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One Million B.C. (1940)

Not to be confused with the Raquel Welch Harryhausen/Hammer flick of 1966 known as One Million Years B.C., this caveman saga is the first starring role for Victor Mature by way of the tag team directing approach from Hal Roach Sr. and Jr.

Big Vic and Carole Landis open the film in a modern setting taking a tour of a cave thanks to a weird looking archeologist on sight who unveils to them cave paintings depicting early man. Reading the ancient diagrams he begins to unveil the story of the Rock People vs. The Shell People. And so the narration from Conrad Nagel begins transporting our two energetic travelers back in time to take up the featured roles in our story.

It’s a story told in mime and begins with Vic a member of the Rock People. A warrior like tribe where life is ruled by survival of the fittest. The top dog is a heavily bearded Lon Chaney Jr. who rules by intimidation and the force of his fists to anyone who would dare challenge his authority. When the tough youngster Mature strikes Lon over food, Lon doesn’t hesitate to stand his ground and beats Vic into submission and the nearest river thus exiling him from this Rock Group. Lon’s time at the time may be short lived when he next decides to take on a wild steer with rather sharp horns. Remember it’s survival of the fittest.

Floating down river, Vic is to be rescued from certain death by the fair haired Carole Landis of the docile Shell People. A peaceful tribe, they are only too happy to take in the newcomer but may soon regret it. While they share food and drink, Vic is on a me first schedule and isn’t above bullying others to have his way. Thankfully Carole is on hand to tame the savage beast that lurks below the surface of newcomer Mature. Still that streak of violence is bound to surface when Vic covets ..…. another man’s spear. I’d wager that’s not quite what you were expecting.

Exiled again! Cue the cliché when Vic’s inner caveman targets Carole as his “woman.” And doesn’t that “Me Tumak,  You Loana” bit look awfully familiar?

The two will soon learn the dangers of being on their own thanks to giant sized komodo dragons and elephants made up to look like wooly mammoths. Lets not forget the SEX quotient either because Vic is bound to discover the pleasures of the flesh. At least as far as “the code” will let him though the obvious is well represented on camera. Perhaps Vic can return to his old gang of cutthroats and tame them in the same way Carol has done for him.

If that’s to be then fair haired Carole is going to have to go to battle with the dark haired ladies of Lon’s gang. Paging Martine Beswick please.

If you’ve seen this then it should come as no surprise that the film was nominated for an Oscar in the special effects category. Surely audiences of the day were thrilled at viewing the big screen thrills of this Hal Roach fantasy. There’s plenty of trivia involved here including silent film director D.W. Griffith being attached to the production before Roach and Roach took over. Lon plays his domineering role expertly in pantomime. For those that know of the Chaney background, Lon’s grandparents were mute so I’d like to think he looked to his childhood for inspiration.

Mature and Landis would reunite in 1941’s Noir thriller I Wake Up Screaming and yet again in 42’s My Gal Sal. While Vic would go on to a long and successful career, Landis would sadly take her own life in 1948 at the age of just 29. Another tragic tale from the dark side of Hollywood.

Footage from this first rate effort would supposedly be recycled as stock footage in numerous other dinosaur and lost continent films in the years ahead and I have to wonder is this the one and only film to credited to a father-son directing team? Please jump in if you know of any other titles that escape me at this time.

Thanks to the UCLA Film Archive and VCI Entertainment, this rarity can now be seen on blu ray giving you the opportunity to catch up on your list of Victor Mature and Lon Chaney Jr. titles that have eluded you so far in your movie hunting.

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