In 1957, disaster film maestro Irwin Allen (The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno) directed and released his first feature film, The Story of Mankind. Story was also a disaster film, with a very 1950s trope – potential nuclear-bomb annihilation of the world.
The setting is a courtroom – a “High Tribunal” in “The Great Court of Outer Space.” Scientists have almost unlocked the secret to H-bomb production. Can they be allowed to continue? The court is in session.
The fate of mankind is debated by Vincent Price as devilish “Mr. Scratch” and film legend Ronald Coleman as “The Spirit of Man.” Price and Coleman recall great and horrific moments in mankind’s history to present their case. Allen used stock footage from previous movies interspersed with close-up clips featuring history’s most famous or infamous characters.
And speaking of film legends, take a look at this partial cast list (in alphabetical order):
- John Carradine – Khufu
- Charles Coburn – Hippocrates
- Reginal Gardiner – William Shakespeare
- Cedric Hardwicke – High Judge
- Edward Everettt Horton – Sir Walter Raleigh
- Dennis Hopper – Napoleon Bonaparte
- Hedy Lamarr – Joan of Arc
- Peter Lorre – Nero
- Groucho Marx – Peter Minuit
- Chico Marx – Monk
- Harpo Marx – Sir Isaac Newton
- Virginia Mayo – Cleopatra
- Agnes Moorehead – Queen Elizabeth I
- Cesar Romero – Spanish Envoy
- Marie Wilson – Marie Antoinette
Screenwriter Charles Bennett maintained that Allen paid each of the many near-the-end-of-their-career actors a slender $2000 to appear.
The Great Court’s verdict? No spoilers, now! Should you see it? Utgard14, one of IMDB’s Top Reviewers, has this to say:
“This film has the reputation of being one of classic Hollywood’s biggest stinkers. Personally, I like it! But part of why I like it is because it’s so flawed. It’s got an all-star cast, most of whom are laughably misused. The script is terrible with some of the corniest dialogue you’ll ever hear and some truly cringeworthy speeches. The history is inaccurate and blends myth with fact. It’s all filmed in lush Technicolor but on cheap sets with tons of stock footage. Still, I can’t help but enjoy it. It’s a movie that falls squarely into the ‘so good it’s bad’ camp for me. Taken seriously, it’s ridiculous and offensive to your intelligence. Taken lightly it’s quite a bit of cheesy fun.”
Image Credit: Warner Brothers