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Volcano over Morgantown
Master of the World with Vincent Price and Charles Bronson
© 2013 James LaFond
2 stars
1961, 102 minutes, American international, available on YouTube with Greek subtitles
On the face this is a ridiculous low-budget movie from a bygone era. It is more though, a film adaptation of a Jules Verne novel from a century earlier. I can only guess how faithful this film was to Verne’s story. A line from his novel is quoted after the closing, so I am assuming the movie was reasonably faithful to the book. Verne is the author that brought us more science-fiction than H. G. Wells, and earlier. His sci-fi is not as ‘hard’ and tends to adventure rather than speculation.
At the least you should watch the first five minutes, which is a montage of disastrous experiments with flight. You might want to watch that a few times.
As bad as the effects, acting and dialogue in this film were, there was plenty of speculation evident. The first scene is ridiculous, with a volcano mysteriously looming over Morgantown West Virginia. Bronson plays a government agent who goes along with an arms manufacturer, his conveniently placed daughter, and her conveniently inadequate fiancé, to explore the insurmountable volcano in a cutting edge aircraft: a balloon.
They are soon wrecked and ‘rescued’ by an airship powered by many rotor blades, and owned by a mad scientist played by Vincent Price. Price’s character is a mentally unbalanced enigmatic anarchist with no national allegiance who dreams of using his airship to ‘wage war on war’, literally sinking all warships and bombing all armies until the major powers of the world agree to disarm. Price was not that bad. Bronson had one good line, ‘Honor be damned’, reflecting perhaps the Cold War sentiment concerning urgent means among Americans of the time the film was made.
The airship Alabatrose was an interesting enough concept for the 19th Century, made of ‘dextrin-impregnated paper’ and able to circumnavigate the globe in 10 days. Price and Bronson pontificate about the possibility of extreme means being justified by the noblest ends. The arms manufacturer was played by a singularly bad actor. He made for an unsympathetic character, ‘a merchant of death’, and was essentially the object of the story, which strikes me as a war protest.
Master of the World was a simplistic dream of a story filmed with a heavy-handed lack of vision. It left an impression though, as the villains—particularly the small loyal crew—were painted as more heroic figures than the hero played by Bronson, who saved the world for industrial war, of course. As the ‘heroes’ watch from safety as the mad scientist and his crew of would-be peace enforcers plunge stoically to their death the following Verne quote from the novel pops up on the screen, “I take my dream with me.”
It was not a good movie. It was also not a waste of my time.
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Anonymous     Dec 20, 2016

Morgantown Pennsylvania, not West Virginia.
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