Caveman (1981) poster

Caveman (1981)


USA. 1981.


Director – Carl Gottlieb, Screenplay – Carl Gottlieb & Rudy de Luca, Producers – David Foster & Lawrence Turman, Photography – Alan Hume, Music – Lalo Schifrin, Visual Effects – Effects Associates (Supervisor – David Allen), Special Effects – Roy Arbogast, Makeup – Chris Walas, Production Design – Philip M. Jeffries. Production Company – Turman-Foster Co.


Ringo Starr (Atouk), John Matuszak (Tonda), Barbara Bach (Lana), Shelley Long (Tala), Dennis Quaid (Lar), Jack Gilford (Grog)


October 9th, One Zillion BC. Atouk the caveman is thrown out of his tribe by the chief Tonda for wanting to ‘zug-zug’ (have sex) with Tonda’s mate, the sultry Lana. In the wilderness, Atouk meets his friend Lar. While hugging, overjoyed to see one other, they succeed in popping each other’s backs and straightening their posture, allowing them to walk upright. Gathering a tribe of other misfits, together they accidentally discover such civilised advances as fire, music and fried eggs.

This comedy was the directorial debut of Carl Gottlieb, previously known as the screenwriter of Jaws (1975), as well as Steve Martin’s first film The Jerk (1979). Gottlieb co-writes with Mel Brooks’ frequent partner Rudy De Luca. With Caveman, Gottlieb attempts to do for the creaky old prehistory genre what the film’s clear model Airplane/Flying High (1980) did for the disaster movie.

Certainly, films like One Million B.C. (1940) and One Million Years B.C. (1966) and the prehistoric genre they had inspired had become so creaky that a send-up of them was long overdue. Indeed, the plot of Caveman – about a group of misfits setting out from a tribe and accidentally discovering the rudimentary beginnings of civilisation during their travels – is remarkably similar to the serious, anthropologically realistic Quest for Fire (1981), which came out around the same time.

Some people have a soft spot for Caveman, although it is not that great a film. It is not without its amusements – like the opening credit ‘One Zillion B.C., October 9th’. Or the sight gags involving the creation of the world’s first fried egg. That said, Carl Gottlieb’s approach is relentlessly lowbrow the entire way. The film’s occasional moment of inventivity notwithstanding, the rest of the film lies down at the level of goo jokes, fart jokes, breast jokes, people running around in circles with the camera undercranked jokes – there is even a dwarf to become the butt of pratfalls.

Ringo Starr on the back of a dinosaur in Caveman (1981)
Ringo Starr rides in on the back of a dinosaur
Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach in Caveman (1981)
Ringo Starr and later wife-to-be Barbara Bach

Gottlieb gets a good laugh out of having a dinosaur bay at the full moon, so much so that he repeats the gag twice throughout the film. Gottlieb’s take on the film is entirely as visual slapstick. There is a visual effect with the moon rising, followed in the same shot by the sun coming back up – and Gottlieb cannot resist the temptation to accompany it by a slapstick whistle. There is no plot to the affair – the story is aimless and Gottlieb shambles it around in a circle with only a vague sense of direction. An extended side-trip to a nearby Ice Age could have been dropped altogether.

The best parts about Caveman are the dinosaur effects, which come across with a wonderfully cartoonish appeal – whether licking their lips and rubbing their paws in glee at the prospect of eating people, or the wonderful sequence where Ringo Starr manages to get a dinosaur stoned on berries and reduce it to a wasted mass.

Caveman starred former Beatle Ringo Starr. (In a trivia note, Starr met on the set and then married Barbara Bach who plays a wily seductress and object of Starr’s lust in the film). Starr evokes a mournful lost puppy dog sympathy – one can see exactly what it was that made him the Beatle that every girl wanted. The film is also notable for being the first major role of Shelley Long who would not long after go on to success in tv’s Cheers (1982-93).

Trailer here

Full film available online here:-

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