German-born Werner Heymann started out working for the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, until gaining employment as the assistant to the musical director at UF A, the German film company, in 1925. Heyman later became the company’s musical director, until emigrating to the USA in 1933, where he scored numerous Hollywood films for a variety of studios until returning to Germany in the early 50’s. While most of Heymann’s scores were for lighthearted romances, he demonstrated an effective penchant for the dramatic and horrific with his music for ONE MILLION B.C. (1940). Since this prehistoric adventure fantasy had no intelligible dialog, it depended entirely upon the visual action and Heymann’s driving, dramatically punctuated score to carry it along. The score is heavy on brass, laying the music on thickly to accompany what was in actuality more of a prehistoric soap opera with occasional lizards-cum-dinosaurs than a bona fide fantasy tale.
While the film was not a great success in 1940, it did receive two Academy Award nominations – one for special effects and one for Best Music Score (one 17 nominees, it lost out to Disney’s PINOCCHIO). While much of Heymann’s score for the film’s cave man sequences, especially those depicting the brutish Tumak of the Rock People being educated in proper domestic etiquette by Loana and her kindly Shell People, could have fit in almost any household drama of the period, his dramatic material for the action scenes are quite expressive. It is not a thematic score (there is really only one recurring theme) but one that ebbs and flows with the action and nuances of the story and character interactions.
One Million Years Past
A majestic horn motif opens the film, emerging out of an explosive, percussive blast that heralds the Main Titles, which segues into a prominent brass interpretation of the film’s lyrical love theme. The picture opens in contemporary times, as a gang of rock climbers discover an old archeologist examining cave painting, who tells them a story about primitive man (among the rock climbers are Victor Mature and Carole Landis, who play the main roles in the B.C. sequences to follow). As scene shifts to ancient times, we see the Rock People on a hunt, led by the cruel and brutish Akhoba (Lon Chaney, Jr.). His son, (Victor Mature) is about to make his first kill.
The music here, as Tumak wrestles and finally pummels with his stick a young triceratops (actually a pig wearing in dinosaur suit) consists of an undulating, repeating pattern from horns beneath a high, airy violin line that builds adventure and activity. Heymann supplies an energetic bravado from the brass when Tumak jumps onto young saurian’s back. Tremendously vying violins interoperate energetically as Tumak continues to wrestle the dinosaur, its screeches merging with the music to create a frantic voice for violence. When Tumak finally vanquishes the critter, a triumphant brass figures joins the rest of the tribe as they come over and secure the carcass for return to their cave.
Home of the Rock People
A dominant 4-note motif resounds above incidental woodwinds as the chieftain enters cave and barks commands at various women within. This is “Akhoba’s theme,” one of only a few recurring motifs that will run throughout the score. As he settles into his position in the cave, we segue to a sinewy woodwind motif as camera pans deeper into cavern where the women and kids are. The music turns romantic for strings as they watch the dinosaur meat being cooked. This is a very nice melody that really embodies the sense of family among these cave dwellers, although its sense of harmony doesn’t last for long. Akhoba’s Theme intrudes as he comes in and starts shoving people aside to get the first bite. The music grows brusque as everyone else backs off and Akhoba stares them down. Satisfied, he tears a chunk of meat off and throws first scraps to his dogs; jaunty woodwinds flail with the meat as it’s eagerly consumed. The music grows in force as Akhoba sits and then motions for his men to eat – which they do with vociferous eagerness. Heymann offers a brief rhythmic variant on Akhoba’s Theme as the others grab their bites and scurry off to eat; there’s a comic little bit for quirky woodwind as a small caveman takes his meat up to a ledge and eats it warily. Low clarinets sound as the cavefolk eat in solitude.
Throughout the film in most “indoor” scenes like this, the sound effects are lowered to a minimum, increasing the music’s responsibility to near silent film levels.
The pastoral scene erupts into violence as Akhoba steals a hunk of meat from Tumak, and Tumak strikes him with club in return. Silence reigns as Akhoba, furious at being so insulted, takes a stick and starts beating Tumak in return.
