In 1954 Walt Disney released 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The movie was based on the novel by Jules Verne and it set a precedent for live action movies at Disney’s Studio. Within five years, James Mason would be back in another Verne novel turned motion picture with Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959). Verne became a hot commodity again in 1961 with the Master of the World. This time James Mason would not be a mad genius trying to change the world; that role would fall to Vincent Price as Captain Robur.
Master of the World unfortunately falls way too close to Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The novels Master of the World were based on (“Clipper of the Clouds" and its sequel "Master of the World") were written sixteen years after “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”. The screenplay by Richard Matheson also falls short on character development. These elements make you long for Disney’s original Verne classic.
Phillip Evans (David Frankham) and Mr. Prudent (Henry Hull) are rival balloon inventors who constantly bicker about which design is going to work. Evans is fortunate enough to be engaged to Mr. Prudent’s daughter, Dorothy (Mary Webster), so the argument never gets too heated. Enter John Strock (Charles Bronson), a government agent who wishes to hire Evans and Prudent to fly him to a disturbance centering around a mountain in Morgantown Pennsylvania. With their balloon, he’ll be able to ascertain what has to be done. A condition of Prudent’s is that his daughter comes along for the ride. Within a few short hours, they fly from Philadelphia to Morgantown and are shot down by a rocket. Being that this is the late 19th Century, a rocket is as alien to them as the next technological terror they encounter. They awaken on what they believe to be a steam ship but in fact it is a flying fortress. Greeted with open arms by its Captain (Price), they are invited to see his marvelous flying machine. The wonders and beauty of the world from above quickly turn deadly as Captain Robur’s plans come to light. He plans to wage war on the governments of the worlds until they lay down their arms. He seeks world peace but of course is going about it all wrong.
In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea we come to understand Captain Nemo’s plight. We learn his history and that his means of scaring the world aren’t nearly as extreme. Captain Robur, on the other hand, is a mystery. How did he complete his warship? What drove him to this plan? All these key elements are never revealed to the audience. Our cast of heroes is also incredibly one sided. Dorothy’s fiancé Phillip goes from a loving man to a complete jerk right after meeting Strock. Dorothy is clearly in love with Strock yet neither one has any chemistry with the other. Mr. Prudent is completely one dimensional as the old guard with his old way of thinking. If only Bronson delivered one tenth of the performance Kirk Douglas did in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, there would be at least a hero to root for. The joy in this film is watching Vincent Price chew up the scenery with what little he is given. That performance alone makes Master of the World worth watching.
Master of the World isn’t, however, a complete Xerox copy of the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In most ways, William Witney delivers a Disney- esque film for American International Pictures. There is nothing here the family can’t sit back and enjoy. In fact, this film’s simplicity makes it ideal for children. For adults, on the other hand, the lack of character development and back story provides huge holes that may ruin the overall enjoyment to the story.
Robert Trate writes two weekly columns for Mania the DVD Shopping Bag and the Toy Maniac. Follow Robert on Twitter for his for Geek ramblings, Cosplay photos and film criticisms.
Mania is the premiere online destination for fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and anime entertainment. It is the largest community offering profiles, video, science fiction movies, sci fi TV, art, sci fi comics, photos, cheats, blogs, science fiction books, forums and feedback. Mania offers insider entertainment industry info and original content for science fiction, fantasy, and horror entertainment genres including: video games, comics, gadgets, movies, television, toys, music, books, DVDs and more.