Friday, 31 July 2015

THE STORY OF MANKIND












d. Irwin Allen (1957)

We'll start with an announcement: this is the fortieth film I have reviewed on this blog to date, and the first ever to be in colour. Well, I thought it was interesting.  

When I first saw this film at the age of about five or six, it made an indelible impression on me and, for years, I thought it the most incredible epic ever made. Ah, the illusions of youth. Watching it now, this crazy canter through history is clearly cobbled together, with new material filmed on a series of tiny indoor sets heavily supplemented by lots of clips taken from other, much more expensive, films.  

The premise is that mankind has developed a 'super H bomb' around sixty years earlier than expected, so The Supreme Court of Outer Space (yes, that's a thing) holds a tribunal on a piece of mist shrouded celestial wasteland to ascertain whether mankind is capable of holding such power, or whether they should be encouraged to simply detonate this doomsday weapon, thereby extinguishing human life once and for all.

On the side of man: Ronald Colman, distinguished in his London Fog overcoat, tweed hat and silver sliver of facial hair. The prosecuting counsel is Mr. Scratch, the Devil himself, played suavely and convincingly by the superlative Vincent Price in a morning coat and a pair of red silk gloves*. The trial consists of Colman saying how wonderful humans are, and Price saying how terrible they are. Sometimes this is done in reverse order. We see the whole history of the world played out in a semi ironic, high camp series of vignettes starring a variety of ageing stars: the forty something Hedy Lamarr plays the teenage Joan of Arc, for instance; an ancient looking Peter Lorre is the twenty something Nero. As you might expect, Harpo Marx is Isaac Newton**.

Ultimately, the tribunal fails to come to a decision: mankind is as good as it is evil; as noble as it is savage. A pretty fair assessment, really. The court is adjourned and scheduled to reconvene at a later date when, according to Judge Cedric Hardwicke as he glares down the barrel of the camera at the audience, the verdict will be 'UP TO YOU', i.e. stop messing about with nuclear bombs, you jumped up tools.

*  Price is accompanied by his 'apprentice', Nick Cravat: acrobat, mime, circus colleague and film co-star of Burt Lancaster, as well as the nimble fellow in the furry suit on the wing of the plane in the incredible Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. 

**  Chico and Groucho also have roles, as a Monk and Peter Minuit, respectively. Astoundingly, it didn't occur to anyone on the production to put them in a scene together, which really is a crime against the Universe.

No comments:

Post a Comment