One Million B.C. (1940)


(director: Hal Roach/Hal Roach, Jr.; screenwriters: Mickell Novack/George Baker/Joseph Frickert/descriptive narration by Grover Jones; cinematographer: Norbert Brodine; editor: Ray Snyder; music: Werner R. Heymann; cast: Victor Mature (Tumak), Carole Landis (Loana), Lon Chaney, Jr. (Akhoba), John Hubbard (Ohtao), Nigel De Brulier (Peytow), Mamo Clark (Nupondi), Conrad Nagel, (Scientist/Narrator); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hal Roach; United Artists; 1940)
“If you can dig all the nonsense, you might find it pleasing as silly entertainment.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Everything about this ambitious prehistoric fantasy film co-directed by Hal Roach (“Captain Fury”/ “Turnabout”), the king of silent comedy, and his son Hal Roach Jr., feels wrong, from its inaccurate decision to have cavemen and dinosaurs exist in the same period of time to its corny narrative that’s filled with grunts and senseless action sequences. But if you can dig all the nonsense, you might find it pleasing as silly entertainment. D.W. Griffith was a forgotten figure at the time (last directed The Struggle, 1931) and reportedly had a minor role directing some casting test sequences and acted as adviser to the production (the last time the famed director of The Birth of a Nation, 1915 worked on a movie set). The film has the two big-chested stars, Victor Mature and Carole Landis, starring early on in their careers. Mature was a discovery of Griffith’s.

The film opens as a storm causes a bunch of lost rock climbers to seek shelter in a cave, where an old scientist (Conrad Nagel) tells them an ancient tale involving this same cave and a fierce battle between two tribes. The Rock tribe was led by the tyrannical Akhoba (Lon Chaney, Jr. ), whose members were meat eater hunters who had no pity or compassion and worshiped only strength; while the more evolved Shell tribe were vegetarians and tried to find a peaceful way to exist. When the son of the Rock leader, Tumak (Victor Mature), is banished from his people for defying his father he gets lost wandering far from the highland caves and ends up in the lush valley beach area where he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Loana (Carole Landis) of the Shell tribe. Loana goes with her hunk when he’s given the boot by the Shell people for stealing a spear. Back in Rock country the gentle Loana wins the hearts and minds of the Rock crowd, but a volcano erupts killing off many of the Rock tribe and traps Loana and a few members of the Rock tribe in a cave with a fierce dinosaur. The kindly Shell people help the Rock people kill the beast, and after that the two tribes make peace.

Though the b/w film is impressive looking (magnifying lizards to look like dinosaurs and has colorful fight scenes among the prehistoric animals and the cavemen), the film was let down by the slight story and the uninteresting characters and was a bomb at the box office. It was remade in 1966 as One Million Years B. C., and fared much better at the box office with Raquel Welch in the leading role looking hot in a fur bikini.