powered by AFI
The film concludes with the High Judge looking into the camera and saying, "The choice is entirely up to you." As noted in the Variety review, the first fifty-five seconds of the opening credits show twenty-five successive above-title cast names. Although forty-nine actors are credited in the opening sequence, only the twenty-four names appearing below the title appear in alphabetical order. According to a November 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, Warner Bros. had considered alphabetizing all names except for Ronald Colman, who would receive top billing. The opening literary credit reads: "Based on the classic by Hendrik van Loon."
After the opening credits, voice-over narration by Colman begins, "Once upon the time there were two angels...," followed by narration by two other actors, who portray the voices of angels. In the scenes depicting the proceedings of the High Tribunal of Outer Space, judges sit behind tall podiums in front of a semi-circle of seated, unnamed characters dressed in various historical costumes. The set is grounded in fog and the background is a deep blue. As noted in a November 1956 Los Angeles Times article, the "mankind on trial" portion of the film was a "gimmick" added for the film and not present in Hendrik Van Loon's original novel. According to the article, producer-director-writer Irwin Allen planned to end the film without revealing the High Tribune's decision, then flash a written question onscreen, "Is this the end?"
Interspersed with trial scenes are sequences depicting historical events on Earth. As noted in the Variety and Motion Picture Herald reviews, color footage from several old Warner Bros. films was used for many of the Earth sequences, among them, the 1954 King Richard and the Crusaders (see entry above) and the 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood. According to a March 1957 New York Herald Tribune article, the Land of the Pharaohs footage used in The Story of Mankind was cut from the original film. The article added that portions of 1950 Victor Fleming production Joan of Arc also appeared in The Story of Mankind. Although most of the historical footage was taken from Warner Bros. productions, two films, Forever Amber (1947) and Drums Along the Mohawk (1939, for both) were produced by Twentieth Century-Fox. Other films from which historical scenes were taken, according to modern sources, were Helen of Troy, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Captain Horatio Hornblower, Dodge City, San Antonio, The Command and Gold Is Where You Find It. A March 1957 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the Pearl Harbor sequence featured previously unexhibited footage taken by Hawaiian businessman Robert T. Loring.
In reviews and in the copyright record, actor Leonard Mudie's name is erroneously spelled "Mudi." Although an October 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Diana Lynn was cast, she was not in the released film. A November 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Yvonne DeCarlo, who was originally cast as Cleopatra, withdrew from the film due to overlapping commitments and was replaced by Virginia Mayo. Ten-year-old Melinda Marx, who portrayed an early Christian child, was the daughter of Groucho Marx, who portrayed "Peter Minuit." Austin Green, who portrayed "Abraham Lincoln," was a weatherman for KNTX-TV. Jim Ameche, who portrayed "Alexander Graham Bell," was the brother of Don Ameche, who portrayed the inventor in the popular 1939 film, The Story of Alexander Graham Bell.
The Story of Mankind marked the final film of longtime star Colman and Franklin Pangborn, both of whom died in 1958. The picture also marked the last joint screen appearance of Groucho, Harpo and Chico Marx, although they played only cameo roles. Their last film appearance as a team was the 1950 United Artists' release Love Happy. A December 6, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that the rough cut of the film was five hours, which Allen planned to trim by two to three hours. According to a December 19, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, Dennis Hopper completed additional scenes after the principal photography to expand his role of "Napoleon" by four minutes.
Regarding the central question of the film, i.e., whether man's good nature outweighs his bad, the film's reviewers were more definite than the High Tribunal. The Variety review remarked: "In the dreary cataloguing of man's crimes against humanity, the Devil makes a much better case." Agreeing, the Motion Picture Herald reviewer wrote, "Much of what is good [about man] is only talked about, never shown, and the devil's disciples appear to have a ringing victory." Several reviews found that the script's occasional treatment of historical events with humor made the film feel uneven.
June 1953 Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter news items reported that Bernard Foyer had acquired the rights to make several feature films and a color telefilm series of Van Loon's The Story of Mankind, which had been translated into twenty-nine languages. The Daily Variety news item announced that Ferde Grofe would compose the score and that the film would be shot in Eastman Color. Although the Hollywood Reporter news item stated that filming would begin in Aug, no other information about those projects were found.