Retro-Musings: “One Million Years B.C.” (1966) 55 years later…

***** ONE MILLION YEAR OLD SPOILERS!! *****

A Dabba Doo Time.

When I was a little kid, I was a card-carrying dinosaur nut. As early as I can remember, the names of the dinosaurs would rattle off my tongue; diplodocus, brontosaurus, triceratops, brachiosaurus, tyrannosaurus rex, allosaurus, etc. I had many dinosaur books and toys as well. I often staged mock combat between my toy stegosaur and tyrannosaur. The inspiration for this little mise en scene came directly from a movie I used to watch on TV whenever it appeared (no VCRs, DVDs or DVRs). That movie, of course, was “One Million Years B.C.” (1966). Director Don Chaffey’s audacious remake of Hal Roach’s “One Million B.C” (1940) tells essentially the same story as the original (sans “Years”), jettisoning the framing story of hikers and cave-paintings while jumping right into the dinosaur vs. cavemen action. Hammer Studios’ remade tale of prehistoric times had all the historical accuracy of “The Flintstones.” In addition to impeccable stop-motion effects wizardry from FX maestro Ray Harryhausen, there was, of course, the human story as well. This cave people survival saga unfolded with an odd tone somewhere between a 1950s technicolor Bible epic and a Frankie & Annette beach party flick.

A brontosaurus makes for an awesome if random piece of set-dressing.

The dinosaur FX of the remake were particularly impressive; in fact, the film was the gold standard of cinematic dinosaurs in the decades before 1993’s “Jurassic Park”. While the prehistoric creatures of “One Million Years B.C.” were much larger than their real-life counterparts’ fossilized remains, their movement and texturing made them come alive in unique new ways (we even see them breathing via air bladders planted in the models). The stop-motion animation gave the creatures a surreal, stroboscopic quality that seemed to punctuate their every step. As much as I love the dinosaur action, the wildly silly human story can only be taken as a joke. Making that joke a little easier to swallow are two attractive leads (Raquel Welch, John Richardson) running around the Canary Islands in a tribalistic melodrama that feels like a prehistoric production of “Romeo & Juliet” by way of “Baywatch.” Let’s go back in time to that prehistoric era of 1966 and take a look at…

“One Million Years B.C.”

An ominous tonal score opens the film, as “Superman: The Movie” style opticals swirl across the screen. At first, you might think you were watching a space movie as the music escalates into psychedelic chaos. Then, it goes dark and the narration begins. With the self-important tone of the cheesiest Biblical films, we hear this is the tale of a “young world” that is harsh and brutal, where every creature preys upon the death of others to survive…

Note: The opening shots of the film, shot on location in the harshly beautiful Spanish Canary Islands, off the North African mainland, are suitably convincing for a craggy, harsh, primitive environment. However, the effect is weakened by the appearance of a very modern-looking vulture and other anachronistic giveaways. If the narrator’s voice sounds at all familiar to fans of vintage television, that’s because it is actor Vic Perrin–the “control voice” of “The Outer Limits” (1963-1964). Perrin was also featured in classic Star Trek, famously voicing the genocidal space probe “Nomad” in “The Changeling.”

Tumak’s brother, Sakana (Percy Herbert) and Rock Tribe leader Akhoba (Robert Brown) eagerly watch as Tumak kills a wild boar. Hey, entertainment choices were mighty slim in those days; don’t judge…

We then cut to a coordinated hunt for wild boars led by the brutish leader of the Rock tribe, Akhoba (Robert Brown, who looks like a live-action Yosemite Sam) and Tumak (John Richardson). Akhoba lures a charging boar into a clever trap, from which it can’t escape. Tumak’s older brother Sakana (Percy Herbert) stews as Akhoba seems to favor Tumak by offering him the chance to slay the future bacon. The creature is savagely killed by Tumak, and hauled back to the cave for good eatin’. Akhoba ceremoniously rips out one of the boar’s tusks, and hands it to proto-butcher Tumak. At the cave, Tumak is given a hero’s welcome by the women-folk, particularly Nupondi (Martine Beswick), who has major feels for her prehistoric hottie (natural selection, hard at work). During the subsequent cookout, pieces are ripped off of the dead beastie by tribal ranking, with Akhoba pulling off the biggest drumstick, while the others grab whatever they can. Each of the savages run back to their respective corners of the massive cave, lest any alien thoughts of sharing cross anyone’s mind.

