One Million B.C.

05/27/2020 06:27

Film: One Million B.C.

Year: 1940

Director: Hal Roach Jr. and Hal Roach

Writer: Mickell Novack, George Baker and Joseph Frickert

Starring: Victor Mature, Carole Landis and Lon Chaney Jr.



This was a film that I think I learned about originally when I saw it’s remake of One Million Years B.C.. This probably technically isn’t a horror film, but it did appear on a list when I searching through Letterboxd and trying to compile what I could for the releases in this genre from 1940. The synopsis for this original version is tale of prehistoric survival and love between a male and a female belonging to opposing tribes that happened to be at slightly different stages of evolution.

We start this off in the present. We have a group that is exploring and they happen on a cave. They go into it and one of the group figures out there is another room and it is occupied. There’s an anthropologist, played by Conrad Nagel, who is researching some cave drawings. He is more than happy to tell what he has deciphered from it.

It begins with a tribe led by Akhoba (Lon Chaney Jr.). They’re more of hunters and not quite civilized just yet. Also in the tribe is Tumak (Victor Mature) who is trying to prove himself with his first kill. He does, but the pig like animal does get the better of him a bit. Akhoba is also a jerk. Back in their cave when they settle down for dinner, he gets his food first, as do his dogs, before allowing the rest to eat. He also challenges his son, as well as other warriors much like you’d see for animals like gorillas or wolves to show who is dominate and who the alpha is.

With some events, Tumak ends up falling into the river. We get to see some different landscapes as well as other kinds of animals until he washes up on the shore with a new tribe. Tumak is taken in by Loana (Carole Landis). They gather vegetables and are much kinder, working more in a society you’d see today. Tumak is given food and he’s rude. The next day as they’re chased back to their cave by a dinosaur, he picks up dropped vegetables to horde them. He sees the customs and their ways in which he starts to conform.

There is butting heads though with Peytow (Nigel De Brulier). They both seem to be taking a liking to Loana. On top of that, Tumak is trained warrior and wants Peytow’s spear. This feeling of wanting whatever he sees forces him to leave this tribe and their cave. He wants Loana to come with him and she agrees. Things have changed with his original tribe as Akhoba is injured during a hunt as well.

That’s where I’m going to leave my recap for this movie as it doesn’t have the deepest story. I did like the aspect though that this is being told to a group of people who just stumbled on this cave. It does make for an intriguing story if you’re interested in listening to it. You might be wondering though if this is actually horror or not from what I’ve said. I would lean toward this is actually more horror adjunct. This is lumped more into the giant monster type movie, but not really enough to be a kaiju film.

The best aspect of this movie though is the anthropological look at these people. I know the synopsis is trying to say that the warrior tribe is less evolved, but I think that’s too nice of a way to really describe it. At the time of writing this, we’re still in the pandemic for COVID-19. The warrior tribe really feels like those Americans who are protesting against the stay at home orders. I don’t want to completely generalize here, but the warrior tribe is really conservatives who are less educated. In this movie, Akhoba is very animalistic. He is the alpha and bullies those that could challenge him, including his own son Tumak. This really isn’t that dissimilar to gorillas or wolves as I said, where you need to be the toughest to be the leader. That is not to say there isn’t some intelligence, but I think just more of poor leadership that isn’t there for the betterment of that society.

Then on the other side, we have the tribe that includes Loana. They’ve learned that it is better for everyone to take care of the elderly, the children and the women. The men do more things like go hunting and what not as they’re able bodied. That isn’t to say that the women just take care of the home. Their society is much safer and smarter as they’ve developed aspects of farming. I think this is a great look at the cultural shock for Tumak. He is resistant at first, but does relent. He also has some toxic masculinity in regards to Peytow and Loana. What I don’t like is him acting like a child and then getting his way when it comes to the spear and weapons.

Another aspect of the story I wanted to cover would be the last act of the movie. Tumak and Loana go back to his tribe. What is interesting here is that the women and men are rude to Loana. They’re stuck in their ways and don’t like the changes she’s trying to instill. It is a believable way of looking at it. What ends up happening reminded me of something I saw in 2019 film The Platform. You can try to talk and show these people the best way, but sometimes force is needed and doing the hard thing of just making it happen so they can see reason. The problem though is that it isn’t as easy as this movie makes it out to be. By nature, humans are selfish. This movie is showing that was probably the case even with primitive people and we’re still not that much different today.

I should point out here that this movie has historical inaccuracies as well. From what I’ve learned, these dinosaurs we’re getting were dead long before primitive man was around. I also do not think there were things like wooly mammoths around at that time either. I’m willing to overlook some of this, as there’s a possibility at this time they didn’t know this information. This movie uses quite a bit of green screen. It doesn’t look great, but I can’t fault a movie that is 80 years old for the technology. It did make me laugh that they used interesting way of splicing film to have giant lizards that are just normal ones and blowing up the image to pair it with our actors who are smaller, so being creative to flip that to make it more realistic. Adding things to the back of a crocodile for a dinosaur or putting fur on elephants is creative. I give a lot of credit to this cinematography. The version I watched was also colorized, which wasn’t great at times. I watched it on YouTube, so I would like to seek out the original black and white to see how it was originally intended.

The last thing to cover for me would be the acting. I do have to give them credit, as aside from the opening prologue, there’s no actual dialogue. I do find this interesting, as we’re not too far removed from the silent era as this could have just as easily fit there. Mature I thought does really well at this misogynistic, beta male that wants to be an alpha. Landis is cute and I like that her softness as a woman breaks Tumak. Chaney is just a legend and I wasn’t expecting to see him here. I thought he did a solid job in his role, especially with what happens to him. Much like his father, he can do so much with his facial expressions to convey what he needs to. Brulier and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed as well.

Now with that said, this is an interesting film for sure. I do like that there’s some social commentary, looking at these primitive people that still correlate to what we’re seeing even today. We do get some historical inaccuracies, which I’m willing to overlook a bit with probably the lack of data and technology to prove theories we have now. I thought the effects are a bit cheesy by today’s standards, but we’re pretty close to state of the art back then. The acting was pretty solid in my opinion. I did find it to be a bit boring and there’s not really a lot in the way of story that was most likely the case. The soundtrack and score of the movie did seem to win an Academy Award, but I wasn’t overly impressed by it. There’s wasn’t much that I hadn’t heard from before or after it to be honest. I did enjoy this movie and found it to be just over average for me. Not great by any stretch, just an interesting film in history.


My Rating: 6 out of 10