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The council of elders of outer space is deliberating on a very important subject: Must mankind be allowed to survive, or is it so esentially evil that it must be destroyed? A devil and an angel act as prosecutor and defense for the human race, and the movie presents in a very interesting way a series of episodes of the human history. What will be the final veredict? Innocent, or Guilty?Written by
Jose Beltran-Escavy <email@example.com>
Sir Isaac Newton published his famous paper outlining the law of gravity in 1666, but in the sequence in which Harpo Marx plays Newton he performs on the harp Stephen Foster's song "Beautiful Dreamer," written in 1864 -- almost two centuries later. See more »
"I direct your attention...to the Great Clock of Outer Space."
Mankind is on the verge of discovering the secret of the Super H-bomb so a special tribunal meets in outer space to discuss what to do. Arguing on behalf of mankind is the Spirit of Man (Ronald Colman). Arguing that humanity must be destroyed is Mr. Scratch (Vincent Price). They both use examples from history to make their cases.
Here are some of the historical reenactments. Cavemen discover fire in the middle of an attempted murder and rape. Cleopatra (Virginia Mayo) kills her brother and seduces Caesar and Marc Anthony (Helmut Dantine). Peter Lorre plays a drunken Nero laughing while Rome burns. The most embarrassing episode belongs to Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc. Her Joan wears bright red lipstick and a terrible wig. Her trial is presided over by Henry Daniell dressed as Santa Claus. Agnes Moorehead hams it up as Queen Elizabeth I, who receives military counsel from William Shakespeare! Groucho Marx plays Peter Minuit in a painfully unfunny comedy segment where he rips off Indians for Manhattan island. Marie Wilson is a bimbofied Marie Antoinette. 21 year-old Dennis Hopper is a soft-spoken Napoleon with 37 year-old Marie Windsor as his Josephine. Among the other stars we see in this are Cedric Hardwicke as the celestial tribunal's judge, John Carradine as Pharaoh Khufu, Charles Coburn as Hippocrates, Chico Marx as a monk offering advice to Columbus, Edward Everett Horton as Sir Walter Raleigh, Harpo Marx as Isaac Newton, and Don Ameche's younger brother Jim as Alexander Graham Bell.
Today Irwin Allen is best remembered for his contributions to television like Lost in Space or his '70s disaster flicks like The Poseidon Adventure. The Story of Mankind wasn't Allen's first film but it was his first notable one. This movie came about during the heyday of Atomic Scare movies. The decade was full of them, usually in a sci-fi setting. There were some great classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still made during this era rife with paranoia. This film has the reputation of being one of classic Hollywood's biggest stinkers. Personally, I like it! But part of why I like it is because it's so flawed. It's got an all-star cast, most of whom are laughably misused. The script is terrible with some of the corniest dialogue you'll ever hear and some truly cringeworthy speeches. The history is inaccurate and blends myth with fact. It's all filmed in lush Technicolor but on cheap sets with tons of stock footage. Still, I can't help but enjoy it. It's a movie that falls squarely into the "so bad it's good" camp for me. Taken seriously, it's ridiculous and offensive to your intelligence. Taken lightly it's quite a bit of cheesy fun.
It has the distinction of being both Ronald Colman's final film and the final film to feature the main three Marx Bros. together (although they bafflingly share no scenes). By the way, listening to the Devil's point of view, it struck me how that is the more likely view we'd see advocated today, not only in films but in real-life discourse as well. Kind of depressing. Worth seeing for a variety of film fans but especially for fans of Price and Colman, who have two of the most pleasant voices the movies ever knew.
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