Note: Actor Robert Brown (1921-2003), who is utterly unrecognizable under tons of hair and bushy eyebrows, would take over the role of MI-6 director “M” in Bond films in the 1980s, beginning with “Octopussy” (1983) through the underrated “License to Kill” (1989). In “One Million Years B.C.”, he is utterly fearless in showing his middle-aged girth in the skimpiest of loincloths (viewer be warned). There are an uncomfortable number of hairy, middle-aged, exposed upper thigh/semi-visible butt cheek shots in the film. In fact, nearly all of the largely British cast are similarly fearless in letting go of their actor egos to appear as wildly unattractive prehistoric barbarians.

Nupondi (Martine Beswick) and tribal First Lady Tohana (Mayla Nappi) smile, as he-man Tumak brings home the bacon…

During the meal, the bitter rivalry between Tumak and his older brother intensifies, as each vies for position of tribal leader. Tumak then foolishly challenges Akhoba himself, who gifts the tribe’s resident hog-killer with a swift kick in the loincloth, exiling his ass straight from the communal cave of the Rock tribe, and into the rainy night…much to the dismay of Nupondi, who is now stuck as the involuntary bride of Tumak’s butt-ugly older brother. After Tumak’s exile, we cut back to the Rock tribe, as Sakana nearly kills Akhoba during another hunting expedition, only to see the crippled, half-blinded leader return to the tribe, reduced to a crippled figurehead. Despite the utter silliness of it, there is a certain attention-arresting quality to this “Flintstones-meets-Game of Thrones” nonsense.

Note: Martine Beswick, who plays Nupondi, was married to costar John Richardson for six years until their divorce in 1973. Beswick had roles in the Bond films, “From Russia With Love” (1963) and “Thunderball” (1965). She would also appear in various TV series, such as Rod Serling’s “The Night Gallery” and “Fantasy Island.” She is still active in film and TV today.

He is the Lizard King…

Meanwhile, Tumak is left alone to forage for himself in a harsh, desert wilderness. Waking up one morning on a rocky ridge, the exiled caveman is confronted by the first of many dinosaur encounters he will have in the film. The movie clearly saves the best for last, as this first shot is of an ordinary modern iguana, optically enlarged to appear many times its size. The giant lizard fires a serpentine tongue at Tumak’s leg, but the caveman is freed when he smashes the tongue with a nearby rock and escapes… so, how was your morning?

Note: The giant “iguanadon” is one of only two creatures in the film that is not a stop-motion creation of FX artist Ray Harryhausen, and its appearance here is an odd contrast to the far more vivid and animate (if artificial) creatures we see later. One big continuity nit as the iguana opens its mouth, we see its pink rounded tongue; but as that tongue wraps around Tumak’s leg, it suddenly appears as a dark purple forked tongue. While the use of live creatures for these shots was arguably inhumane, at least the lizard didn’t have a large rubber dorsal fin glued to its back as we saw in the original 1940 version of this film (“One Million B.C.”), as well as the later films of Bert I. Gordon (“King Dinosaur”).

An optically enlarged tarantula munches on a similarly enlarged cricket. Probably the only way to keep the skittish arachnid under those hot filming lights for so long.

Tumak takes a left turn into a dark cave full of fruit trees and water that belongs to some involved apes, and barely manages to split before they take notice. His next encounters are fairly benign as he happens across a giant tarantula (another real creature used for a process shot), and a large brontosaur; the first of Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion dinosaurs used in the film (that’s better). The agile ex-Rock tribesman manages to outrun these two large beasts, who do little more than startle the excitable caveman by their presence. Soon, the desert heat works on Tumak, as his skin blisters and his lips chap. Further ahead, he sees what initially appears as a mirage, but the heat shimmer gives way to a real oceanic coastline. The prospect of cool water overwhelms him, and he collapses.

Note: Once again, the raw, rugged beauty of the Canary Islands as well the deliciously over-the-top score of Mario Nascimbene well-punctuate this admittedly ridiculous movie. Cinematography Wilke Cooper turned in similarly sumptuous work on Harryhausen’s “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963) and other fantasy films and TV series, including five episodes of the spy spoof series, “The Avengers” (1967-8).

The Shell Tribe were also the first to invent Nair hair remover … now you know.

