Directed By: Irwin Allen
Starring: Ronald Colman, Hedy Lamarr, Vincent Price
Tag line: “The Story of Men and Their Women From the Beginning of Creation!”
Trivia: The Marx Brothers never appear together in this film
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Vincent Price as The Devil. Peter Lorre as Roman Emperor, Nero. Dennis Hopper as Napoleon Bonaparte. And, if that’s not enough to spark your interest, how about an appearance by all three Marx Brothers? With so many stars taking part in The Story of Mankind, I couldn’t possibly pass this movie by!
After receiving word that an earthling has developed the “Super H-Bomb”, a heavenly tribunal is convened to determine the fate of all mankind. Should humans be permitted to destroy themselves with such advanced weaponry, or should the heavens intercede, saving earth from total destruction? Speaking on behalf of us all is The Spirit of Mankind (Ronald Colman), who believes strongly in the virtues of humanity, while The Devil himself (Vincent Price), aka “Mr. Scratch”, argues man is a violent being, and has therefore earned its own extinction. Together, the two take a trip through earth’s long history, using examples ranging from Ancient Egypt to World War II to make their respective cases.
Any hopes that The Story of Mankind might reveal something substantial about the human condition are all but shattered in the film’s opening scene, where two stars, affixed in the heavens, are talking to one another. One star tells the other he’s heard mankind has developed the Super H-Bomb. “Impossible”, the second star replies, “You must be mistaken. Why, they’re not ready, or wise enough to handle it yet”. Yeah, I know…as subtle as an ax to the forehead, right? The film isn’t even historically accurate (Cleopatra didn’t poison her “innocent little brother” to gain the throne. The truth was much more complex, and her “little brother” was far from innocent). So, realizing early on The Story of Mankind fails as both a morality tale and a history lesson, I decided to instead focus on the performances delivered by its gargantuan cast. This is, after all, why I wanted to see it in the first place.