Random Film of the Week: Master of the World

Master of the WorldAh, Master of the World… you’re so well intentioned but when all is said and done you’re just not as good a film as you wanted to be… and that’s too bad. Even the great Vincent Price reading the words of the great Richard Matheson (who reworked elements from two of the great Jules Verne’s books into a screenplay) can’t save you from your crushing mediocrity. Nope, those barrel bottom visual effects work and an unfunny comic relief chef character tossed into the rather serious story can’t keep this Albatross afloat at all. That said, it’s an OK flick if you don’t mind it reminding you of a few better ones it tries so hard to template.

Now, call me crazy… but I think the idea of a war-hating kind of madman flying around the world and waging war against people who wage wars is both nuts and necessary in this day and age. However, this film fails to excite on a few levels other than giving Price his juicy lead role and Charles Bronson a chance to play a rugged-looking 19th century good guy for a change. For all its explosions and shouting, it makes the idea of Price’s bomb-dropping anti-war antihero Robur a pretty dull one and the film wears out its welcome around the halfway point…

The film tries very hard to emulate Disney’s slicker and better 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and maybe the other and better 1961 sci-fi/fantasy film from producer Charles H. Schneer, Mysterious Island, but doesn’t do all that well thanks to its cheaper budget and probably too much writing crammed into too little a film. Granted, American International Pictures was notorious foe its shoestring budgeted genre flicks, but this one runs out of steam fast. When a mountain in Pennsylvania starts emitting strange noises, Bronson’s federal agent Strock goes up to check things out in a balloon with a three other characters, but they get shot down and soon find themselves “guests” of Price’s madman with a mad plan. Robur reveals himself soon enough as not quite all there as he first shows off his fantastical airship, then proceeds to threaten and sink a few ships, killing their crews.

Robur also punishes two of his guests by dangling them from a hatch at the bottom of the Albatross in a really dopey scene that’s good for some chuckles because the effects work makes it look more fun than threatening. Despite all that time in the air, the film never really takes off thanks to so much dialog and Robur seeming less of a genius and more of a ticked off inventor who loses control of his creation later in the picture which leads to its literal and figurative downfall. A pretty decent Lex Baxter score is wasted here, but at least it propels the action when necessary. Visually, too much stock footage, some poor flying effects and an overall sense of budget constraints hurt this film a lot more than AIP’s much better Edgar Allan Poe films. Perhaps having Roger Corman as producer on this instead of James H. Nicholson would have helped a bit more, but then again, Corman probably would have cut costs even more and gotten TOO creative with his effects team and those flight scenes.

While not a terrible film, I’d recommend seeing this doubled up with one of the better films mentioned above. I’d go with Mysterious Island just so you can see how well a fantasy film can be done with an imperfect cast but all the right people behind the scenes propping them up and making everything look grand. Master of the World just feels like a relic of the time it’s supposed to take place in rather than a decent retelling of two much more enjoyable books…

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