Fortunately for Tumak (very fortunately), he happened to collapse in the land of the Swedish Bikini Team–er, I mean, the beach-combing Shell tribe; a corn-haired group of slightly more pacifistic barbarians than his native Rock tribe. The Shell tribe’s women are fishing out in the surf with spears when Loana (Raquel Welch) spots the collapsed Tumak on a dune.

Note: The notion of a rugged lone male being rescued in a land of beautiful women is a recurring fantasy cliche we’ve seen in movies and TV, even today (see: 2017’s “Wonder Woman”). Somehow that scenario in reverse just doesn’t seem to work; imagining a lone, beautiful woman awakening from unconsciousness to a bunch of alpha heterosexual males is kind of terrifying.

Even with a tussled blonde wig and smudges of dirt won’t dim the luminance of Raquel Welch, one of my oldest movie crushes.

Loana is instantly attracted to the collapsed caveman, and begins the slow process of dragging him down to the shoreline where the other Shell women can help revive him. But before she gets very far, she is interrupted by a giant sea turtle who appears over the dune and seems to have an appetite for blonde surfer girls.

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell unexpectedly crashes the beach party…

The sea turtle moves with amazing alacrity for its size, as it swiftly paddles down the sandy ravine to the beachcombers below. Loana desperately pulls the unconscious Tumak further down the beach, barely keeping ahead of the giant sea turtle. The other Shell women see the creature (who could miss it, right?) and blow into their rounded sea shells for the tribe’s men to combat the creature (1960s sexism on full display, folks).

Note: Archelon was a real prehistoric ancestor to today’s sea turtles. Archelon existed in the late Cretaceous period (100-65 million years ago), but the largest fossil specimens ever recorded were no more than 3.5 meters (12 ft) or so. The creature depicted in the movie is roughly triple that size.

Archeron is about to go full-Gamera on their asses.

The sandy-haired Shell men rush out with their spears to drive the giant turtle back into the sea, choosing a less deadly solution in dealing with their giant menace than Tumak’s Rock tribe might’ve sought. They successfully poke at the beast, driving it into the surf, and Tumak is taken by the Shell tribe to their seaside cave digs…

Note: The stop-motion sea turtle is jaw-dropping. It may be an actual hollowed out carcass of a real sea turtle (not entirely sure of this), as Harryhausen famously used a hallowed-out crab carcass to create the stop-motion puppet of a giant crab (as well as giant bees and taxidermied birds) in “Mysterious Island” (1961). The level of detail on the creature is stunning, especially when viewed on my 6 ft. at-home projector screen.

Loana takes Tumak home to meet the folks.

Awakening in the Shell Tribe’s large cave, a fearful, reactionary Tumak meets the elders of the tribe, as well as Ahot (Jean Wladen), a rival for Loana’s affections. In the cave, Tumak is taken aback by the Shell folks odd customs, such as sharing food instead of grabbing it by force. Even the little kids in the tribe chuckle as Tumak scarfs down his filet o’ fish dinner like a contestant in a pie-eating contest. Tumak is puzzled by their laughter, as Loana uses her batting eyelashes and single-syllable utterances to assure him he’s among friends.

Note: Once again, the hoary cliche of the kinder, fair-haired people vs. the angrier, more hostile brunettes. While there are no people of color in this bizarre cave-people/dinosaur mixer, allusions to racism are implicit. At least in this story, the Shell and Rock tribes learn to get along, but that’s hardly a progressive step as both tribes are populated with only fair-skinned folk. Tumak’s blue eyes are another anachronism (in a film of nothing but anachronisms), as blue eyes didn’t enter the human genome until roughly 6-10,000 years ago.

Tumak gets up close and personal with one of Ray Harryhausen’s beautifully realized dinosaurs.

A fully revived Tumak spends the next day partying with the Shell tribe; watching as they pull vegetables from the ground (yes, they apparently invented agriculture way earlier than expected), and spearing fish in a pool below a small waterfall. Deciding to make himself useful, he helps a few of the kids shake apples loose from an apple tree, and learns to spear-fish with Loana, much to Ahot’s dismay. Tumak’s early attempts at spear fishing are terribly clumsy, as he falls into the water. Emerging soaked, he smiles as the Shell people laugh. The birth of self-effacing humor? Unfortunately, the merriment is short-lived as an allosaur intrudes upon the Shell tribe’s garden of Eden-like paradise.

