There is hype — Hollywood hype — when it comes to films that are flights of imagination. In other words, take it with a grain of salt if the title of the film screams One Million B.C. and just happens to star Carole Landis and screen newcomer Victor Mature (he had a small role in The Housekeeper’s Daughter the year before this adventure classic was release in 1940).
VCI Entertainment announced this past week that One Million B.C., a Hal Roach film production released theatrically in the spring of 1940, will be available as both DVD and Blu-ray product offerings on July 25. It has been given a 2K restoration from the film’s original 35mm negative for this home entertainment launch.
One Million B.C. is a Hollywood curiosity by any standard. An excellent read for some of the backstory details on the production and casting of the film can be found in Richard Lewis Ward’s 2005 book, “A History of the Hal Roach Studios.”
Hal Roach handled the direction (with Hal Roach, Jr. doing some of the second unit work) and assembled a cast that included Carole Landis, whose film career to that point did not hold a candle to her personal life — love affairs with both Busby Berkeley and Darryl F. Zanuck — Victor Mature, who had made his film debut the previous year in the aforementioned The Housekeeper’s Daughter (also a Hal Roach production) and Lon Chaney, Jr., who also starred in the Hal Roach production of Of Mice and Men (nominated Best Picture, but for some odd reason Chaney’s performance was ignored in the Best Actor category), which opened in New York City in December of 1939 to qualify for Oscar consideration and then went wide in January of 1940.
The plot for the film cannot be taken seriously — the 1,000,000 B.C. part is pure hype — as it blends different epochs that would send paleontologists into the night screaming in agony. We have cave people with few, if any, language skills, dinosaurs (well, lizards enlarged for the screen) and rampaging Mastodons. It’s pure adventure, nothing more.
When the film had its first “out of town” sneak previews, it became obvious to Hal Roach that the original voice-over introduction to the story wasn’t effective in setting the mood for the story that was to follow. So he recruited faded silent film star Conrad Nagel to shoot a prologue that had him play the role of an anthropologist who was working on a dig (a treasure trove of cave painting) when a group of hikers sought shelter in his cave from a storm. He entertains them with his musings on what the cave painting might represent.
Boom, we flash back to Tumak (Victor Mature) and his father, Akhoba (Lon Chaney, Jr.) — who just happens to be the leader of a tribe of cave dwelling people — who have a tiff over the sharing of a meal and Tumak is beaten senseless and tossed over a cliff. The fall doesn’t kill him, nor does the Mastodon who attacks him … unconscious he floats down a river on the tree that the giant beast uprooted.
He is found by Loana (Carole Landis), a member of a group that we come to know as the Shell Tribe, and he is cared for. Compared to his upbringing with the “Rock” people, these are highly “civilized” humans, which confuses him at first, but he eventually comes around to their way of living.
Tumak has little to no luck and gets tossed out of this group too — for reasons he can’t quite grasp — but by this time Loana has become enamored with him and joins him in his exile.
All of these events — and more — are interpreted from cave paintings!! Either Conrad Nagel knows his stuff or he is stark raving mad. No matter, One Million B.C. is a must-have on Blu-ray come July 25!
Of note, Hal Roach got a producer’s credit for the 1966 more famous remake, One Million Years B.C., starring Raquel Welch as Loana. One thing is certain for both films, Raquel Welch and Carole Landis were sex symbols of their time — that mutual status far-eclipsing their common roles of Loana, prehistoric woman!