Monday, March 1, 2010

Beswick Rules


Martine Beswick - a B-Movie queen before the term was created - as Kari in the bewildering PREHISTORIC WOMEN. Here is the actress on the cover of Britain's short-lived movie magazine Showtime (May 1966).

HAMMER'S biggest commercial hit and greatest folly, Don Chaffey's ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. was a success jointly because of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion dinosaurs and Raquel Welch's doeskin and fur bikini. The feature is a hopelessly anachronistic melange of prehistoric man, volcanoes and reptiles; not only is the film a scientific abnormality, it is also an aberration in the context of the maturing cinematic landscape of the 60s. Away from Harryhausen's creations, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.'s wafer-thin plot tells of a mixed-tribe love affair between Tumak (John Richardson) of the Rock People and Loana (Welch) of the Shell People. It is all marvellously silly stuff - Michael Carreras' screenplay is devoid of dialogue, relying instead on grunting and pointing.

The sequel to ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. was actually completed while the dino-epic was still in post-production. PREHISTORIC WOMEN - initially released in the UK as SLAVE GIRLS - was hastily devised by Carreras to optimise the costumes and Elstree sets made for the earlier film, and to include the talents of its supporting player, Jamaican-born model/actress Martine Beswick. This fatuous, non-dinosaur production opens with African big game hunter David Marchant (Michael Latimer) mysteriously transported back in time (or is he dreaming?) to the kingdom of a fabled white rhinoceros cult. He encounters Saria (Edina Ronay), one of a number of fair-haired tribe women oppressed by a group of dark-haired vixens led by the evil Queen Kari (played with infectious relish by Beswick).

Ray Harryhausen’s Allosaurus during the village raid sequence of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. All of his stop motion creatures are filled with enough charisma to act the entire human cast off the screen.

With her angular facial features and stunning physique, Beswick commands attention every moment she's on screen, not so much stealing the film from the others as to rip it from them and devour it whole. Beswick first came to the attention in a pair of James Bond movies - FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (as wrestling gypsy Zora) and THUNDERBALL (as Jamaican spy Paula Caplan) - and in her first starring role here Beswick treats Queen Kari seriously, alternately seductive, childish and sluttish. When the warriors first push Marchant before the Queen, she parades in front of him naked, oblivious to anything remotely resembling modesty.

Produced, directed and written (under the pseudonym of Henry Younger) by Carreras, PREHISTORIC WOMEN is fittingly dismissed by critics and Hammer historians alike. However, the movie is a treasure trove for connoisseurs of camp; not only do the phallic implications of the rhino horn make for uneasy viewing, the climactic rhino-on-tracks is unintentionally hilarious. Additionally, the script is a litter of hyperbole, trumped by "the women are sad, and when the heart is heavy, the feet are not light - let there be no more dancing," a statement which the viewer can only wish for during the seemingly endless tribal dance numbers.