The 1940 Hal Roach film ONE MILLION B.C. was a hit for more reasons than the most obvious one, which was dreamy Carole Landis (right) in a fur skin cocktail dress! Actually, the film has a lot going for it. Ambitious prehistoric epic follows two tribes of cavemen and their eventual meeting when Victor Mature is expelled from his tribe and ends up living with the more civilized tribe Landis belongs to. Though they’re more advanced, they lack Mature’s rugged nature and he ends up teaching them as much as they do him. When a dinosaur attacks, both tribes are forced to join forces. Aside from a short prologue involving a college professor and his students on a field trip, the entire film is spoken only in the language of the cavemen -which fortunately is large on pantomime and short of speeches. Massive production had some incredible special effects, even if the producers took the cost-cutting direction of photo-enlarged lizards and other animals to represent the dinosaurs. This lizard footage was to turn up in literally countless B dinosaur movies for the next several decades, in films ranging from TWO LOST WORLDS to TEENAGE CAVEMAN to VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS. After a while, the footage became so familiar as to be comforting, always sure to show up like a favorite family member at Christmas time! There had been caveman pictures going back as far as movies go, really, but ONE MILLION B.C. was the first real dramatic attempt to be produced with major expense. Most previous exercises were B comedy shorts. Lon Chaney Jr is leader of Victor’s tribe, and the role represents the one film role where Chaney did his own make-up using techniques picked up from Chaney Sr. His subsequent contract with Universal forced him to let studio technicians like Jack Pierce do all his makeup. One can’t help but wonder how the careers of these men would’ve been helped or hurt if this hadn’t been the case.
Rather famously, England’s Hammer Films produced a lush, color remake of ONE MILLION B.C. entitled ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. in 1966. The plot was roughly the same as the original. John Richardson is expelled from his rough and tumble tribe and is adopted into a more advanced tribe when Raquel Welch falls for him. Every now and then, a dinosaur pops up to cause trouble. Though the film’s dinosaurs, marvels brought to life by Ray Harryhausen’s brilliant stop motion effects, were truly spectacular, they were somewhat overshadowed by Miss Welch’s iconic appearance as Luana The Fair One. A publicity still of Raquel in her fur bikini became a best-selling poster. As in the original version, the film’s limited dialog is spoken in primitive cave-talk. As a tribute to the original, one of the remake’s dinosaurs is played by a photo-enlarged lizard! ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. was a huge hit for Hammer, which experimented with other cave girl movies. The most immediate was PREHISTORIC WOMEN, though this wasn’t as popular a film. 1970’s WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH fared a bit better, but Hammer finally killed the genre with the dinosaur-less CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT.
WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH was a quasi-sequel to Hammer’s ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., although there was absolutely no narrative connection between the two. Theoretically, the film could be seen as taking place a generation or two later than the earlier film. Either way, the story concerns a beautiful blonde cavegirl played by Victoria Vetri. Vetri, because of her fair features and golden hair, is marked by her tribe for sacrifice. She flees at the last minute, and ends up finding love in a more advanced tribe operating a fishing community on the beach. But the other tribe still wants to sacrifice Vetri and try to capture her. Her boyfriend fears her dead, but she’s been adopted by a motherly dinosaur after it finds her sleeping in the broken shell of one of her eggs!
WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH sports some of the best stop motion dinosaur action ever put on film, though again the real star is the bikinied leading lady. Vetri, formerly Angela Dorian, spends the picture prancing around in some of the tiniest coverings ever allowed in a G-rated picture. In fact, she has a nude scene in the European version, which was accidentally released on DVD a few years back. When the mistake was noticed, the disk (a double feature set with MOON ZERO TWO) was pulled from distribution and quickly became a very expensive collector’s item.
CAVEMAN was a lavish parody of old-time caveman movies, a sort of ONE MILLION B.C.-as-if-it-were-directed-by-Hal Needham sort of thing. Juvenile, though funny, humor masks a film that’s actually fairly true to it’s inspirations. Ringo Starr is the misfit weakling of his tribe, and thus often the foil for Chief John Matuzak. Ringo wants the Chief’s girl, Barbara Bach (above), but his attempts to take her get him tossed out of the tribe and forced to fend for himself in the wild. He ends up becoming the leader of a tribe of misfits, while discovering such milestones as fire, music, and cooked food, and gaining the attention of cute cavegirl Shelley Long. The dinosaurs in this one are fine technical achievements, often imparting as much comedy as the human cast. The film really works, though. By the time Ringo must face his old Chief in battle, you genuinely feel for the characters. Not bad for what comes across as little more than a series of gags. Film became popular on television and home video. The early 80’s was a good time for big comedies.