Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

One Million Years B.C.


Summary: “This is a story of long ago, when the world was just beginning,” announces a grim authoritative voice, reminding us of traditional “In the beginning” lore and suggesting divine origins, intent, and sanction of what is to come.

Footage of gaseous formations, explosions, and lava flow accompany the credits:

A Seven Arts–Hammer Film (1966) [Twentieth-Century Fox].

Loana: Raquel Welch
Tumak: John Richardson
Sakama: Percy Herbert
Akhoba: Robert Brown
Nupondi: Martine Beswick
Ahot: Jean Wladon [“Waldon” in the Magill Movie Guide is incorrect.]
Sara: Lisa Thomas
Tohana: Malya Nappi
Young Rock Man: Richard James
Payto: William Lyon Brown
First Rock Man: Frank Hayden
First Shell Man: Terence Maidment
First Shell Girl: Micky De Rauch
Ullah: Yvonne Horner

Producer: Michael Carreras
Director: Don Chaffey
Writers: Michael Carreras, Mickell Novak, George Baker, Joseph Frickert
Cinematographer: Wilkie Cooper
Costume Designer (fur bikinis): Carl Toms
Music: Mario Nascimbene
Special Effects: Ray Harryhausen.

Accompanied by stark, slow, flute noodlings, the pompous narrative voice, god-like in its disembodiment and in vital-sounding fragments which insist that we view our ancestors with perspective and distinction and not as we do the other animals on earth, constructs the natural world as one of immediate antagonism:

“A young world. A world early in the morning of time. A hard unfriendly world. Creatures who sit and wait. Creatures who must kill to live. [We see a vulture, precariously wired to a stick with wings unnaturally outspread and a jungle snake in this arid desert.] And man, superior to the creatures only in his cunning. [“Iyeeah!” cries a caveman (read: “woo”), having proven his ‘cunning’ by leading a wild boar/warthog into a pit by acting as food-bait.] There are not many men yet–just a few tribes scattered across the wilderness, never venturing far, unaware that other tribes exist even. Too busy with their own lives to be curious, too frightened by the unknown to wander. Their laws are simple: the strong take everything. This is Akhoba, leader of the rock tribe, and these are his sons, Sakama and Tumak. There is no love lost between them. And that is our story.”

And that is the end of the English language in this film. Thus, we are confronted with a typical contortion of the “survival of the fittest” principle, and the whole of world events based on one male struggle, supposedly primal. The biblical echoes seek to validate this nasty Western vision in resonant myth.

[These first brief minutes of the film are useful in a variety of teaching contexts. For further commentary,see One Million Years B.C. Notes.]

Tumak and Sakama fight for the right to slay the animal in the pit. The dead animal is retrieved, and the men return to their communal cave, leaving an “unfit” old man to die. Vultures actually attack dying people in these Hammer cave-movies (cf. When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth). Back home and surprisingly knowing enough to come in out of the rain, they roast the animal on an open fire. A female taster samples the food, and Akhoba tears a hearty chunk of pig for himself (proving you are what you eat). With unseemly deportment, more men grab and fight for pieces, and then retreat to various corners of the cave to eat. Akhoba still hungry; want Tumak meat! Father fights son until Tumak is forced off a cliff in front of the cave. Sakama opportunistically takes Tumak’s woman.

Pour another drink: Tumak’s alive. He looks around and heads off for the distant mountains. He turns back and spits at his former home. A huge iguana (who looks dehydrated) chases him, corners him, and lassos his leg with its tongue (or something . . . it’s clearly not the short pink tongue we saw in the mouth of the iguana moments ago). Tumak frees himself and bravely runs away into a cave where he finds water and drinks in a most undignified manner. Looking about he sees skulls, then hears a sound. An apeman emerges from another passage. Apparently he isn’t Tumak’s type, for our young hero bravely runs away again, finding an opening above onto the surface of this old muckball, and climbs out.

Back home, Tumak’s ex awakens and sneaks around,finding a bone. Sakama awakens and sees Akhoba near her. Tension city.

Tumak finds huge “lizard” footprints and lo, a brontosaur wanders by in the distance. This being a wasteland tundra with no plants and no water, the sight is indeed disturbing; Tumak bravely runs away, but into a huge tarantula. [Giant spiders! They’re everywhere!] Our gomless young friend continues wandering towards the sun. The ocean? A mirage? The screaming angel/shrew voices of song don’t say. Tumak passes out.

