Master of the World (1961)


What you did was an act of pure barbarism, and were it not for the love I bear my daughter, and for the respect and esteem in which I hold Mr. Evans and Mr. Strock, I would rather the four of us perish in the sea than that this hell ship be preserved for the commission of further atrocities.

Prudent (Henry Hull)

They say some actors are so good that even if their movies aren’t, their presence can elevate them and make them worth watching. Specifically, this has been said about Vincent Price. Normally, I’d wholeheartedly agree, but Master of the World (1961) puts considerable strain on the theory.

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It’s been the Middle Ages since I’ve seen Around the World in 80 Days (1956), but Master of the World feels like AIP’s attempt to capitalize on its success… with its customary tight budget. As we know, a tight budget doesn’t necessarily equate to a bad movie; it's just more apparent in some than in others. AIP and Price succeeded with Edgar Allan Poe; they did not with Jules Verne.

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With a pre-credits opening scene recounting man’s early attempts (and comical failures) to fly, the real star of the movie is intended to be the Albatross, Robur’s (Price) inexplicably manufactured flying machine. It was built with a wondrous 1868 design; however, I recommend using your imagination to study it on the movie poster, rather than watching the movie.

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In Master of the World, the Albatross doesn’t so much travel around the world as it does find itself superimposed over imagery from other movies. I’m not knocking the special effects; however, the mismatched angles and perspectives from two different sources makes it hard to suspend disbelief.

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The hallways of the ship are colorfully lit as if they’re from episodes of the Batman television series, which didn’t yet exist. The control room is tiny, restricting Price’s movements to a triangle of point A, to point B, to point C and back. For his performance, he needs more room to move around, throw his arms into the air, and rant and rave.

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Director William Witney made many beloved Republic serials in the 1940s, but Master of the World needs either a little more of their charm, or a different approach altogether. I don’t know what to say about the fact that it was written by Richard Matheson. I haven’t read the source material, but maybe the story flaws arise from combining two novels into one screenplay.

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With all these criticisms, I must say the film is eerily prescient in its treatment of violence and weapons. It’s either that, or, more likely, the issue has always been with us. Blink and you’ll miss it, but it raises a familiar conundrum: “And do you, sir, consider the man who makes a weapon responsible for the action of the many who buys it?”

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This is Prudent’s (Henry Hull) response when Robur acknowledges the irony of weapons manufacturer Prudent’s presence during the execution of his plan. His goal is to end mankind’s penchant for wars that result in the violent deaths of millions in wartime and peace, by killing only hundreds or thousands at one time, then being done with it.

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Hull’s performance as Prudent is the only one that seems natural within the scope of the film. As hinted, Price is restrained, and Charles Bronson as John Strock, who works for the United States government in the Department of the Interior, is best described as “out of place.” None are as painful, though, as the unfunny comic relief of Vito Scotti as Topage, the “Airship Chef.”

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Granted, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but this may be my least favorite Vincent Price movie that I’ve seen. All its flaws would be forgivable if it were fun. However, for me, it wasn’t it. At 102 minutes, it feels like the nearly three hours of the aforementioned Around the World in 80 Days. It may have worked better as "Around the World in 80 Minutes."

 

Tomorrow, check Richard's post at:


monstermoviekid.wordpress.com


The name I'm giving him (first letter of first name must be first letter of last name, Hull) is:


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