Tumak Into The Land Of The Shell People
Fleeing the cave, Tumak runs smack into an angry mammoth, which chases him up a tree on a steep hillside. The wooly proboscidean uproots the tree and both it and Tumak tumble down the hillside and into the river below. Tumak, knocked unconscious, floats downstream on a portion of the tree trunk.
As Tumak floats down the river, a bucolic clarinet or oboe theme sounds prettily as he floats past an array of atmospheric landscapes. It’s a very moody screen and the eloquent music enhances the effective set design. The music grows majestic and very melodic as he reaches shores of the land of the Shell People, punctuated by a strident xylophone. A solo violin introduces Loana’s Theme as we see the lithe cavewoman (Carole Landis) fishing with a spear. She is frightened when she sees Tumak and prepares to blow a shell horn she wears around her neck, but she sees that he is not currently a threat and is hurt. Heymann provides cautious figures from solo violin as she approaches him, inquisitive. As she touches his cheek furtively, the music ripples w/a shudder of trilling flutes as he moves. When he wakes and looks at her, she blows her shell, summoning others of her tribe.
A piping descension of winds doubled by strings escorts the various Shell People from their caves in response to Loana’s warning. As they arrive and assume a warning stance in front of the supine caveman; the music turns low and aggressive from horns, emphasizing their control of the situation. A plodding ascent of brass as Tumak tries to get up but he passes out with a glissando of harp. Soft strums of harp sound as the sympathetic Shell People gather and take him back to their cave.
Piping woodwinds sound playfully and delightfully, a far more benevolent sound that the brash brass theme of Akhoba for the Rock People. The Shell People are clearly a more compassionate tribe than that of the self-centered Rock People of Akhoba, and Heymann’s music plays up this difference with a wealth of innocuous musical domesticity.
Tumal is carried into the Shell People’s cave, watched by Leona. The music slows as we cut to the inside cave as various members of the tribe treat T’s wounds, Loana taking personal charge. A bold, string melody emerges as she and Tumas share a meal – a far more hospitable scene than the Rock Peoples’ aggressive eating earlier. A cute woodwind scherzo flourishes as kids are served first and eat politely.
As Loana brings a shell of food to Tumak – gentle strings – he raises his fist aggressively. Heyman matches the motion with an aggressive blare of brasses. Loana calms him, as does Heyman with a friendly melody of violins. She tries once more to pass him the food; again the raised fist and the brasses. She sets the food down and withdraws. After she goes, Tumak eats, at first furtively but then savagely, and always warily. Tumak watches Loana settle down to sleep on the other side of the cave. So does an impeccably groomed caveman named Ohtao (John Hubbard), who is either a close friend, wannabe lover, or brother of Loana (the film doesn’t make this real clear). He watches Tumak watch her with some interest or concern.
Heymann introduces a cute cartoonlike scherzo as a bear cub wanders in and starts to lick up the meal scraps. An old man sitting there finally notices and shoos the cub off; it scampers away with a cute flurry of woodwinds.
Akhoba’s Fall From Grace
Descending , slowly paced chords emanate as the Rock People come out of their cave to hunt. They confront a meager flock of one mammoth and a couple of musk ox, shaking their wooly heads and advancing toward Akhoba. He fights them and konks one on head with his stick, then wrestles it to ground. But it fights back and wounds him severely. Seeing his fall, another of the band, Skakana (Edgar Edwards) his stick at the others in challenge for his “throne;” one by one the others submit. Skakana is the new chief. Heymann provides a regal, victorious melody from brass to accompany his ascension.
But Akhoba is not dead, although his ability to reassume his rank is clearly no longer present. Skakana makes to whack him where he lays, but lone of the women prevents this.
Tumak Learns Something About Manners
The scene shifts back to the Shell People’s cave, where Tumak is now up and around. A bucolic melody for horns over shimmering strings is provided as Tumak learns the ways of the Shell People. He also learns the more immediately useful skill of making a spear.
