One Million BC (1940)
Directed by Hal Roach, Hal Roach Jr.
Stars: Victor Mature, Lon Chaney Jr., Carole Landis
Hal Roach is a company you wouldn’t have expected to produce a serious film on prehistoric life. Yet that is exactly what is presented here. We follow the story of Tumak and his struggle to get out of the shadow of his father and tribe leader. Early in the film he battles his father over food and is forcibly kicked out of the clan. Wounded, he floats down river and is saved by a clan of people that are less savage and have a different sense of community. The cave woman Luana takes a liking to Tumak and nurses him back to health. He observes their ways of sharing, even letting the children eat first rather than fighting over scraps as his tribe was accustomed to doing. They work as a community for the benefit of all and even provide for the elders who can no longer hunt and gather. It is a real community rather than a winner-takes-all social hierarchy.
There’s one silly looking Allosaurus to which thankfully they never show a clear view. After that display, the parade of lizards posing as dinosaurs is a welcome sight. This film has the famous scene where the dwarf gator fights the monitor lizard which has been used in half a dozen other future films. Eventually Tumak returns to his tribe with Luana to teach them his new ways. The tribe learns quickly. Unfortunately there’s a nearby volcano that erupts destroying Tumak’s homeland. Luana seeks shelter in a cave with many of the children and they are trapped in the cave by a giant iguana. This iguana-saur ain’t budging. It barks like a dog, growls like a lion and hisses like a snake with a toothache. The two tribes work together to free Luana, the women and children trapped in the cave. And they all live happily ever after.
This is the first film in a line of films that presents the life of prehistoric man without any recognizable dialogue. It’s followed by the loosely based remake, One Million Years BC (Hammer Films), When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (Hammer Films), Clan of the Cave Bear, 10,000 BC, and even Cave Man (1981). Roach originally hired GW Griffith for the production because of his experience with large scale special effects, but they parted ways after differences in opinions. Despite the departure, the film won two academy awards, best special effects and best music score. There are some noteworthy effects in the film including the volcano lava that just misses swallowing a child and the giant Iguana sequence trapping the women and children in the cave. It’s plot is fairly basic and it’s dinosaurs are limited in appeal but it is notable as a film of its genre for imagining the life of the Cro-Magnon man, however scientifically inaccurate some aspects may be portrayed.
Publicity shots and behind the scenes shots: