Turner Classic Movies is a mixed bag. They do play a lot of good old movies. But then you have to endure Alec Baldwin or Tina Fey talking to the insufferable host, Ben Mankiewicz about movies or anything else. Well anyway, they’ve been playing a lot of old bad sci-fi movies lately. It’s been great. I’ll give my thoughts on them. This is usually a combination of nostalgia and shock. I’ve seen most of these movies before but in some cases I haven’t seen them in over fifty years. Neither they nor I have aged well and so the re-acquaintance is sometimes off-putting to say the least. Both these movies and my younger self have lost a lot of respect in my current eyes. But today’s movie is a treat because I actually never saw this epic before. And first off do not mistake this masterpiece for the sound alike “One Million Years BC” re-make with Raquel Welch.
This is the 1940 masterpiece with those two towering thespians Lon Chaney Jr. and Victor Mature. Honestly this movie should get a special award for unbelievably bad special effects. But special effects is just the tip of the iceberg. The cheesiness of the sets, the really bad acting and the silliness of the plot combine to create a feast of cinematic awfulness. I loved it.
One of my favorite scenes has Victor Mature as caveman Tumak poking a seven foot tall miniature Tyrannosaurus rex in the stomach with his poorly made spear. The monster is so obviously a man in a cloth suit that it’s hard not to burst out laughing, and actually I did. Only slightly less silly are the real animals like dogs, goats, cows and even elephants covered in fake hair to make them “prehistoric-looking.” Especially funny is the armadillo with horns glued onto its head. It has been magnified to be the size of an elephant. But it doesn’t seem to be doing anything particularly dangerous. But the cavemen do look really scared of it. Equally frightening to the cavemen are magnified images of modern day reptiles. There are tegus and rhinoceros iguanas and even a baby alligator with a fake sailfish sail glued to its back. One interesting historical circumstance is the fact that several of the reptiles are noticeably harmed by each other in some fight scenes including one tegu that is obviously killed in a fight with the fake sailfish alligator. Nowadays the Humane Society would have the film-makers drawn and quartered for so much as stressing out a mosquito on set. Progress!
But where the movie really shines is the portrayal of caveman tribal dynamics. Tumak is the son of the clan leader Akhoba (played by Lon Chaney Jr). When Tumak accidentally attacks Akhoba for trying to steal a chunk of dino-burger. Akhoba throws him off a cliff. After this he wanders away and ends up being adopted by a more enlightened clan. They’re probably from Scandinavia because they have blondes, good table manners and neutered males. After he gets ejected from the new tribe for beating a spear maker who objected to being robbed Tumak ends up back at the old clan cave with his blonde girlfriend in tow. Apparently she likes the bad boy type and thinks she can fix him. While Tumak was gone Akhoba has been demoted from chief to crippled loser after being severely injured in a fight with a giant goat. Breaking with caveman etiquette Blondie institutes women and children and crippled losers first at food distribution time. Surprisingly, Tumak is supportive of the new arrangement. Progress!
Well anyway there soon ensues a crisis involving a volcanic eruption and a giant iguana that ends up with both clans coming together with Tumak as the new chief. The End.
Wow. This movie must be seen by all science fiction fans. Afterwards you’ll have a new found respect for stop action animation or even well-made monster suits. Only recommended if you really enjoy very bad sci-fi.