At my primary school, there were regular and entirely justified bouts of cruel violence inspired by arguments regarding Hammer Films’ bizarre triumvirate of caveman movies. Just which was the greatest of the stop-motion prehistoric epics? Don Chaffey’s One Million Years B.C. had the iconic, Raquel Welch-in-a-loincloth-poster and the legitimacy of being Hammer’s first (despite that fact it was itself a remake), but Val Guest’s When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth had a much cooler title and a giddy passage in which Victoria Vetri gets mistaken for a baby dinosaur and befriends a giant carnivore. Punches and kicks would fly in support of one’s preferred movie, and woe betide anyone fighting the corner of Creatures the World Forgot, seen very much as the junior film, the afterthought lacking in any monster action. To champion it was to receive a sound kicking or a P.E. kit on top of the school’s vast and filthy boiler. Slave Girls didn’t (and still doesn’t) count as it focuses on a lost tribe rather than transporting the viewer back to a land before time. I was always a When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth guy, although I was happy to entertain arguments in praise of Welch’s slightly more famous One Million Years B.C. chiefly because it contains more scenes of women in small, furry bikinis.
Much to the delight of half of my former classmates, One Million Years B.C. lands on Blu-Ray this week, giving us all a chance to look back at a moment in British movie history when producers took a collective leave of their senses and commissioned movies that featured no dialogue, only the merest hint of a narrative and a surfeit of appalling wigs.
The plot, such as it is, sees the caveman hunter Tumak (John Richardson) banished from his tribe following a dinner argument with his father over the choicest pieces of the meal’s main course. Wandering through the desert, and only just escaping the clutches of a giant turtle, he runs into Loana (Raquel Welch), a woman who seems to inhabit the role of Chief Babe of her tribe of blonde haired and slightly more intelligent seaside cave-dwellers.
Even viewing this with the knowledge that it exists essentially as a platform for Ray Harryhausen’s excellent special effects, there’s still a sense bewilderment that anything like this would ever get made by a mainstream company. With its panoply of half-naked women, grubby catfights, frequent dinosaur attacks and its shrieking and grunting nonsensical pseudo-script, the movie feels as weirdly risqué as anything you’re likely to see across the gamut of British cinema. It’s full of inane clichés and the dumb caveman posturing wears very thin very quickly, but it retains just enough of a sense of ludicrous fun to make it watchable.
And off course, Harryhausen’s peerless special effects remain engrossing and fantastic even after more than half a century. The chief drawback of Studiocanal’s handsome-looking restoration is the paucity of extras and the missed opportunity to dig deeper into the visuals that made his work on this movie and others such a success.
[rating=3] | Chris Banks
Fantasy, Adventure | USA, 1966 | PG | Hammer Films, Studiocanal | 24th October 2016(UK) | Dir.Don Chaffey |Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Percy Herbert, Martine Beswicke | Buy:[Double Play]