Man vs. Dinosaur in One Million B.C.

When I was a kid I had a favorite toy called a View-Master. A View-Master was a handheld stereoscope. Along with the View-Master, kids could buy “thin cardboard discs containing seven stereoscopic 3-D pairs of small color photographs on film”. Put one of the discs into the View-Master and look into it and – Viola! – you saw wonderful 3-D images. I had several favorite discs: humans menaced by giants in the discs for the TV show Land of the Giants, discs for a movie about underwater terrorists in City Beneath the Sea. But my absolute favorite set of View-master discs was Prehistoric Animals. This three disc set showed 3-D images of dinosaur models going about their daily life, eating, fighting, running from danger. I loved it! For a while I dreamed of becoming a paleontologist and discovering new dinosaurs.

The dinosaurs models used in the View-Master set are like the models used in many of my favorite films featuring dinosaurs. Stop-motion animation was used to bring to life the dinosaurs of films such as the 1925 silent film The Lost World (go to “Dinosaurs and Other Dangers at the Lost World” at genxpose to find out more about the film). But other films chose to set aside the dino models and use a much different technique to bring their dinosaurs to life.

The technique of using optically enlarged lizards” to portray living dinosaurs has been “given the nickname of ‘slurpasaur’ by fans”. Instead of the intensive work involved in stop-motion animation and crafting models and then positioning and filming them and re-positioning and re-filming, the ‘slurpasaur’ method simply required that some suitably interesting reptiles be filmed very close up. Sometimes the reptiles had “horns and fins glued on” to make them look more exotic, more dinosaur-like. Sometimes miniature sets were built for the reptiles to rampage about in but sometimes there were no miniatures and the camera simply focused only on the reptiles themselves. The first film to use “reptiles dressed as dinosaurs” was a 1914 short silent film by controversial director D.W. Griffith titled Brute Force aka The Primitive Man. The first film to make major use of ‘slurpasaurs’ as the stars of the movie was 1940’s One Million B.C.

One Million B.C., also known as Cave Man, Man and his Mate, and Tumak, stars actor Victor Mature (January 29, 1913 – August 4, 1999), in his first leading role, as Tumak, a young and handsome cave man who is exiled from his tribe but finds romance with a woman of another tribe. Carole Landis (January 1, 1919 – July 5, 1948) stars as the love interest from the more civilized tribe and the role turned her into a star. She was reportedly cast because D.W. Griffith thought she was the only one of the auditioning actresses who could run properly. Lon Chaney, Jr. (February 10, 1906 – July 12, 1973), legendary star of The Wolfman and numerous other horror films, plays the cave man leader and father of Victor Mature’s character.

Of course, the reptiles portraying the dinosaurs are the real stars of One Million B.C. The two main reptilian stars are a rhinoceros iguana and a baby alligator. The poor alligator sports a glued on sail to make it look more dinosaur-y. One Million B.C. had to be heavily edited for its release in England because of England’s strict laws on animal cruelty. It is easily apparent that the reptiles and other animals playing the parts of dinosaurs were mistreated in their roles. Not only were they decorated with glued on attachments and treated with heat lamps turned on full blast to ensure they would move about but it is glaringly obvious that fighting animals are really fighting and being injured for the film. It makes for dramatic film making, sure, but the fight scenes were very uncomfortable to watch because I was constantly wondering if either of the poor reptile actors actually survived. Besides the alligator and iguana there is also a pig who is stuffed into a rubber Triceratops suit and elephants decorated with heavy fur to play Mammoths. The Tyrannosaurus that shows up to menace the Shell tribe is played by a man in a rubber suit. Despite the harm done to the animals, the ‘slurpasaur’ special effects were considered very impressive back in 1940 and made One Million B.C. the number one box office attraction of the year. They also earned the film an Academy Award for Best Special Effects (and an Academy Award for Best Musical Score). Footage from the film went into a stock footage library and was used in many other films featuring dinosaurs made during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

