Saturday, October 20, 2018

HubrisWeen 2018, Day 15: One Million B.C. (1940)

Today's film was not actually my first choice for O. However, as much as I would have loved to discuss The Oily Maniac, it had a few too many elements that I did not feel comfortable talking about so soon after a rapist was appointed to the highest court in the land. So, instead, we get to discuss a disturbing topic that isn't quite so painfully fresh in the minds of half the population: animal cruelty!

And really, outside of an Italian cannibal film in the 1970s, you won't see a more distressing example of animals being abused on camera for entertainment. Well, unless you've watched one of the dozens of films that decided to reuse this film's "dinosaur" footage rather than film their own. Those films, though, at least didn't manufacture this atrocious footage themselves.

Amazingly, this film was nominated for an Oscar for special effects. I'll give the Academy the benefit of the doubt and assume it was for the fairly decent rear projection work, some surprisingly effective mastodons, and a pretty boss volcanic eruption--and not for the "dinosaurs," which are all awful in various ways.

Lest you be concerned that the movie is good enough to excuse the cruelty you're about to witness, the opening disabuses you of that notion immediately by giving us an incredibly unnecessary modern framing device.

A bunch of hikers in modern Europe seek shelter from a storm in a cave, and find that it is already occupied by an archaeologist (Conrad Nagel, credited as "Narrator") who is studying cave paintings. He then offers to tell them the story recorded on the cave wall, going so far as to say that the two central cave men in the story probably looked just like two members of the hiking party.

We never return to this framing device, so I choose to believe the archaeologist kills and eats them after he finishes telling the story.

The story concerns two tribes, the Rock tribe and the Shell tribe. We open with the Rock Tribe, led by patriarch Akhoba (Lon Chaney, Jr.) as he leads a hunting party with his favored son, Tumak (Victor Mature). Interestingly, this film implies that humans have already domesticated and bred dogs even as they are hunting dinosaurs, since they've brought two Irish wolfhounds along for show.

Either Tumak has found the only razor in the tribe, or he is a beardless mutant.
We'll get to the dinosaurs, but it is worth noting that a lot of the fauna are actually pretty damn convincing. Turns out that if you just put fur costumes on real elephants and cows, you get some pretty passable mastodons and aurochs.

The hunt is where we first see that the Rock Tribe are a brutal people, who only respect force and strength. After Tumak kills a baby triceratops (actually a pig in a pretty decent costume), an old man in the group falls off a ledge and is simply left for dead when it is determined he cannot walk. When the triceratops is cooked in the cave, the tribe members have to fight for the pieces.

Well, Akhoba decides he wants a chunk of Tumak's food, the two fight and Tumak is thrown from the ledge outside of their cave. He recovers from his fall, only to be chased by an angry mastodon. He climbs a tree to safety, only to be plunged into a river.

Tumak clings to a branch and we see him drift down river, past snakes and alligators with dimetrodon fins on their backs. When he comes to a rest, he is discovered by Loana (Carole Landis) of the Shell Tribe. And just like Raquel Welch later on, Carole Landis is a major babe even if her fur bikini covers a lot more skin.

Loana decides to bring Tumak home and nurse him back to health. However, the Shell Tribe are much more peaceful than the Rock Tribe and they share their food and resources without fighting amongst each other. They also have flint spears, which amazes Tumak, and they enjoy laughter--which Tumak is very, very new to.

We also note that Ohtao (John Hubbard), a fell tribesman of Loana's, seems even more eager to make a polyamorous trio of himself, Tumak, and Loana than in the 1966 version.

Back at the Rock Tribe, Akhoba tries to take down an aurochs barehanded and ends up gored and trampled. So naturally another hunter takes over as leader, even though Akhoba soon returns to the cave bearing the scars of his lost fight. Since he is no longer strong, he is now treated as the lowest of the tribe.

Meanwhile, Tumak is finally adjusting to the Shell Tribe lifestyle. Unfortunately, then an Allosaurus shows up to menace some of the tribe's children. This, I might add, is the sorriest man in a dinosaur suit that I think I have ever seen. The Ceratosaurs in Unknown Island look authentic by comparison. The film is also clearly embarrassed about the suit, since they do their damnedest to make sure we never get a good look at it--whether shooting it from far away or having it hiding behind brush.