The Shell People’s routine gathering of fruit and nuts is shattered by the arrival of a lumbering cardboard Tyrannosaurus Rex, which shuffles into the clearing with all the energy and grace of Im-Ho-Tep’s slo-mo hero walk through the Universal City sarcophagi.
But Heymann enlivens the potential danger of the menacing dino with clusters of raging orchestral chords, energizing the Shell people as they gather the nuts and fruit they’ve been gathering and make for the high ground of the cave, where the men arm themselves with spears. Meanwhile, Heymann gives the T Rex a fair amount of sonic menace with pronounced, lumbering monster chords from his brass. Those chords in term merge with a plethora of excited strings and horns as the Shell folk retreat to cave and pile gathered veggies into a collective pile; but Tumak, accustomed to the hoarding practices of the Rock People, hides his gatherings in a stash of his own; Loana frowns at this, but her dismay is reprieved as the T Rex shambles away in another direction (possibly to wait for employment in Universal’s THE LAND UNKNOWN in another fifteen years…); Heymann washes the moment in a melody of triumphant relief music, which quickly segues into a slight return of a growing love theme, as Loana eyes Tumak and begins to teach him about how they do things here in the Shell region, and she teaches him her name, and vice versa. As she introduces him to her parents, familial strains swell respectfully from the strings.
The ensuing dinner scene emphasizes Tumak’s rude Rock People manners and contrasts them against the polite, caring etiquette of the Shell People. They share while he hoardes. When he steals the boy’s meal next to him, Loana frowns, gives the boy hers. Tumak, with slowly dawning male awareness, realizes that now she has no meal. After a pause he gives her his. The music swells supportively as she beams. Caught in the moment, Tumak goes and gets the veggies he stored in his own stash and adds it to the communal pot in the middle of the cave. The shells are impressed and gratified; Heymann’s brass swells proudly.
As Tumak and Loana become friendly, Heymann provides jaunty and playful woodwind material as they sit together and he inspects her shell jewelry, including the shell horn that she used to call for help when she first found Tumak. He blows through it; the noise scares the little bear cub, who runs off to the reprised strains of its scherzo.
Heymann provides an assortment of light and gentle music that supports these fairly innocuous scenes of domestic cheer, as Tumak learns things like etiquette, manners, and how to make a spear. The humorous scene where Loana tries to teach Tumak how to spear fish, which results in little more than his frustrating splashing in response to her unerring spearing of fish, is scored with light strings and cute woodwind filigrees.
Tumak Kills the Baby Rex
The Shell People’s reverie is interrupted by the return of a small T Rex, which goes after one of the Shell kids who has climbed a tree to pick fruit. Amid her screaming for help, Heymann provides a dramatic reading of energetic horns and strings as the rest of the Shells run for shelter. Tumak, busy learning how to use his new spear, doesn’t notice until a riot of violin bowing and raging woodwind chords catches his attention. Tumak grabs Ohtao’s spear and attacks the Rex. A triumphant intonation of horns sounds victoriously as Tumak kills the baby Rex and rescues the tree-climbing child. A proud phrase from lush strings swells gloriously as the Shell people come over and praise Tumak, until Ohtao tries to take back his spear; then a rude nasally woodwind sound emits, capped by a descending glissando of strings, almost cartoonlike, as Tumak brusquely pulls it back. Loana glares at him, and he finally hands the spear to her she pantomime scolds him and returns it to Ohtao. Heymann’s music for these little interactions is charming.
But that night, Tumak steels through the cave and steals the spear from the sleeping Ohtao, accompanied by quiet drifts of melodic phrasing, securing his stealth. When he grabs a dagger as well, Ohtao wakes up. They struggle, and the music grows wild and frenetic. Tomak knocks Ohtao down; the others come out and stop fight, and Tumak is banished. Heymann’s rough music turns sweet and lyrical as Loana runs a ways and watches him go, clearly of divided interests; the horns return, aggressively and confidently as Tumak returns to her and takes her arm, bringing her along with him. A solo trumpet echoes Tumak’s bold warning to the Shell People not to follow, while strings echo the passion of the Shells to keep her; but she signals her acquiescence, accompanied by quiet woodwinds, and they wave goodbye. It’s a very sweet and compelling musical interaction. Suddenly uncomfortable, Tumak waves her away, but she follows him. The music sounds cutely, shyly, following their somewhat comic pantomime banter until as Tumak accepts her company.
