Directed By: Don Chaffey
Starring: Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Percy Herbert
Tag line: "This is the way it was"
Trivia: The publicity photograph of Welch from the movie became a best-selling pinup poster, and something of a cultural phenomenon
Under normal circumstances, it takes a hell of a lot to upstage the work of Ray Harryhausen, the sage of stop-motion whose creations have graced such fantasy films as Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and Clash of the Titans. But in the case of 1966’s One Million Years B.C., all it took to push him into the background was an animal-skin bikini!
Set “long, long ago, when the world was just beginning” (to quote the film’s narrator, Vic Perrin), One Million Years B.C. kicks things off with a visit to a prehistoric tribe known as the Rock People, a violent bunch of hunters led by Anhoba (Robert Brown), whose two sons, Tumak (John Richardson) and Sakana (Percy Herbert), are constantly at each others' throats. As the result of a family squabble (which begins when Anhoba steals food from Tumak), Tumak is banished from the tribe (the moment he’s gone, Sakana lays claim to Tumak’s woman, Nupondi, played by Martine Beswick). Wandering the desert alone, Tumak encounters a number of creatures (including a giant iguana that nearly devours him) before meeting up with the lovely Loana (Raquel Welch), a member of the peaceful Shell tribe. At first accepted by the Shell people as one of their own, Tumak’s temper soon gets the better of him, and he is once again banished. Having fallen in love with the outsider, Loana leaves her people and joins Tumak on his journey, which will eventually lead him back to his own tribe, now ruled by his brother Sakana. Will Tumak return to his violent ways, or has Loana finally tamed his savage heart?
Produced by Britain’s Hammer Studios (Michael Carreras, a top executive with the company, is credited with penning the screenplay), One Million Years B.C. features a handful of Ray Harryhausen’s amazing animated sequences, including an unforgettable fight between the Shell people and an Allosaurus, as well as a pterodactyl that flies off with one of the film’s main characters. In fact, the only special effect segments that don’t work are those the master animator had nothing to do with, where real animals were shot in close-up to make them appear larger than normal (the above-mentioned showdown between Tumak and the Iguana is one such sequence). But no matter, because as thrilling as Harryhausen’s giant creatures are, they don’t get our pulses pounding nearly as much as Raquel Welch does. With her dyed-blonde hair and skimpy costume, Ms. Welch commands our undivided attention the moment she takes the screen, and then holds it until the story’s exciting climax. Her features were so striking that she ended up dominating the film’s advertising campaign (the posters put her front and center, much larger even than the movie’s dinosaurs).
For One Million Years B.C., Ray Harryhausen conjured up monsters as extraordinary as any he’d animated before, yet the image that’s forever linked with this movie is that of a 25-year-old beauty, wearing next to nothing as she gazes into the distance. Poor Ray may have put in the time, but it was Raquel Welch who walked off with the picture.