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While it may seem cynical to praise a film solely on the level of kitsch, without this perspective one would not get very far with Hammer's Prehistoric Women (UK: Slave Girls, 1967), which pits a time-shifting big game hunter against the despotic leader of a back bush gynocracy. Produced, directed and written by Michael Carreras (whose father, Sir James, had helped found Hammer in 1934), the film was presented in follow-up to the studio's successful caveman romp One Million Years B.C. (1966), which had boasted special effects by Ray Harryhausen. Lacking the earlier film's stop-motion dinosaurs, Canary Islands locations and va-va-voom power of leading lady Raquel Welch, Prehistoric Women found little favor with filmgoers or critics at the time of its theatrical release and yet it has something... and that something is Martine Beswick.
For those frustrated by Hammer's seeming disinclination to assign suitable onscreen business to its stable of actresses, Beswick's aerobic turn as Kari, a slave girl who has risen through absolute mercilessness to the strata of tribal leader ("Cruelty has made me cruel") is itself worth the price of admission. Whether lounging on a day bed of cheetah skins or coiled to commit grievous bodily harm for the privilege of coupling with the only available male, Beswick stomps the terra, not so much stealing the film from her fellow actors as tearing it away to swallow whole. The script by Carreras (tendered under the pseudonym Henry Younger) posits an adolescent boy's dream getaway in a world ruled by women who gad about in low cut pelts and dance seductively when not trying to claw out one another's eyes. The dialogue runs to purplish prolixity but the narrative is offered with an undeniable sense of humor and fun, putting Prehistoric Women in the same camp as Cat-Women of the Moon (1953) and Queen of Outer Space (1958).
Born to British parents in Jamaica in 1941, Martine Beswick used her winnings from a 1958 beauty contest to study acting in London. She enjoyed fiery roles in From Russia with Love (1963), Thunderball (1965) and the Communist spaghetti western A Bullet for the General (1966) but it was her onscreen catfight with costar Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C. that inspired Michael Carreras to offer the dark-eyed beauty her own star vehicle. Fame and fortune were not forthcoming and Beswick would not act again for Hammer until Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971). Oliver Stone cast Beswick as the Queen of Evil in his first feature film, Seizure (1974), and she took the title role in The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood (1980) but the actress found more steady employment on television until her retirement in 1995.
Cast as the ill-fated slave girl Gido is British actress Carol White, best remembered as Terence Stamp's long-suffering girlfriend in Ken Loach's Poor Cow (1967). The daughter of a Cockney scrap merchant, White made her screen debut at age 6 in Ealing's Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) but received her first attention as a young mother coping with homelessness in the uncompromising BBC telefilm Cathy Come Home (1966), also directed by Loach. Dubbed "The Battersea Bardot" and short-listed as one of the United Kingdom's promising young talents, White won a Hollywood contract in 1968 but travel to America and her involvement in the Los Angeles music scene exacerbated existing problems with alcohol and drugs. Thrice divorced and living in obscurity in Florida, White suffered a ruptured esophagus and bled to death in a Miami hospital on September 16, 1991.
Producer: Michael Carreras
Director: Michael Carreras
Screenplay: Michael Carreras (as Henry Younger)
Cinematography: Michael Reed
Art Direction: Robert Jones
Music: Carlo Martelli
Film Editing: Roy Hyde
Cast: Martine Beswick (Kari), Edina Ronay (Saria), Michael Latimer (David), Stephanie Randall (Amyak), Carol White (Gido), Alexandra Stevenson (Luri), Yvonne Horner (First Amazon), Sydney Bromley (Ullo), Frank Hayden (Arja), Robert Raglan (Colonel Hammond).
by Richard Harland Smith
Hammer Films: An Exhaustive Filmography by Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio (McFarland & Company, 1996)
A History of Horrors: The Rise and Fall of the House of Hammer by Denis Meikle (Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1996)
Martine Beswicke interview by M. J. Simpson, 1988
Carol White obituary by Bob Meade, September 25, 1991
"Carol White: The Battersea Bardot" by Bill Harry