Summer Weekend Review: “One Million BC” (1940)

It has been awhile since we’ve run weekend reviews of older genre movies and, with summer upon us, we’d like to once more supplement reviews and discussions of newer fare with a few seasonally-appropriate oldies. SF Beach Movies are rare, but the next few weeks will see reviews of the closest thing, the fantastic Caveman films from the cinematic past1.

(And they are topical just now)

Title: One Million BC

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Hal Roach and Hal Roach Jr.
Written by Mickell Novack, George Baker, Joseph Frickert, and Grover Jones (narration).

Victor Mature as Tumak / hiker
Carole Landis as Loana / hiker
Lon Chaney Jr. as Akhoba / hiker
Conrad Nagel as narrator/anthropologist
John Hubbard as Ohtao / hiker
Nigel De Brulier as Peytow
Mamo Clark as Nupondi
Inez Palange as Tohana
Edgar Edwards as Skakana


Some hikers stumble upon an eccentric anthropologist who spins a story based on some prehistoric cave paintings he has found. What follows appears to be his tale as the hikers imagine it, the dawn of a new era among rival cave-dwelling tribes, prehistoric mammals, slurpasaurs, and the inevitable volcano.

Long ago, a rebel from the savage Rock Tribe meets a lass from the more civilized Shell Tribe….

High Point

The effects are a high point, even when they don’t quite work.

The models and mattes hold up; some of the sets look chintzily studio, and feel like the foundations of the Flintstones’ Bedrock. It’s the prehistoric animals which most people will remember.

The Roaches used a range of techniques to create their battling beasts. The allosaurus, a puppet or costume, fares worst; most effective are the dressed up elephants and musk oxen which interact with the cast. Most common and notorious, however, are this film’ slurpasaurs.

Some film nerd coined that term to designate a commonplace animal, typically a pet store lizard, which plays the part of a dinosaur or dinosaurian monster in a drive-in theatre movie. The term derives from the fact that small lizards often have long, flickery tongues, which seem especially prominent and potentially slurpy when the beastie is shown in extreme close-up, moving in slow-motion under hot studio lights. While some creatures play their roles au naturel, the more interesting slurpasaurs sport large rubber fins, plastic horns, or other monstrous appendages. One Million BC uses modified lizards, armadillos, badgers, and a baby alligator in the key dino-roles. Their use will occasionally disturb viewers, especially during bloody, forced battle scenes, but they prove fascinating nonetheless.

These effects also proved difficult to duplicate, because of pressure on the studios to avoid cruelty to animals.2 Consequently, One Million BC provided the studio with a modest cash cow: slurpasaurs by the yard. And so the footage reappears in (to name a few): Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943), Two Lost Worlds (1950), Tarzan’s Jungle Manhunt (1951), Untamed Women (1952), Robot Monster (1953), King Dinosaur (1954), Teenage Caveman (1958), Valley of the Dragons (1961), Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970) and in 1950s and 1960s television shows such as Ramar of the Jungle, Jungle Jim, and The Time Tunnel. I even recall a chocolate bar commercial a few years back reusing a key sequence from this film.

Low Point

I give the filmmakers credit for the framing device, which explains the jumble of prehistoric eras. The anthropologist only mentions mastodons and sabre-tooth tigers, creatures which coexisted with our human ancestors. The fact that assorted dinosaurs turn up matches popular, inaccurate expectations, but it makes perfect sense, since the whole thing takes place in the minds of some hikers.

Unfortunately, this tedious sequence proves otherwise unnecessary, and soon gets forgotten; the film closes without returning to its frame.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6 Caveman Pictures had been made before, but this one pretty much set the standard and the model for others to follow. Of course, it uses some very familiar dramatic tropes, and the inspiration from Romeo and Juliet is obvious enough.

Story: 4/6

Effects: 4/6 I discuss the effects at some length under “High Points”

Production: 5/6

Acting: 4/6 The acting is passable, but hardly brilliant. Carole Landis fares best among the hairy and wooden cast.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Overall: 4/6

In total, One Million BC receives 29/42.

Next week: Rachel Welch busts out in the remake!

1. I recognize the sexism and inaccuracy of the term “Cave-man,” but as a term it represents the thinking that went into these films.

Portions of this first review have been inspired and lifted from one I wrote years ago for E2.

2. This is not to say that the practice ended altogether. The 1960 version of The Lost World, for example, used fresh slurp creations.