Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

One Million BC

ONE MILLION BC (1940)



Pre-Commentary: One Million B.C. [a.k.a. Man and his Mate (in Britain),TheCave Dwellers (a rerelease without the modern-day introduction)]was adapted from a novel by Eugene Roche. D.W. Griffith, by nowignored by Hollywood and alcoholic, began directing the projectunder the title When Man Began. Roy Seawright and FrankYoung stuck fins on and photographically enlarged various crocodiles,lizards, iguanas. The film inspired the American Society forthe Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to ban such gruesome usesof these animals, so footage from this film was later recycledfor Tarzan’s Desert Mystery (1943), Two Lost Worlds(1950), Tarzan’s Jungle Manhunt (1951), Untamed Women(1952), Robot Monster (1953), King Dinosaur (1955),Teenage Caveman (1958), and Valley of the Dragons(1961), and ’50s and ’60s television shows such as Ramar ofthe Jungle and Jungle Jim. The film was remade withmostly stop-motion techniques in 1966 as One Million YearsB.C. and starred Rachel Welch.

Notes: UnitedArtists, 80 minutes.

Tumak: Victor Mature
Loana: Carole Landis
Akhoba: Lon Chaney, Jr. [next year’s WolfMan!]
Ohtao: John Hubbard
Nupondi: Mamo Clark
Peytow [not Peyton as The Magill Movie Guidehas it]: Nigel De Brulier
Tohana: Inez Palange
Skakana: Edgar Edwards
Ataf: Jacqueline Dalya
Wandi: Mary Gale Fisher
Narrator: Conrad Nagel

Produced: Hal Roach
Directed: Hal Roach and Hal Roach, Jr.
Screenplay: Mickell Novak, George Baker, JosephFrickert
Cinematography: Norbert Brodine and Roy Seawright
Edited: Ray Snyder
Musical Score: Werner R. Heymann
Descriptive Narration: Grover Jones


Summary: Rain forces a group of feckless wanderers into a cave where anarcheologist greets them. He has been studying “these markingshidden for many centuries.” In fact, he says, they tella “complete story. On this wall a learned man left his saga.” We’re in for his “interpretation of the simple story lefthere.” Some dolt feeds him the line: “Do you mean therewere people of intelligence that long ago?” [And I’m lostalready. What is that supposed to mean? Somebody invented intelligencein the 1920s?] Archeologist: “Intelligence, my friend, isinherent. Education and culture are acquired. Civilization,of course, has brought complications. But here are the same thoughts,the same emotions, the same struggles with the problems of lifeand death that, that we of today experience.” [Okay, holdon, Chuckles; so you’re post-romantically reading emotion outof cave drawings, fine, but what are we saying in 1940 about “TheWar”?]

Mr. Gomless: “I always thought of thoseancient people as animals instead of humans.” [Makes itethically easier to slaughter and eat them!] Fascinating. Anyway,the “saga” concerns a “young hunter of one tribeand a girl of another.” The boy belongs to the Rock Tribeand the girl the Shell People. “His was a cruel tribe. Pity and compassion played little part in the existence of thosepeople, who ate only what they could kill; they depended solelyon their ability to kill for sustinence. They despised weakness,worshipped strength. They ruled by the power of might. . . . Animals were abundant; none of them had learned to fear man,which made the hunter’s life most hazardous. [You’d think itwould make being a hunter easier!] Here life lived hand in handwith death. [???] And compensation came only to the strong.”

We have faded into the prehistoric world, andTumak has killed a boar. Dire music accompanies the interminablecontentions over meat rights and ownership of chunks, and Tumakultimately fights with Akhoba, leader of the Rock Tribe, and fallsoff a small cliff. A mastodon chases Tumak up a tree and buttsthe tree into the water below. Tumak drifts unconsciously tothe Shell People and is discovered by a spear-fishing woman, Loana. The Shell People take him in despite his uncouth ways, especiallyhis suspicion and pigginess regarding food. We see some wall-carvinggoing on and a baby bear stealing food.

Back among the hunting Rock Tribe, Akhoba isbattered by an ox, but staggers back to the cave. Hm . . . welfareor tough luck?

The Shell People have a predator alert briefly. But we soon focus on a meeting of the mimes as Loana and Tumakteach each other their names. Tumak also gradually learns communism,that is, he should share his food and help in the equal distribution. A bit of a love triangle emerges with another Shell man, butTumak is valued for shaking trees to make fruit fall down. Whilehe fails to learn spear-fishing from Loana, a rubber-suited dinosaurattacks the settlement and Tumak slays the animal. He strutsback to the others, but later fights his rival and is orderedout of the tribe. Loana goes too.

On the odyssey, we encounter a slurpasaurus[as later in The Lost World (1960); in other words, a regularlizard with junky fins glued to him], we see a gigantic mongoosehaul off a gigantic snake, and an armadillo chases those crazykids up a tree. We also see two lizards fight each other, whichis real and pretty brutal, and enhanced by jungle screechingsand roars.

Blood wells at the neck of the losing lizardwhen Tumak walks by. Loana blows her shell to signal trouble,for the Rock Tribe are around. Reunion with Tumak’s originaltribe involves lots of fighting, all tentatively smoothed outby the two new peaceniks. Food other than meat is introducedto an old man.

But wouldn’t you know it, just when everything’sgoing so well, cataclysmic volcanic activity, lava, earthquakes,etc. ravage the land. Lizards are panicked and tortured and itlooks as if they get burned too.

A lone shoe suggests to Tumak that Loana wasdisintegrated by lava trying to save a cave-brat. But a horn-blowingshows otherwise. Tumak’s last heroism is saving a cornered batchof cave-people from a gigantic iguana. He inspires them to harassthe animal, which roars and eats a guy, and then lures the iguanaaway to where we can start an avalanche on top of it, underneathwhich the creature is buried.

Hymnal sounds signal our glorious ending asTumak, Loana, and the cave-brat between them realize here comesthe sun and it’s all right.


Commentary: The ideological implications of the introduction are interestinggiven the historical context–1940–but the introduction alsogives voice to the general attitude in all these dinosaur filmsregarding this warped view of social Darwinism read back intothe prehistoric world. The film, nevertheless, shows favorablythe growing impulses towards civilized behavior. But this inturn is undermined by the filmmakers’ treatment of the lizardsused for dinosaurs. The cruelty is pretty upsetting.