Monday, July 30, 2012

Movie Monday: Master of the World

This week's Movie Monday selection is the 1961 fantasy adventure Master of the World!

Vincent Price. Charles Bronson. Jules Verne. Let's go!
After a comical, black and white intro about the history of air flight, the film proper opens above a small Pennsylvania town, where a hot-air balloon that was exploring a volcanic crater and carrying three men (Henry Hull, David Frankham, Charles Bronson) and one woman (Mary Webster) is shot down by the brilliant-but-possibly-mad Captain Robur (Vincent Price).

Robur is piloting his advanced airship, The Albatross, and is traveling the world forcing various nations to forgo war, lest they be destroyed by Robur's advanced weaponry and firepower. Price gets a wonderful entrance, as the camera pans across the ground and then up the length of his body, revealing him for the first time:
Robur takes the four captive on his ship, where he teaches them of his plan. Prudent (Hull), his daughter, and her fiance want to escape, but they are distrustful of government agent Strock (Bronson), who at times seems to be convinced of the righteousness of Robur's plan. Strock had hired the three to investigate the volcano, which turned out to be Robur experimenting with his airship's armory.

There are, of course, a lot of similarities here to Verne's more famous 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, and because this was an AIP film, not Disney, the effects are not nearly as sumptuous. Still, The Albatross is cool-looking ship, even if it is paired with mostly unconvincing blue screen backgrounds:
The fiance, Evans, tries to escape down one of the ship's water hoses, and is disgusted when Strock tells Robur about the escape attempt. Both men are punished by having to dangle from ropes below the ship, where they engage in a fist-fight:
Evans is knocked out, and Strock saves him. Prudent's daughter starts to gravitate towards Strock, enraging Evans even further. Finally Evans snaps, sabotaging Strock in a way that will probably lead to his death!

There's a lot of talk during this movie, with the hothead Evans fighting against Robur and Strock, with Strock refusing to fully concede what side he's on. There's a lot--a lot--of stock footage, cribbed from other movies--pretty much any time Robur drops a bomb, we see it land on another movie.

But despite all this, Master of the World does have a fairly tense ending, which I won't give away here, suffice it to say it features an element seen in no less than two films this summer, Prometheus and The Dark Knight Rises. In some ways, MOTW does at least one of those movies better, and at probably 1,000th the, ahem, price.

Master of the World is pretty look to at, though because of its low budget the spectacle is kept mostly to the shots of The Albatross, inside and out. Price is, as usual, great as Robur, with Charles Bronson in a change-of-pace role as a thoughtful, mostly internal man. The rest of the cast is pretty good, save for some strained "comic relief" by Vito Scotti as the ship's chef.

The film's screenplay was by none other than the legendary Richard Matheson, who seemed more interested in bouncing the characters off one another, arguing their particular philosophies, in this confined space rather than big action spectacle, something AIP probably couldn't pull off anyway. The sets at times are candy colored, and Robur's crew wear striped sailor outfits that make them look either like Arthur Treacher counter workers or henchmen from the Batman TV show (it doesn't help that Bronson and the others have to wear the same outfits once they come aboard).

Overall, I enjoyed Master of the World, though it's certainly no classic. The low budget really hampers the film's grand ambitions, and the Evans character is such a dolt that at times I wished that Strock would just push him over the side and go off with Robur for more adventures. Maybe a remake?

1 comment:

opticalguy said...

I too am a fan of this film … largely due to the fact that I saw this on its initial release (at age 8) with my father. He was an airship buff (OK the ALBATROSS wasn't an airship but it looked like one. Disney's 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA was one of the most expensive films made at it's time (approximately $9.5 million dollars)and MASTER OF THE WORLD was VERY low-budgeted. On IMDB they estimate $500,000 but I sincerely doubt that! It was a nice miniature done by the folks at Project Unlimited and the rest was all back projection. Still I have a very soft spot in my heart for this one.

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