Encounters in the Jungle
There is an amount of incidental and occasionally suspenseful music as they make their way through jungle, whereupon they encounter a passing dinosaur. A few moments of vibratto strings resound as they avoid it and it crawls off, not noticing them. The music is slow and ponderous, emphasizing the large size of the creatures, their slow gate, and their menace, which is important since the obvious use of living reptiles filmed in slo-mo it not very convincing. The music swells a bit afterwards as Tumak finds some apples and picks some to eat, selfishly ignoring Loana until he notices her trying to reach them, then he pulls the branch down so she can reach some of her own; the strings swell romantically at the gesture, belated though it was.
The music stays lush and sensual as they proceed together thru jungle until loud growls alarm them. The roars come from a giant wolverinelike creature that attacks a huge snake hanging from a tree. Sustained strings and low tones remain as the two of them pass the munching mammal by. More of same as they pass a spiked armadillo uprooting a tree. It chases them off, they climb a tree, and it begins digging against it; the music here remains constant and static, rather than generating excitement from the chase or their predicament up the tree, the music maintains a moody atmosphere but it fails to energize the sequence as it did earlier dinosaur action scenes. However, huddling together atop the sturdy tree, Tumak and Loana experience a comfortable nearness; the rapturous music reflects more this growing closeness than then danger of the ‘dillo below, and this is the perspective Heymann is making in this sequence.
The scene shifts to day and they make their way across several rear screen projections. Music is incidental and maintains a slight strangeness, as befitting the strange landscape across which they pass, through a descending rhythmic cadence of strings and woodwinds. When they encounter a pair of oversized lizard-o-saurs, who begin to fight, Hermann steps aside and lets their processed growls and bellows accompany the scuffle.
Meanwhile members of the Rock People show up and watch the fight. Skakana, the new chief, glimpses Loana. A brief note of brass emphasizes him watching her, and then a lithe violin filigree accompanies her dash across the canyon below the rocks. Brasses again punctuate the perspective of the rock folk, the sonic contrast reminding us of the difference between the tribes. A descent of horn accompanies Skakana down from the rocks and after her. Meanwile, low, ponderous and (KONG-ish) chord progressions resonate as Tumak walks past the dying loser of the dinosaur scuffle. A vibrant array of violins sounds as the cameras cuts to Loana reaching base of rocky hill, looking back for Tumak. But she sees instead the bushy bearded Skakana coming after her – the flurrying violin notes now accompanies his run across the canyon while an urgent descending figure for brass infuses his urgency. A surging vibe for brass escorts Loana up to the top of a rocky hill, where she stops to blow her shell horn. Tumak hears it and runs to her aid. The music grows tense from a rush of winds and strings as Skakana finds her hiding in an outcropping and drags her out. Tumak arrives, calls Skakana’s name, and they fight. Heymann’s furiously flailing and punchy horn patterns reflect somewhat the style of Steiner’s “Jungle Dance” from KING KONG. Finally Skakana is pushed off the rocks and falls below.
At Home With The Rock People
Tumak rejoins Loana and they confront the Rock People, whereupon Tumak reasserts his role as true chief, as son of Akhboba. But the former chief, now injured and half blind, skulks in the shadows of the Rock Peoples’ cave. Akhoba’s prowling 2-note theme intones gloomily as he watches them. This segues to a lyrical violin theme heard as a hunting party returns home to cave. The same motif accompanies Loana’s attempt to make peace with the other cave women, offering one of them the shell bracelet she wears. The cave woman hesitates, but sees Tumak make a threatening gesture with his spear, so she accepts it. Loana greets Tumak’s mother with the Shells’ traditional hands-on-shoulder greeting; mom doesn’t get it until Tumak makes a facial gesture suggesting she ought to do it back. Mom does. As with the earlier scenes in the cave of the Shell People, Heymann’s music – mostly woodwinds and violins – lends an appropriate familial domesticity to the sequence. A tender solo violin melody sounds as Loana greets the outcast former chief Akhoba with a gentle hand to his huddled shoulder, as he cowers, expecting a beating.
