Sitting in the 99 Fahrenheit heat watching a six-year-old girl’s face contort in awe as she watches the trailer for ONE MILLION YEARS BC as my wife reads My Lunches with Orson and eats dried beans and a big golden retriever dismembers a bath towel in his powerful jaws. But when you read this I’ll probably be on an aeroplane en route to New York or London or eventually Edinburgh. More after touchdown.
Archive for One Million Years BC
Fiona and I had both had the same experience of the Hammer film SHE — as kids, we’d caught the ending on TV and been horribly fascinated by it. Watching as adults, we had relatively meagre hopes for the movie, but it proved to be solid fun. It grips from the beginning, loses its way slightly in the desert, and arrives at its climax amid plenty of drama. Roy Ashton’s makeup effects are predictably crude, but the (spoiler alert) accelerated aging of Ursula Andress’s Ayesha still has some power to disturb, especially when Andress is replaced by a genuine old lady in heavy prosthetics — the hunched posture would be impossible for an actor to mimic.
We were watching because of the Peter Cushing Centenary Blogathon hosted by Frankensteinia: The Frankenstein Blog. Cushing is typically fine in this, and it’s nice to see him in heroic mode, but it’s not one of his most memorable roles. He forms part of a trio of heroes a bit like the lads in GUNGA DIN, with John Richardson from ONE MILLION YEARS BC as the purportedly handsome one (Cushing is striking, which is better than being handsome) and Bernard Cribbins as the token working-class comedy relief. Cribbins, his head a knob of gristle, ears like jug handles protruding either side, is played more grotesque than usual, I feel. He’s one of the neglected figures of British cinema (still going strong today) with roles in FRENZY, several of the CARRY ON series, and supporting roles to Peter Sellers. He also co-starred with Cushing in the awkwardly titled DALEKS’ INVASION EARTH: 2150 AD before returning to Doctor Who on TV in recent years.
Cushing’s hero was Olivier, and he aspired to his idol’s crisp delivery and athleticism — you can really see it in the climaxes of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, and in his Sherlock Holmes. “We admired the precision of his movements within the frame,” said Martin Scorsese, though I take leave to doubt how many of the future filmmakers teenage pals were appreciating Cushing’s use of his body as a compositional element in those 42nd Street grindhouses of the early sixties.
Cushing’s best scene in SHE, delightfully, is played opposite Christopher Lee, as the high priest of this lost tribe of Egypt (who are all curiously white). The film, true to H. Rider Haggard’s source novel, displays a number of retrograde attitudes, with the black natives a primitive bunch easily dominated by the pale pseudo-Egyptians (though the black uprising at the end is viewed more or less with favour!), but Cushing’s scene is amusingly sexist, as he tries to understand why Lee and his cohorts allow themselves to be dictated to by a mere woman. “You are many, and men, whereas she is alone, and a woman.” He reckons without the power of Andress’s frosty stare.
Ah, Andress. She dominates the proceedings, not by means of acting, but by an admirable refusal to contemplate anything resembling a performance. She simply impresses. Director Robert Day lets it go at that, happy to move things around her as briskly as possible, while reveling in Les Bowie’s cheap-as-chips (but charming) special effects. Andress is also dubbed, by Nikki Van der Zyl, who not only revoiced her in DR NO, but replaced Raquel Welch’s too-American cave-speak in ONE MILLION YEARS BC — meaning that in both of his most famous roles, John Richardson found himself acting with Van der Zyl.
The movie made me admire Haggard, whom I’ve never read, more than previously. If this film is even remotely accurate to the book, Haggard’s original clearly not only inspired L’Atlantide, that much-filmed piece of Saharan exotica, but also bits of Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King. Not bad going. The film’s weakest point is probably the use of Roman soldier costumes for its Egyptians. Not quite clear what the thinking was there.
The adventure yarn is a genre Hammer dabbled in, but didn’t really pursue with the doggedness of their horror cycle. I suspect the reticence was budget-driven. A shame — the hallucinatory mess that is THE LOST CONTINENT is probably Michael Carreras’ finest achievement, and SHE is one of their most entertaining non-horror flicks.
For some reason this credit kind of tickled me. I wish they’d gone all the way and said “Directed by Hal Roach and Hal Roach”. Has anyone ever done that? Harold Ramis should’ve with MULTIPLICITY, it might have added the single laugh needed to allow the film to qualify as a ’90s American comedy.
Things I enjoyed — the random animal noises during dinosaur fights — elephants trumpeting, leopards growling, and a dog barking. Victor Mature makes a convincing Tarzan-type cave-dude, better than John Richardson in the remake. Carole Landis has a nice strappy top. The idea of the present-day foreword, in which a bearded expert starts to tell Carole, Big Victor, et al about prehistoric life, and then we go into flashback and the same actors are playing cavefolks. It’s like the previous year’s THE WIZARD OF OZ — “And you were there, and you, and you!”
Roy Seawright’s process work is excellent — humans interact with lizards, crocodiles and even an armadillo with a sproingy rubber horn glued to his snout, and the animals really do seem to be gigantic. They don’t seem remotely like dinosaurs, mind you.
I was struck by how the plot was near-identical, incident for incident, with that of the Hammer remake, which added YEARS to the title and entertained me hugely as a kid. It still does. Rubber dinosaurs, cavegirls with false eyelashes, a dubbed Raquel Welch (her grunts were too American), Maltese landscapes… Where the remake departs, it generally improves — for instance, it sensibly ends with the volcanic festivities, rather than dragging on for another dinosaur fight. And the Hammer film is guilt-free, since no real animals were harmed during its making. ONE MILL duplicates a splendid set-up from the ’33 KING KONG, with humans walking in place in the foreground as a dying dinosaur tracks past in the background, but the Roaches movie appears to use either a real dying lizard, or a dead lizard that’s been rigged with a bladder to make it “breathe” in an agonised way, and a bubbling geyser of stage blood. All of which is rather unpleasant to think about despite the technical skill involved.
But I’m not so nice that I didn’t laugh at some of the reptile antics. When the inevitable earthquake-volcano apocalypse strikes, most of the lizards voluntarily hurl themselves into the chasms opening at their feet, as if anxious to enjoy as little screen time as possible. Their eagerness makes me suspect, and hope, that at the bottom of the chasm was a nice bed of lettuce, rather than searing lava as the Roaches would have us believe.
“Business stinks, I don’t wanna live!”