Film Review: Master of the World (1961)

Release Date: May, 1961 (USA)
Directed by: William Witney
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: Robur the Conqueror and Master of the World by Jules Verne
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Charles Bronson, Henry Hull, Mary Webster, Richard Harrison

American International Pictures, 102 Minutes (including prologue)


What happens when you mix the master of terror Vincent Price with the works of the amazing Jules Verne and a screenplay by the great Richard Matheson? Well, you get Master of the World!

This film is like Verne’s more famous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea except for being underwater in a giant menacing ship, it is in the air. Unfortunately it doesn’t do battle with a giant squid but it does do battle with the nations of the world.

I always loved the movie versions of Verne’s classic works, especially from this era. While Master of the World doesn’t quite measure up to 20,000 Leagues or Around the World In 80 Days, it is still an enjoyable picture and feels like a true extension of those films. Even with its much smaller budget and scale, Master of the World still feels like a big movie. Sure, the special effects don’t hold up tremendously but some of the shots and effects were still well executed for their day and for the limited resources American International Pictures had versus Disney.

Casting Vincent Price as Robur the Conqueror was genius. Known mostly for being the leading man in several iconic horror films, Price was able to be sinister, where the role called for it, while also being commanding and intense as the captain of his airship, the Albatross. The film also reunited him with Charles Bronson, as they worked together on the classic House of Wax, eight years earlier. That was the film that really started Bronson’s career.

The character of Robur is a dynamic one. He is the villain of the story but depending upon your point-of-view, could be the hero. Considered a “mad man”, similar to Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues, Robur has created his magnificent airship in an effort to go to war with war. The ship’s purpose is to bully the war-mongering nations of the world into changing their ways. While Robur announces his intention on these nations, he is quick to destroy their warships and their weapons to make his message clear. Robur feels that the loss of thousands is worth it to protect the lives of millions who didn’t ask for war.

The Albatross is one of my favorite vessels in film history. It was steampunk before steampunk was even a thing. It also has the feel of the world from the video game Bioshock: Infinite, which may have borrowed from this movie or the works of Verne in general. The sets that are the ship are very well put together. The colors are nice and welcoming, the use of colored glass enhances the vision of world peace, which is Robur’s goal – even if his means to achieve it are a bit twisted. The Albatross is a menacing warship that doesn’t look anything like a warship. It looks like a nice, cozy place to live. I’m also pretty sure it inspired the airship from Final Fantasy VII.

Master of the World is one of my favorite Vincent Price films, even if it isn’t a horror picture. He owned the role of Robur and gave it a real sense of legitimacy. Charles Bronson was perfect as his foil and the rest of the cast was pretty good too. I especially liked the dichotomy between Price’s Robur and Henry Hull’s Prudent, an arms manufacturer that finds himself captive on the Albatross.

If you like Jules Verne tales in the form of a motion picture, there really isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t enjoy Master of the World. It isn’t a masterpiece but it is a solid film that deserves to be in the same company as the Disney-made Verne movies that had much larger budgets and better resources at their disposal.

Rating: 7/10

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