Sunday, October 08, 2006


The granddaddy of caveman movies, and perhaps the uncle of dinosaur movies, since KING KONG came first. The film begins in the present time with a small band of mountaineers (including Tyrone Power and Carole Landis) seeking shelter in a cave during a storm. Already in the cave is a strange old man (Conrad Nagel) who proceeds to tell his captive audience a story of early humans, gleaned from ancient paintings on the cave walls. Once the flashback starts, there's a bit of narration by Nagel to set the scene, but after that there's no more dialogue (except some caveman grunts) and we never return to the frame story. Since Nagel encourages his listeners to identify with his tale, we see Power and Landis as the two chief protagonists. The main narrative is a kind of primitive "Romeo and Juliet" concerning a romance between members of two different caveman tribes: Power from the brutal Rock People and Landis from the more passive Shell People. Power kills a boar and gets into a clash with his group's leader (Lon Chaney Jr., almost unrecognizable to me at first in a beard and wild hairdo). He winds up kicked out of the clan and, injured and drifting down a river, is discovered by Landis who nurtures him back to health and, as a romance develops, also becomes a civilizing influence. The two have run-ins with dinosaurs, mostly real alligators and armadillos and photographically blown-up lizards with fins stuck on their backs. Eventually, a volcano erupts, sending thick flows of lava down to swallow up animals and people alike, but Power and Landis survive and wind up like Adam and Eve figures. The special effects are OK for the time (stop-motion animation may have been beyond the movie's budget) and some of the scenes have wound up in later caveman movies. The volcano sequence remains particularly impressive. Some have made animal cruelty charges against the film, especially in regards to a violent and bloody tussle between two lizards, but to me the fight looks mostly faked or enhanced by off-screen means. Produced and directed by Hal Roach, also known for the Topper movies and Laurel & Hardy comedies. John Hubbard, who appeared the same year in TURNABOUT with Landis (a fantasy/comedy I'll review next month), is the only supporting player I recognized. I'm happy to have finally seen this, but I'd recommend it only to genre buffs. Others might prefer the 1960's remake with Raquel Welch which I assume has better effects. [TCM]

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