The late critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert always warned about movies with too many stars. This one is a case in point. It’s based on the non-fiction book by Henrik Van Loon. The screenplay was co-written by Irwin Allen. Except for a brief bit by Groucho Marx as Peter Minuit buying Manhattan Island this is a disaster…not the kind usually associated with Irwin Allen. Most of the big names phone it in and hang up before they’re done. Some only have a few lines and others obviously want to get it over with as soon as possible.
The premise is that mankind has invented a super H-Bomb sixty years early. If the bomb goes off mankind is toast. It’s up to the High Tribunal of Outer Space to decide what to do. The judge is Cedric Hardwicke. Arguing the case is Ronald Coleman as the spirit of man and Vincent Price as the devil. All three try but their stuck in a bigger H-Bomb. The movie goes from the caveman and the discovery of fire up to the atomic bomb destroying Hiroshima.
It’s all a “spot the star” trip and you can marvel about how bad some of your favorites are when they don’t seem to care. Get a check and go home and wait to be called for some good stuff.
The devil starts with Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu (John Carradine) and the building of his pyramid. The spirit counters with Moses (Francis X.Bushman). That sets up how the movie goes with the differences between good and evil…..destruction and discovery. The devil then moves on to the Trojan War. The spirit counters with Ancient Greece including Hippocrates (Charles Coburn).
Now an appearance by Virginia Mayo as Cleopatra, and a couple unknowns as Marc Antony and Julius Caesar. Then we go to Peter Lorre in the worst performance of his career as Nero. We keep going up in history with a few more characters and finally get to Hedy Lamar as Joan of Arc. A brief bit about Leonardo da Vinci follows and then onto Columbus (Anthony Dexter) and Cortez.
Time to see Agnes Moorhead unbelievably awful as Queen Elizabert I who gets a visit from Reginald Gardner as Shakespeare. Now it’s Groucho’s turn as Peter Minuit giving Indian Chief Abraham Sofaer twenty-four bucks for Manhattan Island. A few more historical stops and then here’s Harpo Marx as Isaac Newton complete with apple tree and harp.
Let’s go to France for a visit with Marie Wilson as Marie Antoinette. As long as we’re in France let’s drop in on Josephine (Marie Windsor) and as Napoleon…wait for it…..Dennis Hopper. He is so bad that it looks like he just got the script and didn’t have a clue what it said. The movie creaks along through the Civil War up to World War Two. Then…the final judgement from the court.
Also appearing or at least walking in front of the camera by mistake are Chico Marx as a monk, Cesar Romero as a Spanish envoy, Edward Everett Horton as Sir Walter Raleigh, George E.Stone as a waiter, Franklin Pangborn as a Marquis and William Schallert as the Earl of Warwick.
There’s also some stunt casting with Groucho’s daughter Melinda as an early Christian child with no lines and an in joke with Jim Ameche playing Alexander Graham Bell, a role made famous by his father Don.
This is just an hour and forty minute mess. You’ve been warned!