When one thinks of classic movies that pit cavemen against dinosaurs the title that first comes to mind would normally be that of Hammer Film’s epic picture One Million Years B.C. but what many don’t realize is that film was actually a remake of an old Hal Roach Studios picture starring Victor Mature and Carol Landis, sadly, over time it has been overshadowed by the remake that featured Raquel Welch in a fur bikini, an accoutrement that became an iconic moment in cinema history, so today we will look back at One Million B.C. a film that came first but finished last.
The film begins with a modern-day prologue where we find a group of lost hikers seeking shelter refuge from a storm in a cave that just so happens to be inhabited by an anthropologist (Conrad Nagel), who at the urging of the group’s guide (Robert Kent) he interprets prehistoric carvings that tell the story of a young caveman and his star-crossed love affair with a cavewoman from a rival tribe. We are first introduced to Akhoba (Lon Chaney Jr.) the leader of the Rock Tribe who leads a hunting party with his son Tumak (Victor Mature) and it’s quickly made apparent that Akhoba is a cold-hearted bastard who leaves the injured to die and the weak and the old are on the bottom rung of his society, even his dogs get first dibs on food over women and children, but when Tumak defends his own portion of food from Akhoba he is forced out of the cave and into the path of an angry mastodon.
The Mastodon knocks Tumak off a cliff and into the river below which then carries him downstream to the land of the Shell Tribe where he is discovered by the beautiful Loana (Carole Landis) and it is she who shows Tumak that life is not all about “survival of the fittest” as her tribe shares their food in an orderly fashion with the children, women and elderly being served first. Tumak is quite confused by the customs of the Shell Tribe but soon he comes to delight in helping the children get fruit out of the trees and he also earns the respect of the Shell Tribe by killing an Allosaurus that was trying to eat a little girl trapped in a tree, of course, things aren’t completely idyllic as Shell Tribe member Ohtao (John Hubbard) is a bit jealous of Loana’s attraction to this newcomer and he’s also a bit prickly when it comes to Tumak wanting his spear, this leads to a brief fight between the two alpha males that results in Loana’s father banishing Tumak. It’s at this point that Ohtao discovers that Loana’s feelings for Tumak were deeper than expected as she decides to leave with this gruff caveman, which is made more distressing by the fact that Tumak doesn’t seem to care if she comes along and basically ignores her for part of the journey.
When watching One Million B.C. it should not be with the hope of finding any historical accuracy when it comes to Early Man but the film does at least try and show the evolution of society from one of “might makes right” to a more harmonious civilization, though when Loana is introduced to the Rock Tribe she’s almost like a Disney Princess who brings light and happiness to all around her and is probably not all that accurate as to how such a culture clash would occur. Then there is the issue of our heroes constantly on the run from a variety of “dinosaurs” despite the many millions of years that separate man from these prehistoric behemoths, but I guess conflicts with mastodons just weren’t enough for audiences, so the script had to be beefed up by some more interesting peril.
Note: Due to the process of forcing lizards with glued on appliances to fight each other the film was heavily edited in Britain because of their strict laws against animal cruelty and this film also caused the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to ban many of the treatments of animals that occurred during the production.
• The mountain guide who stumbles upon the cave seems really surprised that Early Man once lived in such places, did he skip those classes in school or is he just an idiot?
• The anthropologist is baffled by the guide’s question about what the early cavemen looked like, responding “I don’t know. I never thought of it. Never seemed important to me what they looked like.” Which begs the question, “Are we sure this guy is an actual anthropologist and not just some nut living in a cave?” because I’m pretty sure that aspect of anthropology is kind of important.
• Tumak’s first kill is a baby Triceratops but why an herbivore would be wandering around a desert mountain landscape is never made clear.
• You’d think that after killing an Allosaurus and thus saving a young girl, the Shell Tribe could have at least made Tumak a spear of his own instead of being dicks about the whole thing.
• Loana teaches the Rock Tribe all about agriculture, but I doubt the land around their cave could support anything other than scrub brush and tumbleweeds.
• Aside from a man in a decent Allosaurus costume this film relied on dressing up animals to look like dinosaurs, which included a pig in a rubber Triceratops suit, a young elephant with fake tusks and fur made to look like a woolly mammoth, muskoxen, a Dimetrodon-like sail glued to the back of a baby alligator and a nine-banded armadillo with glued-on horns.
Like any decent prehistoric world film One Million B.C. includes a climatic volcano eruption that devastates the land and one must admit that the filmmakers manage to put together quite an impressive show of period special effects and thus it’s not at all that surprising footage from this film was filed away into a stock footage library where elements from it have since appeared in dozens of other movies and television shows over the years such as in Tarzan’s Desert Mystery, Two Lost Worlds, Godzilla Raids Again, King Dinosaur, Valley of the Dragons and many many more.
That legendary director D.W. Griffith was briefly attached to produce One Million B.C. which can only make one wonder what epic scope would have been achieved if he’d remained at the helm, sadly, issues of “creative differences” cropped up between him and Hal Roach as according to Griffith “Mr. Roach did not feel that it was necessary to give the characters as much individuality as I thought was needed, and so I did not wish to appear responsible for the picture by having my name on it.” Despite the “What if” hanging over this prehistoric adventure tale the end result does have its charm and if one let’s slide the animal cruelty aspect of the production, which I find hard to do, one can appreciate what Hal Roach and company were trying to achieve, and sure, this film will not be shown in schools as its version of Early Man is on par with what we see in The Flintstones but Victor Mature and Carole Landis both give credible performances in a rather thrilling romance told against a primitive backdrop.
Question: Is this final shot depicting Tumak and Loana setting forth into a brave new world or are they heading off into Heaven?
One Million B.C. (1940)
Movie Rank - 6/10
Hal Roach’s One Million B.C. is a little skimpy when it comes to its dinosaur action, and what we do get is poor animals forced to play dress-up and fight each other, but Victor Mature and Carole Landis make for a fun prehistoric couple and the overall story is rather well-told considering it relied on caveman dialect and not English.