The Story of Mankind (1957)





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The phenomenal success of Mike Todd's Around the World in 80 Days (1956) inspired several directors to make similarly lavish all-star extravaganzas. This effort comes from a young Irwin Allen and features a blockbuster cast. The sprawling plot is based on Hendrik Willem Van Loon's best-selling 1921 book. It is framed by the story of a Celestial tribunal convened to debate the worthiness of humanity following the invention of the hydrogen bomb sixty years ahead of schedule. Their arguments will determine whether or not the leader of the Supreme Tribunal (presumably God) will authorize the destruction of planet Earth. The Spirit of Man (Ronald Colman in his final film appearance) points out all of humankind's achievements for good while wily Satan (Vincent Price) calls men worthless. Both of their points are illustrated via vignettes. Highlights include Hedy Lamarr as Joan-of-Arc, a young Dennis Hopper as Napoleon and Peter Lorre as Nero. The Marx Brothers also made their final appearance as a team. Interestingly, each appeared separately. Groucho played a lusty Peter Minuit, the Dutchman who bought Manhattan from the Indians, while Harpo played Sir Issac Newton. Chico played a monk. Hailed by some as one of the worst movies ever, The Story of Mankind proved one of the biggest box-office bombs of the '50s.
Drama , Science Fiction & Fantasy
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
Warner Bros.


Hedy Lamarr
as Joan of Arc
Ronald Colman
as The Spirit of Man
Groucho Marx
as Peter Minuit
Chico Marx
as Monk
Harpo Marx
as Isaac Newton
Virginia Mayo
as Cleopatra
Agnes Moorehead
as Queen Elizabeth
Charles Coburn
as Hippocrates
Cedric Hardwicke
as High Judge
Cesar Romero
as Spanish Envoy
Dennis Hopper
as Napoleon
Marie Wilson
as Marie Antoinette
Helmut Dantine
as Anthony
Edward Everett Horton
as Sir Walter Raleigh
Reginald Gardiner
as Shakespeare
Marie Windsor
as Josephine
Cathy O'Donnell
as Early Christian Woman
Franklin Pangborn
as Marquis de Varennes
Melville Cooper
as Major Domo
Henry Daniell
as Bishop of Beauvais
Jim Ameche
as Alexander Graham Bell
Dani Crayne
as Helen of Troy
Anthony Dexter
as Columbus
Austin Green
as Lincoln
Bobby Watson
as Hitler
Richard H. Cutting
as Court Attendant
Nick Cravat
as Apprentice
Melinda Marx
as Early Christian Child
Bart Mattson
as Cleopatra's Brother
Don Megowan
as Early Man
Marvin Miller
as Armana
Nancy Miller
as Early Woman
Leonard Mudie
as Chief Inquisitor
Abraham Sofaer
as Indian Chief
Tudor Owen
as Court Clerk
Toni Gerry
as Wife
Richard Cutting
as Court Attendant
William Schallert
as Earl of Warwick
Ziva Rodann
as Concubine
David Bond
as Early Christian
Eden Hartford
as Laughing Water
Harry Ruby
as Indian Brave
Sam Harris
as Noble in Queen Elizabeth's Court
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Critic Reviews for The Story of Mankind

All Critics (1)

Mind-curdling in its concentrated ghastliness.

Full Review… | December 1, 2010
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

Audience Reviews for The Story of Mankind


The Story of Mankind is loosely adapted from the book of the same name. After the invention of a Super-H bomb, the High Tribunal of the Court of Outer Space is called upon to decide whether the inhabitants of Earth should be destroyed or allowed to survive. This is one of Irwin Allen's first efforts - he directed and co-wrote the screenplay - and quite possibly his worst. The usage of stock footage coupled with cheaply shot close-ups of actors on much smaller sets underscored the slapdash feel of the film. Reminded me of Greg's film about the Pilgrims on the Brady Bunch. Moreover, it was absurd to cram all of recorded history into 100 minutes. Mel Brooks did it a lot better in his History of the World, Part 1. Second, the terrible miscasting of what was a long list of Hollywood screen legends paled in comparison to the way Irwin Allen utilized his blockbuster casts in the films he became noted for: The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno as well as the television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space and Land of the Giants. In particular I note the casting of Virginia Mayo as a petulantly girlish Cleopatra and Agnes Moorhead as an appallingly over-the-top Queen Elizabeth I. Moreover, it was an odd choice to cast the Marx Brothers - Groucho, Harpo and Chico - as seminal historical figures, albeit Groucho as Peter Minuit swindling Manhattan Island from the Indians added a few moments of levity. However, when Chico as Christopher Columbus' father cautioned that he would sail off of da edge of the "Oyth", and "Boom, no more ship", I thought I was watching Duck Soup. Harpo Marx as a mute Isaac Newton discovering the Theory of Gravity was totally ridiculous. One positive point was the spot on casting of Vincent Price as the Devil who argues for the destruction of mankind due to their inherent evil. Ronald Colman was also good as his foil, the Spirit of Man arguing for humanity's survival. The ending was unsatisfactory. The monologue by the chief judge admonishing the people of Earth that their fate is dependent on their future good behavior was way too self righteous and preachy.

John Tandlich
John Tandlich

Man is as evil as he is good. The human race has created the h-bomb and is on the verge of destroying existence. The creators of the human race meet in space to discuss mankind and determine if they should do the race a favor and eliminate them before they do it to themselves. The devil appears and agrees with eliminating the human race. The first man, Adam, appears and pleads to save the human race. The two will have to make their case in front of the creators. "A man is only as good as his fellow man will allow." Irwin Allen, director of The Big Circus, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Lost World, Five Weeks in a Balloon, City beneath the Sea, The Swarm, and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, delivers The Story of Mankind. The storyline for this picture is below average and fairly disappointing. The settings and scenes were cool, but it didn't really come together well. The acting was fairly good and the cast includes Vincent Price, Ronald Colman, Peter Lorre, Charles Coburn, John Carradine, Dennis Hopper, and Cesar Romero. "Let the wine flow!" I DVR'd this picture because it starred the legendary Vincent Price and has an all star cast. Unfortunately, this film is a bit bland and disappointing. I didn't think the stories and cases that made up the great subplots made for an interesting primary storyline (conceptually, the film just didn't work for me). Overall, I'd recommend skipping this film. "Love and hate are really the same." Grade: C-

Kevin Robbins
Kevin Robbins

This movie isn't as long as I had dreaded, so I was happy about that, but then on the other hand I was disappointed that we didn't get to see all of the great actors for very long. They all had short scenes, except for Price and Colman. I think maybe packing a film with so many stars wasn't such a great idea, although it does draw in more fans. This story has been seen before in many other more exciting movies too, so it doesn't even have that going for it. Overall, it was interesting to watch, and I loved Price and Colman, but it's not a great movie.

Aj V
Aj V

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