In the mid-eighteenth century, a small town in Pennsylvania was quietly going about its business when all of a sudden a huge rumble was heard, and the ground shook. An earthquake - here? But perhaps not, as soon afterwards an impossibly loud voice was heard from the nearby mountain which indicated as hard to believe as it was, there was a human reason behind what had happened. The United States government leapt into action and sent an agent from the Department of the Interior, John Strock (Charles Bronson) to investigate...
Ever wanted to see Vincent Price play Captain Nemo? Well, tough luck, but with Master of the World you could have the next best thing, as this, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, was drawn from the fiction of Jules Verne, adapted by Richard Matheson for an A.I.P. opportunist cash-in on the success of the Disney feature which had cleaned up at the box office during the previous decade. By simply substituting the air for the sea, maybe they hoped nobody would notice the marked similarities between the two, or more likely they hoped they would and enjoy this just as much.
It didn't quite work out that way, naturally, as for a start the budget on the Disney film was far higher, and when we reached the special effects here you couldn't help but notice how impoverished this modest item looked in comparison, packed with stock footage as it was. Underlining that was the manner in which director William Witney, a veteran of many a serial, was forced to rely on poor back projection for the flying scenes, which wouldn't have been so bad if they didn't occur every five minutes thanks to the bulk of the plot taking place in the sky and therefore growing ever more noticeable with each passing sequence.
Not to worry, for there was the novelty value of the casting as something to keep you watching and soothe the misgivings the viewer may have had about that seen it all before quality which predominated. Yes, here was the only film where you got to see a beetle-browed Vincent Price pit his wits against Chuck Bronson, sure, they'd appeared together in House of Wax a few years before, but they were on the same side in that one. In this, Bronson was the hero, a strange bit of casting when he's meant to be so sophisticated, but oddly quite entertaining because of it (Matheson did not agree). Yet Price's Robur, like Nemo, had a noble cause to fight for: the eradication of war from the globe.
So once Strock hitches a ride on the balloon of munitions magnate Henry Hull, accompanied by his daughter (Mary Webster) and his business rival (David Frankham), they crash on the mountain and are essentially abducted by Robur, who keeps them aboard his flying machine as both an altruistic gesture and as someone to show off to when his plans are going so well. Frankham's hothead has schemes of his own, as Hull's businessman has no qualms about the people who die as a result of his company but has sufficient pause for thought when it is sailors and soldiers who are getting bombed by Robur and his international crew. Strock sees the situation with clarity: stopping war is a reasonable act, but to use violence on a grand scale to do so is poor judgement at best, not to mention hypocritical, though Robur is so caught up in it there's only one way to stop him. That's right, more violence, but this was Bronson we were talking about, and if it wasn't the glossiest of period sci-fi efforts, it was spirited and diverting. Music by Les Baxter.