One Million Years BC 1966, from Hammer Films, remains a classic example of good entertainment and solid performances, offering pure escapism for audiences, says RICHARD MARKWORTH
TITLE: One Million Years BC
RELEASED: 30 December 1966
DIRECTOR: Don Chaffey
CAST: Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Percy Herbert, Robert Brown, Martine Beswick
Review of One Million Years BC 1966
In 1966, riding high on the success of their famous Gothic horror output, Hammer Films turned their attention to monsters of a different variety; the gargantuan beasts who stalked the earth in pre-historic times.
Although a remake of an earlier film, One Million BC (1940), Hammer’s production has undoubtedly outstripped its predecessor in terms of both fame and sheer cult appeal. This is thanks to two major factors; the special visual effects created by the legendary maestro, Ray Harryhausen, and Raquel Welch’s famous portrayal of cavegirl Loana.
One Million Years BC opens to a narrator explaining, “This is a story of long, long ago when the World was just beginning” further expounding it is a “hard, unfriendly world”.
We are introduced to the brutal Rock tribe ruled by Akhoba (Robert Brown) whose two sons Tumak (John Richardson) and Sakana (Percy Herbert) are bitter rivals. The men are part of a tribal hunting party, and during the expedition the brothers’ mutual resentment is illustrated as they vie for the right to finish off an unfortunate warthog the hunters have trapped. Tumak is granted the honour, much to his brother’s chagrin.
In fact, the whole family dynamic proves somewhat dysfunctional as Tumak, and his father later come to blows while disputing their share of the cooked hog meat back at the Rock tribe’s cave. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” would seem to be Akhoba’s attitude to parenting with their violent altercation resulting in Tumak taking a plunge over a cliff edge and being expelled from the camp.
This scenario plays nicely into the jealous Sakana’s hands as he now has no sibling challenger in the cave. He wastes no time in claiming Tumak’s partner, Nupondi (Martine Beswick), as his own.
Now an outcast, Tumak begins an odyssey across the hostile prehistoric landscape where he is forced to avoid the attentions of various over-sized beasts, including a giant iguana which actively pursues him and a monster tarantula which he manages to bypass without incident.
Eventually, having traversed the wilderness beneath a baking sun, Tumak reaches the coast where he collapses. Fortunately for the exhausted caveman, he is discovered by a fishing party of women from the blonde Shell tribe, led by the beautiful Loana (Raquel Welch), which is enough to perk anyone up.
Loana takes an immediate interest in the new arrival and protects him from an attack by Archelon, a giant turtle. Once the Shell people have driven the dejected looking amphibian back into the sea, Loana and her fellow tribe members take Tumak home to their settlement.
The Shell people are far more sophisticated than Tumak’s competitive Rock tribe. Absent is their survival of the strongest attitude with this group acting more as a supportive commune rather than for their individual interests.
Guided by Loana, Tumak gradually begins to fit into his new environment. However, old habits die hard and, after trying to steal a spear he had used to battle a rampaging Allosaurus, Tumak and tribesman Ahot (Jean Wladon) engage in physical combat. This misdemeanour results in Tumak being banished from his second tribe in short succession.
This time, however, Tumak has a companion as Loana chooses to join him. Ahot, displaying the Shell tribe’s more enlightened outlook to life, shows he has no hard feelings towards Tumak by gifting him the spear.
Tumak and Loana head for the Rock tribe’s territory. However, they will again be forced to encounter deadly creatures on their journey home and, unbeknownst to Tumak, must face his usurper brother Sakana who has seized command of the tribe after nearly killing their father.
One Million Years BC makes no attempt at factual accuracy. It is well established humans and dinosaurs did not co-exist and cavepeople certainly didn’t sport carefully tailored fur outfits. Furthermore, personal grooming was not a priority for our distant ancestors and no tribe was likely to have consisted of model-standard lookers such as the members of the Shell people. Even the barbaric Rock tribe are reasonably well outfitted and Tumak’s coiffured hair and beard combo is more akin to a Bee Gee’s tribute act than a realistic representation of early Man’s appearance.
However, the historical flaws are totally irrelevant because One Million Years BC is, unequivocally, rattling good entertainment. Director Don Chaffey keeps the action moving at a rapid pace and there is barely a pause for breath before the next threat, whether dinosaur or human, appears.
Ray Harryhausen is rightly lauded for his magnificent contributions to fantasy cinema and despite the film’s age, his effects work here remains utterly engaging. The interactions between the live actors and stop-motion model dinosaurs are expertly realised.
Despite having to compete for attention with their monstrous co-stars and being largely devoid of dialogue other than grunts and gestures, the human cast all provide sturdy performances.
John Richardson, a one time candidate to replace Sean Connery as James Bond, is a suitably rugged, handsome lead and, to his credit, it’s easy to accept his character’s gradual adaption to more civilised ways under Loana’s influence.
The late, great Raquel Welch as Loana, clad in her iconic fur bikini, absolutely transcends the material, and remains burnt into the consciousness of generations of moviegoers. Her stunning cavegirl image launched a thousand posters and is undoubtedly a massive reason for the film’s appeal.
However, it would be unfair to consider Ms Welch’s success in the role was solely due to her looks. Her acting ability shines through, and she conveys her character’s feelings and intentions ably despite the dialogue restrictions. Furthermore, she is adept at action sequences, with her catfight against Martine Beswick as vicious as the clash between a Triceratops and Ceratosaurus shown earlier in the film.
Perhaps modern audiences would consider One Million Years BC outdated in comparison to the soulless CGI fests spoon-fed to cinemagoers today but, if you wish to indulge in pure escapism, you could do far worse than travel back in time to this mythical age of adventure.
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