One Million B.C., despite the silly premise that humans existed along side dinosaurs and despite the mistreatment of animals, actually manages to be a pretty good movie. Victor Mature gives a believable performance as a simple, self-centered man who learns to both care and share. Lon Chaney, Jr. is very good as Victor’s brutal father who, after a severe injury, is reduced to cringing and begging. Lon was so involved in his role that he designed his own make-up. But then he was unable to use it because he was not an accredited make-up artist. Carole Landis is prettily coiffed and, yes, she can run properly. The hairdo thing is pretty silly. Carole and one of the men from her Shell Tribe sport short and pretty cuts that no cave man ever had access to. However her character of Loana is not a complete dishrag. She is fearless in using a spear for fishing or defense and dares a fearsome lava flow to rescue a child. The entire movie cast does really give it their all to present “realistic” cave people. They do not speak any modern language. The more primitive Rock Tribe mostly gesture and grunt. The Shell Tribe has a few simple words but, again, lots of gestures and grunts. Yet they manage to convey what they mean. Although I have to admit, the Shell Tribe people are so sweet and so giving, they so gently chastise Victor Mature whenever he is greedy or violent, that they are almost like the congregation of some cave man religion hyped up on some silly weeds. But, still, they are all trying so hard to be good cave people.

Some of the special effects in One Million B.C. are very well done and still hold up nicely today. The “slurpasaur” battle is very dramatic and still looks good today except, of course, for the fact that both reptile actors were injured and very probably died. The exploding volcano is very good. I especially liked the effect when one unfortunate Rock woman is swallowed by the lava. But there are some effects that are pretty laughable. The “Mammoths” are silly, just elephants with some thick hair glued on. The baby Triceratops that Victor wrestles is ridiculous. They go to all the trouble to stuff that poor pig into a rubber dino suit then do all kinds of camera angles designed to keep the viewer from actually seeing how ridiculous it looks. The same is true with the man in a rubber Tyrannosaurus suit that attacks the Shell tribe. The T rex is hidden by so many bushes and branches that you almost wonder if anything is really there. It seems to be mostly Victor shaking the brush as he tries to stab the guy in the dino suit who is just standing there sort of growling. Plus the T rex is very short, he looks smaller than Victor yet is supposed to be the big bad deadly dinosaur.

Overall, One Million B.C. is a fun adventure. There is lots of laughable silliness yet the actors are so obviously earnest and some of the special effects are so good and the movie’s pace is so swift that it is easy to just sit back and get sweep along on a prehistoric ride. However, the tender hearted and all animal lovers need to beware the dramatic but deadly battle between two reptile actors. It is quite startling. Sound quality is excellent and so is visual. The film is in black and white and there is some fuzziness in places but mostly the film looks nice. One Million B.C. runs one hour 20 minutes. There is a short segment at the very beginning of the film that sets up the cave man story by having modern day (1940s) hikers get lost in the mountains and stumble upon an archeaologist working in a cave who begins a story of the people he believes made the cave paintings. One Million B.C. is in the Public Domain and is FREE to download or view online at the Internet Archive. The movie was re-made in 1966 as a color film titled One Million Years B.C. with actress Raquel Welch wearing a bur bikini. IA also has a trailer for this film. The trailer runs just over three minutes but gives a good look at the completely different feel to the similar story. Most of the prehistoric animals in the 1966 film were done in stop motion animation by the legendary effects genius Ray Harryhausen but there are two “slurpasaurs” in the color film. Ray Harryhausen added the “slurpasaurs” because he thought it would help with the realism of his cave man film. The 1966 re-make is, unfortunately, not in the Public Domain.

Genxpose has more dinosaur action to tide you over until the Indominus rex rampages across movie screens this June in the new movie Jurassic World. The Jurassic World dinosaurs will be mostly CGI. Read “One Hundred Years Before Jurassic World and Indominus Rex There Was Winsor McCay and Gertie The Dinosaur” to discover Gertie, the first ever animated dinosaur, and get links to watch her short animated film. Read “Dinosaurs and Other Dangers at the Lost World” and discover the 1912 novel The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle and get links to read the Public Domain book FREE. Also get links to watch the 1925 silent film The Lost World. The dinosaurs in this film are the stop motion animation variety and are magnificent examples of special effects genius. There are links to watch or download the Public Domain movie FREE. Watch One Million B.C. and compare “slurpasaurs” to stop motion dinosaurs and CGI dinos.

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