One Million Years BC (Don Chaffey, 1966) revolves around the misadventures of Tumak (John Richardson), musclebound caveman extraordinaire. Tumak offends his people, the Rock Tribe, by, I don't know, being too good a hunter or some such shit (it can be hard to grasp the nuances of the drama since everyone but Raquel Welch communicates in grunts). The Rock Tribe kicks Tumak out and he wanders around the desert, finally stumbling upon the blonde, buff Shell Tribe, where Loana the Fair One (Raquel Welch) takes a fancy to him. Eventually the Shell Tribe exiles Tumak for being a troublemaker (it's the Rebel Without A Cause of the Jurassic Age), so he and Loana head back to the Rock Tribe to seize power. Then a volcano erupts and the surviving Shell folk and Rockers have to make nice and ally their tribes. It's very touching.
One Million Years BC is an almost ideal B-movie experience that keeps you on its side by never overreaching itself. Despite its ponderous opening narration ("This is a story of LONG, LONG AGO") this is not a movie that wants to show you History As It Was and the Real and True Origin of Things. It just digs sexy cave chicks and dino duels, which is goddamn glorious. Sign me up. The movie's influence does actually extend beyond Welch's tyrannic sex appeal -- thirty years or so later, The Lion King cribbed the Rock Tribe's dramatic clifftop betrayal for Mufasa's "long live the King" death scene.
The unapologetic anachronism of this movie might be dated, but it's also refreshing. The best historical epics (and admittedly, One Million Years BC isn't one of them) often play fast and loose with historical accuracy. Contemporary period movies needs to rediscover this freedom -- the freedom to slavishly adhere to historical accuracy only insofar as it serves the story. Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette feinted towards intentional anachronism, to a collective critical snigger, but MA's burgeoning cult status shows that Coppola's instincts were clever.
Historical films need to pick and choose their history, or they become instructional videos. It's not that they SHOULD spurn facts, if the facts are relevant, but I see far too many movies that get the brand of typewriter right, then forget the human element. We have universities, history books, documentary films to tell us about FACTS, but FACTS are not why we watch a movie like One Million Years BC, so its frank evasion of "historical accuracy" is a relief.
Historical accuracy, as it is practiced nowadays by shows like Mad Men, is a circus act -- impressive, but not moving. The overt anachronism in this movie is liberating more than naive. I'm sure that the director and producers knew that there was no historical period ever when coiffed cavewomen with good teeth fended off pterodactyl attacks, but you know what? They wanted to do that. So they did. And I'm glad. Aren't you?
|Mankind discovered the hot roller shortly after the wheel and fire.|
SCENE STEALER: Raquel Welch gets all the attention as the sex symbol for this movie, and rightfully so, as she is as sexy as fuck. For the record, though, Martine Beswick as her rival Nupondi the Wild One -- Tumak's spurned Rock Tribe girlfriend -- has the better acting chops.
Did I mention that there's a cavewoman catfight in this movie? Just watch it.