A party of hill walkers are making their way through this rocky terrain when a storm begins, forcing them to seek shelter in a nearby cave where they stumble across an archaeologist (Conrad Nagel). He is examining the wall carvings and paintings as part of his research, and to pass the time he suggests that he tell the group the story they depict, which reaches back to the dawn of mankind. He says there would have been two tribes involved who he would call the Rock People and the Shell People, very different types of neanderthals who would never have met if it had not been for a stroke of pure chance...
One of the biggest hits of the nineteen-forties, the spectacle offered by famed producer Hal Roach with One Million B.C. not only was just the thing to have its audience forget their troubles and lose themselves in a fantasy world for an hour-and-a-half, but went one better than the usual historical efforts by going so far back in time that they could essentially make up any old nonsense about the distant past and nobody would be any the wiser. Well, nobody except those who could tell you that humanity and dinosaurs never co-existed, but who cared about mere facts when you had the excitment of watching Victor Mature rescuing Carole Landis from giant lizards?
Those animals used as stand in prehistoric beasts can be problematic today, and not because a couple of the lizards are blatantly dubbed over by a dog going "WOOF!", more because of the way they were treated on the set. From the dog dressed up in a triceratops costume who is wrestled to the ground and beaten to the reptiles forced to fight one another for the camera, it was all too clear One Million B.C. was made long before P.E.T.A. were involved with safeguarding animals in the movies, and that undoubtedly takes some of the shine off the entertainment value, although it was not exactly Cannibal Holocaust. Nevertheless, for that reason the remake One Million Years B.C. may well be preferable to modern audiences although that didn't prevent clips from this appearing in countless other productions as stock footage.
That's because for the most part the remake had the services of Ray Harryhausen to craft the special effects, and you could well see why that version was the most famous one, eclipsing the original to an extent that many people didn't realise the sixties one was a remake at all. The plots were almost the same, with a caveman Romeo and Juliet in Tumak (Mature, not sporting a stuck-on beard like his fellow actors) and Loana (Landis, that tragic beauty who still retains a cult following to this day, a status helped by films such as this). Tumak is banished from the Rock tribe after pissing off his father Akhoba, played by a very hairy Lon Chaney Jr just as he was commencing his horror movie phase - note that it's he who gets the most gruesome make-up job as the story develops.
It's just not Tumak's day as he gets chased by a woolly mammoth and falls off a cliff, unconsciously draped over a branch which transports him down the river to the Shell tribe and the waiting Loana who takes a great interest in this new arrival. She teaches him in the ways of good manners and he even learns to have a laugh (the Rock people being a gruff bunch of miseryguts), while he can contribute by saving their members from random dinosaur attacks, or one bloke in a T-Rex suit hidden by bushes to distract from its obvious fakery. Alas, you can take the boy out of the Rock tribe but you can't take the Rock tribe out of the boy and soon Tumak has gotten into a scuffle which sees him banished yet again, though this time he has the compensation of Loana who goes with him. It all ends happily, apart from the unfortunate woman who gets engulfed in lava when the local volcano erupts, but by that stage what was seen as deadly serious in 1940 now looks far closer to camp. Music by Werner R. Heymann.