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Cheap and cheerful matinee stuff
on 14 September 2010
If you can overlook the underfunded special effects, the very obvious sets and the ample stock footage, Master of the World is an enjoyable matinee fantasy adventure adapted by the prolific Richard Matheson from a couple of Jules Verne's less remembered novels that plays out like an airborne version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, with Vincent Price's Nemo-esque Robur planning to end all war by destroying all armies and weapons from his giant airship, The Albatross. It obviously doubles as a time machine, since even though it's set towards the end of the 19th century it can be seen flying over Elizabethan London courtesy of stock footage from Olivier's Henry V, the Battle of Trafalgar from That Hamilton Woman via the big battle scene from Korda's The Four Feathers. It's the kind of film where the back-projection, model shots and matte paintings never convince and were probably never intended to, but have enough old-world design charm for it not to really matter, while Les Baxter offers a rather seductive score that's above and beyond the call of duty for this kind of film, though his end title song didn't make the final cut ("If he rules just one heart a man is a king/It seems as though his soul has taken wing/And like the stars that fly on high above the Earth/A man is Master of the World/When he is loved!"). Charles Bronson is miscast as the suave secret serviceman advocating avoiding antagonising Robur but still comes off much better than you'd expect, Henry Hull is as irritating as usual as the arms manufacturer who finds himself an unwilling passenger on the Albatross, while Mary Webster as his daughter and obligatory romantic interest provides the source of antagonism between Bronson and David Frankham's impatient suitor: it may not be the finest hour for any of them, but they all do what is expected of them without looking like they're above this sort of thing. Matinee stuff, for sure, but engagingly cheap and cheerful with it.
Unfortunately the original Spanish DVD (with a photographic cover) is overcropped, losing some of the image at the top of the screen in particular in this widescreen transfer - a shame because it's clearly been remastered with decent colour and definition and - aside from one sequence, which is only slight affected - there's no sign of excessive noise reduction, but they simply got the cropping awry. The second Spanish edition used the same master released through Fox in Spain (which uses the poster artwork on the cover rather than a photo-montage) thankfully corrects the cropping problem but also offers no extras.