Note: Allosaurus was a Jurassic-era precursor to the later Cretaceous period’s tyrannosaurus. Allosaurs were quite a bit smaller than tyrannosaurs, although they were slightly larger than the allosaur we see in the film. This is the only time in the film where an onscreen dinosaur is actually smaller than its real-life counterpart. In fairness, Ray Harryhausen has said in print that this particular allosaur was supposed to be a juvenile, which fits. Of course, allosaurs, tyrannosaurs, ceratosaurs, and other large predators of this type didn’t walk upright as depicted in the film, either; the creature’s tails were more or less level with their spines. But no one knew that in those days, and every dinosaur textbook I ever owned as a kid all depicted t-rexes and allosaurs walking upright, with their tails slithering uselessly in the dirt.

The slain allosaur is a foreground miniature, with a plate of live-action Shell people carefully aligned and projected behind it.

Tumak proves his worth to the clan by grabbing Ahot’s large hunting spear and dashing off to face the large reptilian intruder, who’s already killed a tribesman and is currently menacing a little girl stuck in a treetop. Tumak fearlessly takes on the creature, poking at its stomach (there’s a reason they didn’t walk upright). As the allosaur charges him, Tumak falls onto his back, plunging his spear directly upward–right into the belly of the beast! The allosaur makes an anguished cry of pain, collapsing to the ground. Tumak then grabs a smaller fishing spear to stab at the monster’s throat. For a brief shining moment, Tumak is a genuine hero of the Shell people, until he later attempts to steal the communal spear used to kill the allosaur for himself. Ahot catches Tumak redhanded, they battle, and the disgraced Rock man is (once again) exiled by the Shell tribe’s elders. Loana, clearly smitten by her reactionary rebel beau, decides to go with him into exile. Finder’s keepers.

Note: The death of the allosaur is particularly effective, and is arguably the most exciting scene of the movie. When the beast is plunged with the spear to its belly, it lets out a wild, agonizing wail that sounds like a cross between an angry wildcat and a small motorcycle engine revving (with the sounds electronically pitched up tempo). The “death gasps” of the allosaur were accomplished with an air bladder placed in the miniature’s torso to simulate the final labored breathing of the creature. The shot of the allosaur’s slain body standing before the shell people (without matte lines) is accomplished by projecting the live-action of the actors behind the puppet in-camera. It’s a truly stunning stop-motion sequence, right up with the skeleton army battle in “Jason and the Argonauts.”

“A planet where apes evolved from men? There’s gotta be an answer…”

As exile begins to tire Loana, Tumak remembers the apes’ den where he scored a bit of fruit and water earlier. The two of them escape the harsh desert sun and enter the cool dark cave, with its fruit trees and running stream. While Loana thinks they’ve found a paradise, the more cautious Tumak tries to quiet her enthusiasm, for fear of disturbing the hirsute homeowners. They quietly drink some water and chow down on a bit of fruit. Climbing above the cave’s natural atrium, the two of them peer down as the shadowy simians lope and generally make monkeys of themselves. Loana accidentally drops something into the water, but the apes fail to look up…only noticing the fallen object, instead (no alien monoliths to stir their curiosity). Taking that near-miss as their cue to get out of Dodge, the two exiled cave lovers haul Stone Age ass to the nearest exit…

Note: The ape cave dwellers are deliberately kept in shadow for their relatively brief screen time. This not only makes them seem more threatening to their evolved Cro-Magnon spies, but it also hides any seams in the ape actors’ costumes and makeups, which don’t appear to be as sophisticated as those seen in the ‘Dawn of Man’ sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

The face-off I imagined sooo often as a kid.

Loana and Tumak prepare to leave just in time to see a battle royale begin between a triceratops and a ceratosaur, with the creatures’ massive forms and tails blocking the discreet narrow exit from the cave. Tumak notices light peering from another shaft in the cave and manages to send Loana ahead of him. As he goes after her, the passageway collapses from the force of the dinosaur battle nearby, and he has to dig his way out. Loana emerges out of the cave, but soon realizes that Tumak isn’t behind her.

