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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The name "Mr. Scratch" as a euphemism for the Devil had previously been used on film in "All That Money Can Buy," a.k.a. "The Devil and Daniel Webster," in which it was the name of Walter Huston's character. See more »
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The opening titles of this historical epic one of the most notoriously misjudged films in Hollywood history boast no fewer than 25 stars but, having personally gone through it, I have to say that its reputation is entirely justified! I'd always been interested in it, of course, yet I'd practically given up hope of ever catching the film and, eventually, I only managed to come across a soft-looking, panned-and-scanned VHS copy with forced Spanish subtitles (which will more than suffice under the circumstances).
Actually, the central premise isn't half-bad a tribunal in outer space(!), presided over by Sir Cedric Hardwicke, convenes to determine whether mankind should be allowed to go on living or else let it obliterate itself via the misuse of nuclear weapons! In fact, the opening half-hour or so is fairly decent but, as soon as one realizes that the film will be a constant parade of Hollywood stars stolidly appearing (portraying is hardly the correct term to use here) as famous historical figures who are subsequently given little of consequence to do it becomes a depressing, repetitive and altogether rather dull charade!
At least, the main roles of The Spirit Of Man (a suave and gracefully aged Ronald Colman in his last film) and Mr. Scratch aka The Devil (a typically genial turn by Vincent Price) are ideally filled something which, alas, can't be said of most of their colleagues: Hardwicke himself merely gets in a few inane phrases between Colman and Price's rebuttals, but, for good measure, we also have to contend with John Carradine (as a campily-dressed Pharaoh), Peter Lorre (as a thoroughly miserable Nero, which is ironic given that the role had often inspired actors towards hamminess!), Virginia Mayo (unrecognizable as Cleopatra), Hedy Lamarr (an embarrassingly miscast Joan of Arc), Dennis Hopper (as a wimpy Napoleon Bonaparte!) and, surely the weirdest casting choice of all, the Marx Brothers (appearing in their final team effort, albeit separately: Chico barely registers as a monk in the Christopher Columbus episode, Groucho incongruously appearing fully in character, with glasses and wisecracks intact[!], as obscure American Pilgrim Peter Minuit, and Harpo, ditto, as a mute and harp-playing Sir Isaac Newton)!!
The various re-enactments (amidst which Colman and Price are free to roam) display a rampant use of stock footage thus making the film seem more expensive than it actually is and naturally end with the present i.e. 1957 crisis; in hindsight, the script's constant reference to the "Super H-bomb" is amusing and dates the show more than anything else! At a mere 100 minutes, such an ambitious enterprise was doomed from the start and, indeed, it feels too much like a crash-course in World History (intercut with elementary bits of Philosophy). Perhaps, the kindest thing that can be said about THE STORY OF MANKIND is that, for better or worse, it did pave the way for Irwin Allen's heyday as a producer of star-studded Hollywood blockbusters.
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