Retro Review: ONE MIILION YEARS BC (1966)

One Million Years BC is fairly well known but I never saw it. It had the single greatest and simplest marketing campaign that is still more memorable than the movie is today. Raquel Welch was front and center, top-billed, and pinned up on a ton of late boomer’s bedroom walls. You know it:


This image is still iconic to this day. Featured prominently in The Shawshank Redemption and various other movies in the subsequent eras since 1966, this poster is possibly the greatest marketing poster ever created. No trailer was necessary.

But what about the movie itself? Is One Million Years BC any good? Surprisingly yes, though it is definitely a product of its time. This is ironic considering when it takes place and even more ironic is that it’s a remake of a 1940 movie of the same name! Did you know that? I didn’t.

The movie’s historical accuracy is laughable with cavemen interacting with dinosaurs and extremely large iguanas and turtles. The former is amazing work by the great Ray Harryhausen, the latter being slow-motion compositing of actual animals. Sometimes both.

No reason not to have more pictures like this.

There’s a Plot?

Also, Raquel is not the protagonist. While she does play a major role in the movie, it is a supporting role. She doesn’t even show up until about a third of the way through the movie. The main character is Tumak. He’s the son of Akhoba and brother of Sarkana.

Tumak is the hero because he’s marginally less of a dick than Sarkana and Akhoba. Akhoba is the chief of the stone tribe. After killing a boar and feeding the tribe, Akhoba decides that he needs a second helping so he takes Tumak’s. Politicians, amirite? Tumak ain’t too happy about this so he fights but loses and gets banished from the tribe. This is done by Akhoba shoving Tumak off a cliff and since he didn’t die, he can’t go back.

Tumak wanders for a while, fending off creature attacks until finally he ends up with the shell tribe, a blonde-haired group that is a bit more civilized than the stone tribe. They’ve developed pointy spears instead of poles. They paint and their women are all amazingly hot. Loana (Welch) takes a liking to Tumak, especially when he helps fend off an Allosaurus attack and save a child of the tribe.

But he really wants the spear and tries to steal it… so banishment again. This time they just tell him to GTFO and Loana decides to accompany him.

More wandering, more creature attacks, more glorious Harryhausen stop-motion effects. Finally they run into Tumak’s old tribe. In the intervening time, Sarkana tried to kill Akhoba, leaving him injured but still the leader of the tribe. They welcome Tumak back… kinda.

During a swim, Loana is taken by a Pteranodon but manages to get away and is found by the shell tribe. She convinces the tribe to go back to the stone tribe to help Tumak.

Meanwhile, Sarkana leads a revolt against Akhoba. The shell tribe arrives and a big old fight starts that is interrupted, wouldn’t you know it, by a volcano eruption. The good people survive and the bad people die. The newly merged tribe is now led by Tumak and they head off towards an uncertain future.


One Million Years..?

The movie itself is well shot, with the understanding that it was 1966. There are times I was genuinely impressed with the merging of stop motion with live action. Cavemen throw rocks at creatures that bounce off the creatures seamlessly.

Other shots, especially the ones with slow motion animal superimposed, are less impressive. There is not a word of english spoken except for a brief narration at the beginning. They speak names and a sparse bit of cavemen babble but mostly just grunts, growls, and roars. It’s an interesting choice and lends to the credibility of what you are seeing, even if the world does not.

I enjoyed the performances, most were very good given what they are trying to do.

But some things are not exactly apparent. I know that Tumak and Sarkana are Akhoba’s sons only because I read it, there’s no way to tell just from watching the movie. I’m not sure though it makes much of a difference given the story though, he could’ve just been as easily a prominent member of the tribe. Welch looks amazing throughout though I did wonder where she got blush and eye shadow. Hey, it was the 60s!

I never found myself getting bored and the movie never descended into camp, even with the dinosaurs and stop motion, unlike Valley of the Gwangi which is a movie that would utilize some of the dinosaur models three years later. This was a fun movie and I was able to follow the story just fine without a single line of dialogue.

The lasting legacy of One Million Years BC, for good or bad, is the fur bikini that Raquel Welch wore on that poster. And that undercuts an actual decent movie. Is it a bonafide classic? I’m not sure I’d go that far but I appreciate the story, the work that went into the special effects, and the tons of location shooting that looked great. If you’re looking for something a bit different and not like your standard fare, you should give this a shot.



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