In fact, when Tumak comes to the rescue with the spear he had borrowed to try and fish with, his entire fight with the Allosaurus involves him stabbing at it through the bush that is between him and the dinosaur. To add insult to injury, the dinosaur roars and snarls are all clearly lifted from the T-Rex in King Kong.

Here's a behind the scenes shot of the suit, where it almost looks acceptable.
Eventually, Tumak kills the poor thing. However, he decides this means he should get to keep the spear he used to kill it and he gets in a fight with another tribe member. This gets Tumak exiled and Loana decides she wants to go with him, but considering how much of a jerk Tumak will be to her you really have to wonder why.

They have a hell of a night ahead of them. They barely dodge a rear-projected monitor lizard, and then they see a rear-projected king snake in a tree--only for a giant coatimundi to come along and graphically kill and eat the snake. I mean, at least the snake didn't die for nothing, but it's still kind of gross. And what is the giant coati even supposed to be?

On a much more charming note, their night concludes with them being chased up a tree by an armadillo with rubber horns on its head. I don't know if this is supposed to be an Ankylosaurus or a Glyptodont, but either option is delightful.

Unfortunately, the film then brings us its ultimate showcase of animal cruelty when Tumak and Loana find themselves trapped in a fissure when a giant tegu chases them--only for a young alligator with a dimetrodon fin to attack the tegu. Now, the tegu holds its own much better than I would expect, but this is still a lizard behind forced to fight an alligator for our amusement. That is not chocolate sauce all over the combatants.

"Hey Earl, what do you think of my Halloween costume?"
Worse, unlike the 1960s version of The Lost World we aren't given any false hope that the animals used escaped with only minor injuries. No, ultimately the alligator retreats to the nearby body of water and leaves the tegu lying on its back, gushing blood from a wound on its neck. That tegu is definitely dead.

The film isn't even done torturing animals. Once Tumak and Loana get back to his tribe and show them how much better it is to share, the volcano near their cave erupts. This is a pretty cool effect, especially the lava that appears to be some kind of mud mixture that is on fire. It also contains the memorable and oft recycled shot of a cavewoman who runs in front of the lava flow and gets swallowed up by it.

However, the film needs to show "dinosaurs" suffering the effects of the eruption. This includes a monitor lizard that gets its leg pinned by the miniature set and is so frightened by the flames next to it that it tries to bite its own leg off.

I hope that every animal handler on this set got mauled by the alligator.

You might think the volcano would be the climax, but actually the film climaxes with the Rock tribe coming to save the Shell tribe, who have all been cornered in their cave by an angry giant rhinoceros iguana. The highlight of this sequence is definitely when one caveman gets too close to the iguana and we see the lizard eating a doll version of him.

Alas, the cavemen eventually lure the iguana into a rock slide and kill it. I don't know if the filmmakers killed the iguana doing this or not, and I don't wish to know. The tribes unite and the film ends.

"Hey, you bastards have my lettuce or what?"
As a film, One Million B.C. isn't bad, per se. In some ways it's actually better than the remake, since I have a much easier time following the fake caveman language here and I do have to give credit for the fact that there are more attempts at actual "dinosaurs" and prehistoric beasts, even if most are just lizards on miniature sets.

However, there's no question that at the end of the day it is far preferable to have recognizable stop motion dinosaurs delivered by Ray Harryhausen instead of what have been fondly nicknamed "Slurpasaurs."

It's not merely a question of better special effects, though. Watching this film is to be forced to witness a lot of inexcusable animal cruelty. It makes the whole film become such a distasteful experience that its overall quality becomes nearly irrelevant.

Even if you can stomach that, though, there is very little to see in this film that can't be seen in the 1966 version and it's much better there even if there are maybe a few less prehistoric animals on display. The only reason to watch this version, honestly, is to satisfy your curiosity about it or because you just really like Lon Chaney, Jr.

This has concluded Day 15 of HubrisWeen 2018! To see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for O, click the banner above!

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