Brief moments of gentle and amusing music accompanies Loana’s activities among the Rock People, as she shows the selfish cavemen the niceties of mealtime etiquette teaching the what fruits are good to eat. The dainty music is pure domestic poignancy. When an old man asks if he can eat a large carrot, Loana nods in the affirmative, but he is doubtful – a cartoony reed sonority accentuates his trepidation until he munches and is pleasantly surprised by the taste, and eats heartily.
The Volcano Spews
Loana’s reverie with Tumak among the Rock People is disrupted by the unexpected eruption of the local volcano. Heymann accompanies these initial scenes with a mixture of warm violin romantic music – as Tumak and Loana snuggle together with a gorgeous view of the valley and the volcano. Loana ruins the mood by noticing the excessive amount of black smoke spewing from the mountain, Tumak tries to quiet her alarm, and the romantic music returns cozily. A young girl named Wandi comes by and greets them, and then goes off in the direction of the volcano. Naturally, the mountain erupts in a massive flow of volcano and quaking of land; Wandi’s mom, looking for the girl, is absorbed by the lava.
There is no music for scenes of the cave destruction or the numerous dinosaurs seen running from the flames and careening into crevasses; only the sounds of breaking rock, exploding volcano, and burbling, bloblike lava. Loana saves Wandi but disappears in the process; Tumak finds her shoe near the lava flow, and believes she is dead.
The following day sees the arrival of Ohtao from the Shell People. A swashbuckling figure accompanies his arrival as he blows Loana’s shell horn to alert the Rock People; Heymann’s music here energizes his appearance and his request for help, using sign language – the Shell People, including Loana, who made it back home after escaping the volcano with Wandi, are trapped in their cave by a hungry dino. Tumak starts to head off at a run, but Ohtao warns him about something. Something big. Akhoba steps up and arms them all with spears – Heymann introduces here a slightly militaristic motif that will escort these rescuers over to the land of the Shell People.
Rescuing Loana and the Shell People
Big, prominent, descending monster chords echo the bellowing growl of the lizard-o-saur as we see it at the entrance to the Shell’s cave. Driven by furiously strident strings, the music is sheer symphonic panic. This is contrasted by the almost jaunty martial music that is heard when the scene cuts back to the Rock People making their way across the canyons. Like Steiner’s “Jungle Dance,” this monster music consists of one defining note, followed by a fast descent of succeeding other notes.
The Rock People arrive and instantly attack the dinosaur with spears. Heymann’s monster chords and strings maintain their approach amid growls and barks from the dino as the editing cuts faster and faster and Heymann’s strings bow faster and faster until one of the would-be rescuers gets eaten. At a break in the action, Akhoba points out to Tumak an advantage – by maneuvering around the dinosaur and up the mountain, they can push rocks down on top of the beast. A cascading descent of strings follows their descent down the rocks and around to the other side. Tumak stays behind and goads the dinosaur with spear jabs while the others climb up and drop the boulders onto it. The music grows furious with activity, a vivid passage from violins and melodic phrasings from brass, as this plan is carried out. The music is diminished as the sounds of falling boulders and the succeeding landslide take over and bury the beastie.
A happy figure from strings erupts as the dinosaur is crushed. The tribes are united, and they sing in victory and unity, a brief choral chant heard earlier in the film during Tumak’s stay with the Shell People. The orchestra takes over as Loana and Tumak and Wandi (sorry about your mom, kid) step up to a cliff overlook before glorious sun-rayed cloudy heavens and gaze out on the land. The music swells with celebration and unity as the end titles come up.