Note: Triceratops was my sister’s favorite dinosaur, while I always preferred tyrannosaurus rex. Watching this film as a kid, I used to assume that the “horned t-rex” was just an anatomical goof by the producers to make the t-rex look more imposing (as they did by exaggerating their sizes), but I later learned of the ceratosaurus class of dinosaurs which emerged at the end of the Jurassic period and into the Cretaceous (I was about 9 or so when I got this bit of info). A typical ceratosaur was characterized by a small horn at the end of its snout, but was superficially similar to a tyrannosaur. Just watching this sequence again the other night brought me back to my many hours spent playing with my toy dinosaurs as a kid.

Ray Harryhausen’s meticulously recreated creatures were the apex of cinematically depicted dinosaurs until Jurassic Park exploded onto the scene in 1993. For a very long time, this 1966 film was as good as it got.

Tumak finally manages to free himself as the giant dinosaurs’ combat reaches a lethal conclusion. The more agile ceratosaur is unexpectedly impaled by the triceratops’ three horns. The ceratosaur wails just like the dying allosaur as it collapses to the rocky desert. Point triceratops (literally). Later on, after tiring of their aimless trek, Tumak realizes there’s no place like home; he decides to take Loana back to the old cave-stead and meet the Rock tribe…

Star Trek’s “Amok Time” reimagined with Kirk and Spock as sexy cavewomen.

The initial reunion between Tumak and his Rock tribe is a bit shaky; he’s surprised to see Akhoba’s crippled state, as well as his brother Sakana aggressively assuming the role of number two around the cave. Things get even more complicated when Tumak’s ex, Tupondi, meets Loana. Loana harmlessly wishes to examine a piece of Tupondi’s jewelry, but Tupondi decides she’s had enough of this fair-haired bitch and challenges her to combat. Before you can say “WWE diva” the two are kicking, screaming, pulling hair, you name it. It’s every kinky cavegirl fantasy Larry Flynt ever had. The battle ends with Loana pinning Tupondi under a massive tusk…but refusing to kill her. Teaching the evolved trait of mercy to the more barbarous Rock clan, Loana is then welcomed to the family (if only Raquel Welch would just take her blonde wig off...).

Note: Okay, that cavegirl fight is just absolutely shameless. I felt more than a little embarrassed watching it now as a 54 year old man. It’s about as shameless as Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman running in slow motion, or Charlie’s Angels being forced to search for a ‘vital clue’ that can only be found at a nude beach. I realize now that I was raised in an era of TV and movie pop culture which was barely a step above the dumb savages seen in this movie…

The Rock clan frolics in the water as Captain Caveman appears to be, um, distracted by an emergent Raquel Welch.

The sexploitation continues as Loana decides to take the Rock clan for a day at the beach. Finding a nearby lake, she teaches Tumak and the others the joys of water (I can only imagined how badly that cave must’ve reeked!). As the tribe goes swimming for the first time ever, Loana gets her bikini conveniently soaked as she emerges, fully ready for her Sports Illustrated pictorial shoot.

Note: Cavegirls in wet bikinis. I mean, at this point, what’s off the table, right? I almost expected to see a musical number by a prehistoric rock band afterward. This is what I meant earlier by the movie’s bizarre tone; somewhere between an “In The Beginning…”-style Bible epic and a beach party movie. Well, if nothing else, it’s hard to deny that this movie doesn’t go that extra mile to entertain…

Life’s a beach: a hungry mother pteranodon wants some turf with her surf.

Well, the day at the beach is ruined by the sight of a giant hungry pteranodon, flapping its leathery wings and diving into the water from some fresh chow, like a seagull skimming the water for fresh fish. As the others hurry out of the water, Loana is helping the children flee to safety before she herself is carried off as a future snack for her newly-hatched baby pteranodons, nesting atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. Tumak and the others race in the direction of the giant prehistoric bird as a rival rhamphorynchus challenges the hungry mother for her bounty. In the giant bird-on-bird melee, Loana is unceremoniously dropped into the surf below. Reunited with Tumak, things settle for only a little while, as the old rivalry between the Tumak and Sakana rears its head again, and the two have it out once again. Sakana grabs Loana for himself. Before long, the ground begins to rumble furiously, as chasms open and volcanoes explode…

Note: Once again, the stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen is simply stunning, even besting his work on the ‘flying harpies’ of “Jason and the Argonauts.” While there is a longer UK cut of this film (that I haven’t yet seen), I understand from online research that some of the additional material includes expansions of the pteranodon, allosaur and archelon stop-motion sequences (as well as a dance by Tupondi and other bits of cave melodrama that I could do without, thanks). The UK version is 100 minutes, while the US cut is only 91. I would love to get my greedy mitts on this print someday, if only for the expanded Ray Harryhausen FX footage.

