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Hollywood's Savage Visions

February 05, 1986|JACK MATHEWS | Times Staff Writer

Cave women were hot.

Neanderthal. Cro-Magnon. Pithecanthropus erectus. Call them whatever you like.

Bronze Age. Stone Age. Ice Age. Go back as far as you like.

Cave women were always hot, and they had great legs.

Despite the scandalous descriptions often given by anthropologists and paleontologists--that some prehistoric women were barely 4 feet tall and they looked like Cheetah--Hollywood has always known better.

That's why film producers are so careful in their casting of these films. If the actresses portraying cave women aren't believable, the credibility of the whole movie would be in jeopardy. Audiences would be concentrating on all the wrong things.

United Artists executives knew this as early as 1940 when they made "One Million B.C." with Carole Landis, a 21-year-old actress who had started her career as a hula dancer in San Francisco.

Landis, reputed to have had "the best legs in town," had been competing in beauty contests since she was 12, so she was the perfect choice to play the Shell tribe's Loana opposite the Rock tribe's Tumak (Victor Mature) in this prehistoric version of "Romeo and Juliet."

Twentieth Century Fox executives also knew it when they cast former cover girl Raquel Welch in the 1967 remake of "One Million B.C." Ringo Starr knew it when he cast his wife Barbara Bach opposite him in "Caveman." And the producers of "Quest for Fire," the most authentic dawn-of-man movie ever made, certainly knew it when they cast Rae-Dawn Chong as the woman who would introduce men to the comforts of missionary-position sex.

Hollywood still knows best.

When director Michael Chapman and producer Gerold Isenberg began casting for the recently released "The Clan of the Cave Bear," a $16-million adaptation of Jean Auel's best seller about an orphaned Cro-Magnon girl who is raised by Neanderthals, they said there was only one actress who was right for the role, and they got her.

Daryl Hannah. The Cro-Magnon of every man's dreams.

In the film's production notes, Isenberg is quoted as saying that it "seemed as though Jean Auel had taken a picture of Daryl and described her in the book."

I'm sorry I missed that. Most of the descriptions of people in the novel (with occipital buns and prognathous jaws) reminded me of an English bulldog I once had. I am sure that Isenberg is right. Cave women--at least the tall, lithesome, blond, blue-eyed types who went out with rock singers--looked pretty much like Hannah.

There are minor discrepancies. For some reason, Hannah refused to brush her hair for "Clan," giving the odd impression (clearly refuted by the historical photos accompanying this piece) that cave women were untidy.

She also allowed the hair to grow on her legs. That's a discomfiting interpretation of female cultural history, which we know from the many leg close-ups in the 1950 "Prehistoric Women" and the 1958 "The Women of Wongo." Archeologists may not have uncovered any Stone Age Lady Schicks yet, but we know they had them.

Star ego. What are you going to do? Hannah, we learned, also requested that she be allowed to wear snaggly, yellowed prosthetic teeth, claiming that that's how prehistoric women--even the latter-day Cro-Magnons--actually looked.

Fortunately, the producers stuck to their guns. As Hollywood and the rest of us know from the gleaming smiles of Victoria Vetri in "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth" and Irene Tsu in "Women of the Prehistoric Planet," cave women's teeth--probably because of all that chewing on bones--were perfect.

The critics haven't been kind to "The Clan of the Cave Bear." Some of them have said the movie is unintentionally funny. What do they think? That cave people had no sense of humor? Didn't they see "When Women Had Tails," or its sequel, "When Women Lost Their Tails"?

Film makers can't win. The same critics who accuse the industry of being mindless and exploitative refuse to recognize a movie that tells it as it was. It may not be hip in the Unisex Age to demonstrate the subtle sexual cues that insured the propagation of our species, but there are historical truths to be faced.

Cave women were hot.

TOGETHER AGAIN: Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, those steady contemporaries who spent the early parts of their careers competing for leading roles, share star billing in "Tough Guys," a Disney/Touchstone film that goes into production here next week.

"Tough Guys" is the story of two train robbers who are paroled after 30 years in prison. Finding an outside world as hostile to old people as it is to ex-cons, they decide to hit one last train before they retire.

This will be the fifth time in 40 years that Lancaster and Douglas have co-starred in a film, dating back to 1947's "I Walk Alone," a story about (sound familiar?) a man who gets out of prison to find a changed world.

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