Future "Master of Disaster" Irwin Allen produced this curious but inarguably fascinating adaptation of Henrik Willem Van Loon's best- selling historical volume. A Celestial Tribunal has been convened to decide the fate of the Earth after the invention of nuclear weapons, with The Devil (Vincent Price) and The Spirit of Man (Ronald Colman) debating if humankind should be allowed to continue or be exterminated once and for all. Both men present examples of human behavior at its best and worst, including Dennis Hopper as Napoleon, Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc, Virginia Mayo as Cleopatra, Peter Lorre as Nero, Edward Everett Horton as Sir Walter Raleigh, and Groucho Marx, Harpo Marx, and Chico Marx as, respectively, Peter Minuit, Sir Isaac Newton, and a monk (yes, the producers had the daring and vision to cast the Marx Brothers without having them play any scenes together). The Story of Mankind proved to be the last film for both Ronald Colman and Hedy Lamarr; it was also the last time the three Marx Brothers appeared in the same film, though the individual Marxes appeared in a few films following this.
by Mark Deming synopsis