Tumak vows to make a massive chicken sandwich out of the giant bird that flew off with Loana!

Sakana and even Akhoba die in the prehistoric apocalypse, as the ground opens below their feet. The screen goes dark and the images returns to a sepia-toned scene as the surviving cave-people (from both tribes) see their entire world reshaped. They move on, together, searching for a new home.

Note: While this movie is less prehistory lesson and more like a biker movie version of “The Flintstones”, director Don Chaffey keeps things moving briskly and smartly, padding out the paper-thin “Romeo & Juliet” story with plenty of Ray Harryhausen’s brilliant stop-motion dinosaur action. The movie’s editor, Tom Simpson, deserves real kudos for knowing exactly how to keep dinosaur-loving kids like myself in their seats.

The End.

Rest In Peace, John Richardson (1934-2021).

The ongoing nightmare of the current COVID-19 pandemic claimed the life of actor John Richardson on January 5th of this year. The handsome British actor began his career in small uncredited roles, such as a valet in the 1958 RMS Titanic epic, “A Night to Remember” and would gradually tackle increasingly larger roles.

The only time in “One Million Years BC” where Richardson’s character of Toomak was allowed a moment to laugh.

In addition to caveman “Tumak” in “One Million Years B.C,” Richardson also had substantial parts in Mario Bava’s “Black Sunday” (1960) and the Ursula Andress film “She” (1965), which was often shown on double-bills with “One Million Years B.C.” For six years (1967-1973), Richardson was married to his costar from the film, Martine Beswick, who played jealous rock tribe rival “Nupondi.” At the time of his passing, Richardson was 86 years old. Sadly, Richardson is but one of the two and a quarter million dead worldwide from this horrible disease in the last year alone.

Rest In Peace, “Tumak.”

Beach Blanket Brontosaurs.

British director Don Chaffey directed several iconic fantasy films, including “Jason and the Argonauts” (1963) and the original 1976 version of Disney’s “Pete’s Dragon.” The tone Chaffey sets early on, with its self-important narration (“this is the story of a young world…”) and ominous score is more suited for a 1950s-1960s biblical epic. This is in contrast to the prehistoric parade of dinosaurs, cavemen, apes and even giant arachnids we see in this bizarre saga of a past-that-never-was. Even by the 1960s, the fossil record clearly demonstrated that humans and dinosaurs were nowhere near contemporaries (to hell with that nonsensical ‘Ark Encountermuseum in Kentucky). They were separated by tens of millions of years. Dinosaurs were wiped out at the end of the Cretaceous Era, over 65 million years ago. Modern Homo sapiens have been around for only the past 200,000 years. But for this surreal little fantasy flick, who cares? “One Million Years B.C.” is clearly not made for archeologists, anthropologists or prehistory majors.

Director Don Chaffey enjoys a stegosaurus steak with his leading lady Raquel Welch.

Just as 1956’s “The Ten Commandments” anachronistically featured mainly American actors as English-speaking “ancient” Egyptians and Hebrew slaves, Raquel Welch’s “Loana” prances around in a custom fur bikini with perfect makeup, blonde wig and silky shaved legs. She looks about as authentically ‘prehistoric’ as a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover girl. While Welch’s acting in the movie is worthy of a “Mystery Science Theatre 3000”-style commentary track, she is a ‘visual effect’ as eye-catching as Ray Harryhausen’s best stop-motion dinosaur work. Raquel Welch may be utterly unconvincing as a beach bunny barbarian, but she is utterly gorgeous. It’s no mystery why this (then) relative novice got top billing in the film. Ray Harryhausen’s dinosaurs may have held my attention as a little kid, but Welch’s cave girl held a very different kind of attention for me as I got older…

Historically speaking, no cavewoman ever looked like this… and my 13 year old self really didn’t give a damn, either.

