MASTER OF THE WORLD
Master of the World comes from American International Pictures (AIP), a studio that had had success in the 1950s with a heap of low-budget teen and monster/science-fiction films with entertainingly cheesy titles. Into the 1960s, AIP began to expand beyond B-budget films with the success of Roger Cormans series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. Master of the World comes from legendary genre screenwriter Richard Matheson, who had written most of Cormans Poe films and other classic works like The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Duel (1971), The Night Stalker (1972) and several novels including I Am Legend (1954). Director William Witney was mostly known for his work on numerous Westerns and serials, including classics like Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941), The Perils of Nyoka (1942) and Spy Smasher (1942).
Richard Matheson principally adapts Jules Vernes novel Robur the Conqueror/Clipper of the Clouds (1886), while borrowing the title and the central character of John Strock from Jules Vernes second-to-last book, the Robur sequel Master of the World (1905). I somewhat heretically think that in playing around with Verne, Richard Matheson has in fact created a more interesting story than Verne himself did. Robur the Conqueror lacks the idealistic conflicts that the film has Robur was the inventor of an airship but the people taken aboard were members of a society that were attempting to build an airship whom Robur considered rivals and abducted to demonstrate his superiority. Of course, Mathesons turning of Robur into a militant pacifist now makes him another version of Captain Nemo ramming warships in his submarine and as a result many people dismissed Master of the World as just a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
However, Richard Mathesons treatment is a too interesting to dismiss Master of the World as merely a 20,000 Leagues copycat. Especially interesting are the characters played by David Frankham and a young Charles Bronson Frankham initially comes as the standard romantic hero of the piece, which is something that Matheson then skilfully undermines to turn him into a dangerous hothead while still giving him what would be classic heroic motives, while the real hero of the piece is allowed to emerge in Bronson who has a utilitarian disregard for gentlemanly honour and proper morals. There are some very well written confrontations between Vincent Prices Robur and munitions manufacturer Henry Hull where Richard Matheson stands off and refuses to allow the ideologies of either to appear totally valid. It is almost as though Matheson has determined to write a debate that vigorously questioned the ideals that lay behind Captain Nemos pacifism in 20,000 Leagues.
In terms of production values, Master of the World gives the impression of trying to be an A-budget production on a B-budget. Most of the budget seems to have been blown on the superlative Albatross model the shots of it cruising through the clouds and across the oceans are splendid. Unfortunately, other effects are shoddy in comparison, notably the use of stock footage from other films. With an entrepreneurial anachronism of about four hundred years, London is represented by footage taken from the Laurence Olivier production of Henry V (1944), a feature that many commentators often alight upon and use to ridicule the otherwise worthwhile film, and there are other unidentified sequences of an Egyptian battle. The size of the airship and the distances it is supposed to be flying also seem to vary wildly what is said to be 20 feet above a river seems more like 300 feet, and a Valley that supposedly has no turning room looks half-a-mile wide.
There is also an irritable comic-bookishness to the film, as was the tone throughout many of these Jules Verne adaptations. Vincent Prices fruity hamming is a performance without realism, more suited to the exaggerated posturings of stage comedy. There is much in the way of the burlesque playing all eye-rolling and puffed-up cheeks common to actors of the 60s like Terry-Thomas and Gert Frobe in the characters of a comic-foil cook and the initial way that Henry Hull comes across. There is also an absurdly jaunty score that jumps along with the unflappable jollity of a summer pops season, determined to drown out all dialogue and play on indifferently no matter what the on-screen action may require.