August 19, 2011

ONE MILLION B.C. (1940) - the original Tumak and Luana


Trend-setting rarity not on DVD, later remade by Hammer Films

I've always enjoyed dinosaur movies, but ones with good dinosaur effects are hard to find. This mixes great special effects with rubbish ones. It also set a blueprint for caveman movies for decades to come. The script was closely remade by Hammer Films in 1966, the format repeated by When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.

King Kong (1933) and The Lost World (1925) mixed humans and dinosaurs by having the animals survive for millions of years. This story reverses the format by pushing humans back into the same timeframe as dinosaurs, a huge historical inaccuracy that the film makers ignored, mixing in mammoths and other large mammals as well.

Until Jurassic Park, the most convincing dinosaurs had always been realised with stop-motion animation. But One Million BC ignores this approach, making it a weak link between King Kong (1933) and the remake One Million Years BC (1966) which had special effects by animation giants Willis O'Brien and his protegee Ray Harryhausen respectively. The special effects are still strong enough to make it worth seeing. The modelwork for the earthquakes and erupting volcano are exceptional. Some ingenious composite work also provides some shocks.

'Paste-up' composite publicity photo of 
a giant iguana somehow walking on two legs

The 'dinosaurs' are depicted with every visual effect that has never ever realistically worked. One Million BC has a crocodile with a dimetrodon sail fin stuck on its back, and a pig dressed up as a triceratops! Oh, and a pangolin with some rubber horns on its head - little more than a visit to a pets' fancy dress store. This looks silly, but the technique endured into the 1960s. Irwin Allen used dress-up animals extensively for his 1960 remake of The Lost World. Harryhausen even used one at the start of One Million Years BC. Visual effects like these made the basic animatronics in The Land That Time Forgot (1975) look like an improvement. 

But it gets worse - the animals are filmed fighting each other. There are some very nasty scenes of a crocodile and a gila monster chomping on each other and trying to twist off limbs. Exotic lizards are tipped through crumbling sets, buried in rubble, and surrounded by fire. There's a bear killing a snake and an almost dead gila monster pumping blood. Plus an astonishing shot of a cave/stuntman braining a charging bull with a staff. It's not quite Cannibal Holocaust but it's halfway there. This animal cruelty is apparently the main reason that this film has disappeared from home video. It used to play occasionally on British TV, sometimes under the alternate title Man and his Mate.

Least convincing is a disastrous 'man in a T Rex suit' which again looks like fancy dress. They knew it wasn't going to work and the suit is only seen in distant long-shots or hidden by really thick foliage. It's the scene in the remake where Tumak saves the girl up a tree in the village of the shell people. I've seen worse 'man in a T Rex suit' movies, but the best is easily The Land Unknown (1957).

The story, characters and dialogue were closely copied for the Hammer remake, though there's more soppiness here as the cave people all learn how to get along. A major difference is that the volcano eruption isn't the climax in the original. Victor Mature and Carole Landis seem to playing to a pre-teen audience, while Lon Chaney Jr milks pathos out of the deposed chief of the rock tribe, in a rare, disfigured make-up.

Without Harryhausen's dinosaurs and Raquel Welch's everything, this is a dry-run for a great remake with better dinosaurs.


  1. Completists can obtain a DVD from Amazon Japan for 1,500 Yen plus shipping. I don't have this one (yet) but I have others from the Fantastic Cinema Collection series; they're hardly remastered quality, but superior to VHS.

    Amazon Japan link

  2. Thank you, Billy. I'd no idea it was on DVD in Japan. Japanese subs are usually always removable and the English audio track will be included. It's aspected 4:3 as it was on the original release.

  3. I wish this would be released in the US on dvd..

  4. Pardon, but One Million BC did NOT feature an alligator fighting a gila monster. The scene in question featured an alligator versus a monitor lizard.