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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>
Since this is Harpo Marx's only color feature, it's the one movie in which audience members get to see that his wig was red, not blonde. See more »
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 »
Irwin Allen's production of 'The Story of Mankind' has been called one of the worst films ever made, a film so bad that it has NEVER been released on video, and barely ever appears on television (and only then in a VERY abbreviated form.) This is UNFAIR! While the film is intentionally (and sometimes unintentionally) campy, it has many milestones that make it worthy of respect. First, it is Ronald Colman's final film (he died a year after the release), and he still shows the urbanity, the kindness, and the 'voice' that made him unique. Second, it is the last theatrical appearance of the Marx Brothers (although they appear separately), and Harpo plays the harp one last time, a bittersweet experience. Third, Vincent Price plays the Devil, and certainly no actor is more perfect for the role! Fourth, the film foreshadows Irwin Allen's later work, on television ('Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea', 'Time Tunnel') and in film ('The Poseidon Adventure', 'The Towering Inferno'). There are other milestones to this film, as well, but I think you can see my point!
The story is VERY loosely based on Henrik Van Loon's wonderful, witty history of the human race (which is a fabulous read, if you ever get the chance!) The 'basic' framework of the story has been changed into an 'End of the World' tale, set in the heavens. High Judge Cedric Hardwicke must decide whether or not Earth should be allowed to blow itself up, after the creation of a 'super' bomb. Two counsels are selected; for the Prosecution is the Devil (Vincent Price), sly and sarcastic, and pleased that God's ultimate creation has fallen on it's face; for the Defense is the Spirit of Mankind (Ronald Colman), an entity that carries the essence of all of Man's achievements, both good and bad.
As both sides present their cases, the 'history' of the world is played out, using Warner Brothers' stock footage and guest star cameos. Among the most memorable of these cameos are Virginia Mayo as a vampy Cleopatra, Peter Lorre, a lazily derranged Nero, Hedy Lamarr as a pious Joan of Arc, Harpo Marx miming Sir Issac Newton, Groucho Marx leering and wisecracking as Peter Minuit, buying Manhattan Island, and Dennis Hopper as a WAY over-the-top young Napoleon!
Throughout the proceedings, Price and Colman (who had appeared together seven years earlier, in 'Champagne for Caesar') trade barbs over Man's worthiness, in exchanges both funny and sadly true, at times!
'The Story of Mankind' is NOT classic cinema, but it is fun, and has a kind of charm uniquely it's own. It should NOT be forgotten!
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