The Story of Mankind
The Story of Mankind 1957 Film.jpg
1957 U.S. theatrical poster
Directed byIrwin Allen
Screenplay by
Irwin Allen
Based onThe Story of Mankind
by Hendrik Willem van Loon
Produced by
Irwin Allen
CinematographyNicholas Musuraca
Edited by
Music byPaul Sawtell
Cambridge Productions
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • November 8, 1957 (1957-11-08)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Story of Mankind is a 1957 American dark fantasy film loosely based on the nonfiction book The Story of Mankind (1921) by Hendrik Willem van Loon.[1] The film was directed and coproduced by Irwin Allen and released by Warner Bros.[2]


Scientists have developed a weapon called the Super H-bomb that can exterminate the human race. A high tribunal in the Great Court of Outer Space is convened to decide whether divine intervention should be allowed to stop the bomb's detonation. The devil, who goes by the name of Mr. Scratch, prosecutes mankind while the Spirit of Man defends it.

Scratch and the Spirit of Man are allowed to take the tribunal to any period of time to present evidence for mankind's salvation or damnation. They take the tribunal from prehistory through Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment and modern times, looking at historical figures.

Ultimately the tribunal is asked to rule. The high judge, facing Mr. Scratch and the Spirit with a large assemblage of peoples in their native costumes behind them, declares that the good and evil of mankind are too finely balanced. A decision is suspended until they return. When they return, they expect to see a resolution of humanity's age-old struggle with itself.



The film was former publicist Irwin Allen's first attempt at directing live actors after his documentaries The Sea Around Us and The Animal World. In May 1955, Allen announced he would write, produce and direct a film based on the book,[3] and Warner Bros. agreed to distribute the film.[4] Jack Warner announced that 42 nations would be represented.[5] Allen said securing the rights was "very complicated."[6]

In March 1956, Allen said the film had been in preproduction for a year and that filming would start in June. The original intention was for only two actors to appear in the film, a man and a woman representing mankind through the ages. The film would take over two years to shoot in 18 countries, and Warner Bros. invited several prominent theologians, historians and philosophers to an advisory board for the production.[7] This plan was soon jettisoned. Allen finished a script with Charles Bennett by August 1956.


Allen wanted an all-star cast to play various people in history. This casting strategy had recently proved very popular in Around the World in 80 Days.[8]

"Where we can't do justice to a time and place we won't just brush them off summarily," said Allen, "We just won't use them. There have been 400 or more giants of history in all our fields. Our big problem has been to bring them down to about 50, asking about each: was what he or she did lasting - and how long did it last? Telling history on the screen can be like telling a bad joke twice. You first have to find a handle, a gimmick."[6]

The first four names cast were Vincent Price, Cedric Hardwicke, Diana Lynn (as Joan of Arc) and Peter Lorre.[9] Next were Ronald Colman, Yvonne de Carlo (as Cleopatra), Charles Coburn and Hedy Lamarr, who replaced Lynn as Joan of Arc.[10] Groucho Marx and Cesar Romero joined.[11] Virginia Mayo would eventually replace de Carlo.[12]

Screenwriter Charles Bennett recalled that Allen paid each of the stars $2,000, though Greer Garson turned down the role of Queen Elizabeth I.[13]


Filming started on November 12, 1956. As with Allen's two previous films, The Story of Mankind features vast amounts of stock footage. Battle and action scenes culled from previous Warner Bros. costume films (such as Howard Hawks' 1955 epic Land of the Pharaohs) were coupled with cheaply shot closeups of actors on much smaller sets.

This was the last film to feature the three Marx Brothers (and their only film in Technicolor), although they appear in separate scenes and do not act together. Chico became ill and later died on October 11, 1961,[14] this was also the last film of star Ronald Colman and character actor Franklin Pangborn, and the last American film of Hedy Lamarr.


The Story of Mankind was listed in the 1978 book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.[15]

Home media

Warner Home Video released the film as part of its Warner Archive made-to-order DVD line on July 20, 2009 in the United States.

Comic book adaptation

See also


  1. ^ van Loon, Hendrik Willem (2006). The Story of Mankind (Reissue ed.). New York City: Cosimo Classics. ISBN 978-1596059566.
  2. ^ "The Story of Mankind". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved September 8, 2016.
  3. ^ "Van Loon for Screen". The Christian Science Monitor. 14 May 1955. p. 10.
  4. ^ "Warner Bros. to Launch Spring Picture Releases: Exhibitors and Representatives of Press to View First Films in Special Showing". Los Angeles Times. 12 March 1956. p. 38.
  5. ^ Schallert, Edwin (21 March 1956). "Drama: 'Story of Mankind' Put on Full-Scale Footing; Big Civil War Epic Set". Los Angeles Times. p. 27.
  6. ^ a b Scheuer, Philip K. (18 November 1956). "A Town Called Hollywood: 'Mankind' to Tour History of Humans in Three Hours". Los Angeles Times. p. E2.
  7. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. (21 March 1956). "Jack Benny Gets Film Role Offer: Comedian Sought as Star of 'The Phony' – Producer and Writer Is Charles Martin". New York Times. p. 34. Retrieved August 31, 2019.
  8. ^ Schallert, Edwin (29 August 1956). "Gene Barry Gets Top '27th Day' Billing; Lunt, Fontanne Deal Hinted". Los Angeles Times. p. A11.
  9. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. (17 October 1956). "4 Signed for Film of Van Loon Book: Hardwicke and Price Among Many Stars to Appear in 'The Story of Mankind' Health Cultists in Film". New York Times. p. 41. Retrieved August 31, 2019.
  10. ^ Pryor, Thomas M. (26 October 1956). "German Outlines Film Censorship: Director of Industry Agency Says 45% of All Movies Are Barred to Children Consists of Three Boards Of Local Origin". New York Times. p. 33.
  11. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (9 November 1956). "Groucho, Cesar Romero Aid 'Story of Mankind;' Machiko Kyo Recalled". Los Angeles Times. p. B7.
  12. ^ Hopper, Hedda (12 November 1956). "Palance to Be Twins in 'House of Numbers'". Los Angeles Times. p. C14.
  13. ^ p. 17 Charles Bennett Interview in Words into Images: Screenwriters on the Studio System Univ. Press of Mississippi
  14. ^ Mark Deming. "The Story of Mankind (1957) - Irwin Allen - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 6 September 2015.
  15. ^ Medved, Harry; Dreyfuss, Randy (1978). The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way) (Paperback ed.). New York City: Popular Library. ISBN 978-7027358055.
  16. ^ "Dell Four Color #851". Grand Comics Database.
  17. ^ Dell Four Color #851 at the Comic Book DB (archived from the original)