So, if you’re willing to leave any and all critical thinking at the cave entrance for 90-odd minutes, Hammer’s “One Million Years B.C.” is an entertainingly ridiculous film that moves along at a surprisingly brisk pace, considering it’s little more than a loincloth of a story supported by dramatic dinosaur set pieces. Kids might get a little bored by the cave melodrama, but the creature FX might grab their fleeting attention. Adults might enjoy a few good belly laughs at the film’s prehistoric preposterousness. My own enjoyment of “One Million Years B.C.” is based on powerful childhood nostalgia, love of Harryhausen’s work and the sheer audacity of its creation.

The Real Star of “One Million Years B.C.”: Ray Harryhausen.

At the risk of offending Raquel Welch and the late John Richardson, the dinosaur action in “One Million Years B.C.” remains my favorite element of the film, even today. Yes, these days we know that large predatory dinosaurs (such as allosaurs and ceratosaurs) stood with very different postures than what we see in the film; they also feathers, and many more new facts that have unearthed in the half century since the film came out. Even 1993’s once state-of-the-art “Jurassic Park” is hopelessly outdated now (a fact retconned into the JP mythology by referring to the dinosaurs as custom-made ‘mutants‘). Science is forever self-correcting. Today’s speculation may be tomorrow’s fact, and today’s fact may be tomorrow’s quaint anachronism. One constant of “One Million Years B.C.” is the painstaking, astonishing frame-by-frame artistry from stop-motion FX legend Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen was a one-man visual effects shop who crafted miniatures of each of his dinosaurs, carefully manipulating them (via ball-socket metallic armatures inside) one frame at a time to give an illusion of movement when played back at 24 frames per second. All but two creatures in the film were made by Harryhausen (the live iguana and tarantula). Did I mention Harryhausen also aligned his creations onto the live-action plates by rear-projection himself? He was both animator and human optical printer.

Meeting my idol Ray Harryhausen at San Diego Comic Con in 2005. I can still remember my dry mouth and sweaty palms…

I finally had the chance to meet Ray Harryhausen at San Diego Comic Con in July of 2005. This was one of those few rare times where I got genuinely cotton-mouthed and sweaty-palmed meeting a celebrity. Harryhausen was a personal hero of mine, and a cinematic FX legend. I barely croaked out a few nerdy words before he shook my nervous hand and autographed my coffee table book “Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life” (2003), which I cherish to this day. Harryhausen later passed away 8 years later at age 92. He was best friends with two other idols of mine; the late iconic writer Ray Bradbury and the late “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine editor Forrest J. Ackerman. The three of them were the original ‘sci-fi geeks’ of Los Angeles in the 1940s, and joined the Science Fiction Society (established in 1934). They would meet at Clifton’s Cafeteria to discuss and engage in their passion for the genre as they later helped to advance it. I’ve been very fortunate in my lifetime to have met all three of these men.

COVID-Safe Viewing.

“One Million Years B.C.” is available for rental on DVD-only from Netflix. A hard copy of the movie can also be purchased (contact-free) on Blu-Ray or DVD from Amazon.com (prices vary by seller). The Kino Blu-Ray has both the US version and the slightly longer international cut. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States alone are around 440,000  as of this writing.  Meanwhile, at least two primary vaccines have been developed and inoculations have began, but it may take months for mass distribution throughout the population.  Even with the vaccines, the overall situation is far from safe; many unknowns remain regarding coronavirus (can one be vaccinated, and still carry the coronavirus).  So for the time being, please continue to practice social safe-distancing as often as possible, wear masks in public, and avoid overly crowded outings.  Some theaters promise safety for their screenings, but the CDC guidelines currently don’t advise indoor dining or indoor theaters, so please bear that in mind.

Take care and be safe!

Images: Hammer, 20th Century Fox, Fox Home Video, Author.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Nancy says:

    Great review on this very dated movie- I especially liked all your side notes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Nancy. 🙏😊

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Lady Maneth says:

    Thanks for an entertaining read. I haven’t seen this one, but your writeup reminded me a lot of The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986) starring Daryl Hannah. It’s been years since I saw that one as well, but it was just as sexploitative, even if it was made 20 years later, even if the Clan communicated mainly by (subtitled) grunts and gestures.

    The blonde hair and blue eyes in this one are an anachronism, but admittedly at the time the human genome hadn’t been sequenced yet and there was no way to know this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good point, but it’s a safe bet that humans and dinosaurs were sharing the planet one million years ago, either. 😜

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Lady Maneth says:

        Indeed!

        Liked by 2 people

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