Sunday, November 27, 2011


It's a boring day in 1868 in Morgantown, Pennsylvania when suddenly a mountain, called the Great Eyrie, erupts and a man's booming voice begins intoning apocalyptic warnings. Some members of the Weldon Balloon Society decide to take a balloon up and check things out. The group consists of Henry Hull, a munitions manufacturer; his daughter (Mary Webster); her boyfriend (David Frankham); and Charles Bronson, a government scientist who is strong and silent and therefore by default the romantic hero. Their balloon is shot at by the airship Albatross, and its captain (Vincent Price) takes them on board. It turns out that Price is the one behind the shenanigans at the Eyrie; he has declared war against war, delivering ultimatums to world governments to give up their armies and weapons or be destroyed. The captive group is witness to Price's bombing of British navy ships. They're torn between action and passivity; should they actively try to stop Price or make the best of their imprisonment? There is some infighting between the gentlemanly Frankham and the realistic Bronson, but when Bronson finally takes a stand, it might mean that all four of them will have to sacrifice themselves to stop Price.

This fantasy adventure is based on two novels by Jules Verne featuring the character of Captain Robur (Price). The film has its moments, but the American International budget was just too small to produce effective thrills and the cast is way too mild to bring about much excitement. Bronson, who would become an action hero in the 70s, plays a quiet, composed hero; we like him, but he's not very exciting. Webster is bland, so we never care about the halfhearted romantic triangle; Frankham shows some promise early on as an antagonist, but despite pulling off a very nasty trick against Bronson late in the movie, never really comes off as very threatening. Hull, on the verge of overacting, seems to be in a whole different movie, and the usually reliable Price seems rather tired. The musical score is inappropriately peppy. Vito Scotti provides some mild comic relief as a cook on the airship, and I rather enjoyed the hunky, blond, and often shirtless airship pilot—I think he was played by Richard Harrison. In the last section, when Price tries to stop a desert war, the pace does pick up a bit, but overall this is a disappointment. [DVD]

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