Director Don Chaffey
Starring Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswick
Released 24th October 2016
Fifty years of hindsight isn’t necessarily a help when watching a film. It can be positively distracting – as if there aren’t enough in the re-release of Hammer’s One Million Years BC, which returns, newly restored, on DVD this Monday.
There’s the obvious distraction, of course, and the one that made Raquel Welch an overnight star. That fur bikini, which sticks to her like glue despite promising otherwise and which became one of the most memorable images of 1960s cinema. But there are others. That it was obviously filmed in the Canary Islands, Tenerife and Lanzarote specifically. That the brontosaurus, which makes only a brief appearance, would have had a hard time in that near-barren landscape because, as we now know, they were plant eaters. And that the pouch that Welch carries on her shoulder looks remarkably like a pre-historic handbag.
With those out of the way, here’s how it goes. As the narration at the beginning tells us, “this is a story of long, long ago, when the world was just beginning.” The Rock People tribe live in the mountains, an aggressive band of meat eaters and, when his on-going argument with his brother Sakana (Percy Herbert) comes to a head, Tumak (John Richardson) is expelled by his people. He finds his way to the coast, where he discovers the Shell People, who show him a different way of life and where he meets Loana (Welch). While the two tribes initially come into conflict, they eventually find themselves coming together in a battle for survival.
Raquel Welch and that bikini have always overshadowed the reality of the film. It’s essentially a dinosaur movie – in fact, the most successful dinosaur film until the release of Jurassic Park in 1993. And each section of the film culminates in the appearance of a monster, the work of the legend that was Ray Harryhausen. Some of them (the giant turtle especially) aren’t quite up to his usual standard, and others are just magnified real creatures (the tarantula is the most obvious), but they’re just appetisers for the main courses: the battle between the triceratops and the ceratosaurus and the female pteranodon swooping down and plucking a swimming Welch out of the water (as a tasty snack for her chicks). They’re the maestro at his best and, while not on a par with today’s CGI, they’re still impressive for their day. Once their scenes have been exhausted, director Don Chaffey throws the kitchen sink at the film for the climax, a special effects fest of a volcanic eruption and earthquake.
The story, such as it is, is straightforward and there’s little or no dialogue, apart from the occasional word and various grunts, so the demands on the cast are more physical than anything. But the contrast between the two tribes has a curiously modern resonance. The Stone People are dark, hairy, aggressive and carnivorous, while the Shell People are blonde, smooth, more peaceable and live on a diet of fruit, vegetables and fish.
The combination of Harryhausen’s dinosaurs and Welch’s bikini turned One Million Years BC into a box office smash, Hammer’s biggest commercial success. Fifty years later, while it’s easy to see why it brought in late 1960s audiences in their droves, it doesn’t offer much more than curiosity and nostalgia.
One Million Years BC is released on DVD on Monday, 24th October and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 27th October.