Fortunately, he’s stumbled, literally, onto the Beach of the Blondes–excuse me: the Shell Tribe. The Blonde Chick People–excuse me: the women of the Shell Tribe are cavorting–nay, hunting–in the sea. Loana (Raquel Welch) goes to investigate Tumak. A giant sea tortoise peers over a sand cliff and intends to waddle down to the water. This evil scheme is tended to by the Shell Tribe: the women blow conch shells to summon the men, who threaten the animal with spears and throw rocks in its face. Meanwhile, Tumak is dragged to safety and thence to the beachfront cave.

Back among the Rock Tribe, Akhoba chases a goat. He climbs rocks until Sakama gets his chance to knock the old man off the cliff and proclaim himself leader.

Tumak awakens surrounded by the industrious and productive blonde tribe. Loana graciously brings him food; however, you can take the rockman out of the rocks but you can’t take the rocks out of the rockman: he eats like a ravenous vicious pig.

Akhoba isn’t dead and returns one stormy night to the horror of the tribe, bloodied and half-blind.

Tumak awakens again and finds the cave empty: they’re outside working. Ahot shows him a snazzy new invention–a spear–and how to jab with it. Names are exchanged: Loana, Ahot, Tumak. Loana shows Tumak the fishing pond. Uproarious laughter accompanies her success at spearing a fish (which writhes in agony at the end of her spear) and his awkward attempts to do the same. An allosaur drops by and eats a human. Tumak attacks the dino, defending a child he put up a tree earlier. More men join the fight but not successfully: another dies. The allosaur suffers a spear in the mouth, which it spits out, an impaling on a large stake, and finally Tumak’s spear in the neck, the last accompanied by profound music.

After a funeral later, Tumak and Ahot get into a fight in the cave. Tumak is kicked out of the tribe, but Loana follows him. Rock-idiot goes back to the apeman cave, where Loana picks something that looks like an eggplant out of a pine tree. The apegoons arrive, so the two climb the tree. Loana drops her eggplant which starts an ape fight. They spend the night in the tree and climb upwards in the morning. A triceratops (vegetarian) charges them, whereupon they hide among rocks as a T. Rex fights the triceratops for the privilege of predatorization of the humans. The triceratops wins, uncharacteristically, but in the meantime, Loana has emerged out of the other side of the rocks while Tumakhas been trapped. The Rock Tribe is out and about, probably hunting, and Tumak saves Loana from Sakama. Loana stops Tumak from actually killing his brother. Back at the old cave, Tumak’s former woman and Loana fight. Loana wins and is encouraged to kill off this woman, but Tumak intervenes. “Violence is wrong, ” the big lug seems to be implying. The next day he teaches them howto make spears.

After some tension with Sakama, Loana teaches the tribe about another new Shell People invention: bathing. Hydro-fun is interrupted again, though. This time a pterodactyl attacks and squawks off with Loana in its talons. About to feed her to its young, this dino is attacked by another pterodactyl. In the fight, Loana falls into the sea, swims out, and passes out. One pterodactyl goes down, but Tumak arrives to see the dinochicks eating, apparently Loana. He is rather Boethian about it all, though, and goes to help a hurt friend.

Loana struggles back to her tribe, but commands a delegation to go with her in search of Tumak. They meet up,and return to kick Sakama et al. butt. Melee. Tumak is about to crunch his brother again when a volcano erupts. In the cataclysmic geophysical upheavals, Akhoba buys the farm, Tumak finally spears Sakama, many die, lots of rocks fall.

In the steamy aftermath, the survivors trudge off, presumably to start a new tribe, face human destiny, whatever. This is supposed to be a final vision of the persistence of the species, and the film has sanctimoniously turned sepia to convey this.

Commentary: The forcing of humans and dinosaurs together in this and other films suggests the attempt to root meat-eating in necessity. All conflict here seems to originate in dispute over women; but actually most of the conflict stems from the pursuit of meat and the attendant macho posturings over spear-rights. (Perhaps women are so desirable because most of male life is spent away from them pursuing meat.)

The animals are never just “there”; they are invariably seeking to eat humans. The more generalized antagonistic relationship between humans and the natural world is assumed to lie beneath all subsequent layers of civilization. (But what about Native American cultures?) This kind of pop anthropology is seldom examined as spurious, and that this film passes its vision off as somehow canonical is discouraging.

[Final Note: You’ll enjoy going about the house grunting incoherently–Tumak! Oodala! etc.–but this wears off after about an hour.]

Teaching Notes