to mention the South Pole. The reason that Prudent and the others escape Robur is that they set off an explosive that cripples the Albatross and allows them to flee. But at the end of the first novel Robur catches up to them when they are about to test the world's largest dirigible. He forces them to rise higher and higher than his heavier than air craft. When the dirigible explodes he saves them and sets them down. Then he leaves saying that due to the inability of man to control his science he won't give his secret of flight yet, but may one day.

He forgets his propensity for self-righteous crime: kidnapping, imprisonment,attempted murder. Verne ended CLIPPER OF THE CLOUDS with a statement that Robur was the science of tomorrow. Hardly likely - there are more pragmatic reasons behind the science of tomorrow: will it sell well with the public not will it be handed over at the right time by monomaniacs.

CLIPPER OF THE CLOUDS was rushed through before Verne had any chance to think it out. Therefore the addition of the anti-militarist theme to Price's characterization is actually welcomed, as is the clowning of Vito Scotti (by the way, Scotti and the other crewmen agree not to desert Price in the end, a rather moving moment). It is one of the first films that Charles Bronson made as a cross-over from supporting roles to leads. And Price's career did not nose-dive either. Henry Hull's Uncle Prudent allows him some hamming, but it's a nothing part to begin with and he is boosting dirigibles - hardly likely after the HINDENBERG).

It is as good a film as possible, given that Verne did not do a top job in the first place.


Review by theowinthrop from the Internet Movie Database.