(Reprinted from "Year of the Monkey Pt. 1)
This coming Monday, Feb 8, is the start of the Chinese New Year. For those of you not acquainted with the Chinese New Year, it follows a lunar calendar and has a 12 year cycle with each of the 12 years named after an animal. Ex: 2005 was The Year of the Rooster, so next year the cycle will start all over again with the Rooster. It cycles through from Rooster to Monkey (or any variation depending on which year you start counting), and includes, among others, the Year of the Dog, Ox, Tiger, Dragon etc.
2016 is the Year of the Monkey. By strange coincidence, 1968 was also the Year of the Monkey. I say "strange coicidence" because 1968 was also the year that the first Planet of the Apes appeared in theaters. Yes, the start of a franchise that included 5 original movies, a short-lived live action TV series, and a cartoon show, also short-lived, indeed began in the Year of the Monkey. I think that it's just kismet, therefore, that , having just bought the DVD set of the TV series, and, already having the original 5 movies, that I should celebrate the new Chinese New Year with a series of blog postings on that incredible franchise.
The studio execs knew a gold mine when they saw one, and the Planet of the Apes was a definite gold mine. The first two movies had done phenomenally well. The problem with continuing the series was problematic, however. In Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the planet had been blown up by a Doomsday bomb, which rendered any more future on the planet impossible. But execs were adamant, and Paul Dehn, writer of the first sequel, was commissioned to do the next sequel.
The budget problems of ape makeup was solved by transporting three apes from the original planet back in time to the (then) modern day United States.
Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)
A spaceship has crash landed in the ocean. The military is interested and it is towed to land. The spaceship is opened up and the officers present salute as three astronauts emerge. They are apes. Two of them you will recognize right away if you've been watching the previous two films; Cornelius (Roddy McDowell returns to the role) and Zira (Kim Hunter). The third ape-o-naut is called Milo (played by Sal Mineo, in what proved to be his last theatrical film role.)
|(L-R) Cornelius, Zira and Milo|
A side note : If you have paid attention during the last two entries in the series, you will immediately remember that a) the ape society had guns, but only horses for transport, not even primitive prototype cars, and b) that Cornelius stated in the original movie that flight was an impossibility. So how did these three obtain a spaceship and get to Earth?
It is explained, (rather conveniently) that Dr. Milo was a genius and managed to salvage the first spaceship, (Taylor's, which you will remember sank in the ocean, but was still mostly intact), and figure out how to operate it to a reasonable level. If this was true, then Dr. Milo must have been something of a genius akin to what Albert Einstein would have been if he had been raised in a caveman society. But then, if he hadn't been that kind of genius, the rest of the series couldn't have been made... Back to the review:
The apes are taken to a special room at the LA zoo where they are put under observation. Drs. Branton (Natalie Trundy) and Dixon (Bradford Dillman) run several tests on the apes, not yet aware that they are intelligent and can speak. They assume that the apes were somehow taught how to fly by a superior race, and were just like what would normally be expected of simians in modern-day. But during one test, Zira, frustrated, reveals she can speak. Our scientists are astounded.
Not long after, Dr. Milo is killed by a gorilla in the neighboring cage. Cornelius and Zira form a friendship with Drs. Branton and Dixon. The ape doctors are taken before a Presidential commission where they reveal that that can indeed speak. They become celebrities, buying current fashion clothes, being photographed and interviewed by paparazzi, and immersing themselves in the culture of the day. Meanwhile, however, a Dr. Hasselein (Eric Braeden), who has the ear of the President becomes wary and suspicious of the apes from the future, wondering how they became intelligent.
|Dr. Evil... I mean, Dr. Hasselein|
He gets Zira drunk on "Grape Juice Plus" (wine), to the point where she reveals some information that makes him even more wary. She tells him the way the world ends (see the ending of Beneath the Planet of the Apes), as well as the experimentation she did as an animal doctor (humans being considered animals, much the same way modern doctors considered apes). He uses his influence to convince the President to prevent the birth of Zira's baby (they don't come right out and call it abortion, but it is), and to sterilize the two apes to prevent any more intelligent ape births.
Cornelius and Zira escape from the cell where they are being detained, and are on the run. Fortunately they meet up with their human doctor friends who convince a local circus owner, Armando (Ricardo Montalban) to hide them. But eventually they are discovered.
|Armando saves the day|
The attempts to prevent the ape child's birth are fruitless as well as the attempts by Dr. Hasselein to end the life of the baby. The movie ends with Armando proudly claiming that his circus ape has had a child the first to ever be born in a circus. But is it the circus ape's child or...
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
The next installment takes place some 18 years after Escape. In the society Armando (Ricardo Montalban) is still a circus owner and he takes Caesar, led by collar and leash, around distributing flyers for his circus. In this society, apes are servants (slaves) who have been trained to do menial tasks. Caesar does not reveal he can talk except when alone with Armando. Early on it is revealed that Caesar is the son of Cornelius and Zira, all grown up (albeit not named Milo, as Zira had wanted at the end of the last movie). Caesar is played by that king of the POTA movie cast members, Roddy McDowell, again.
There are no punches blocked or holds barred in the political agenda of Conquest. The message that slavery is bad is used like a baseball bat to beat you into submission, much like some of the humans use billy clubs in the movie to beat apes into submission. As a result, this sequel I think is by far the worst of the four. Of course there had to be a logical sequence for the apes to have gained control by the time of the first film, and there is nothing logistically wrong with the layout of this timeline, but I felt like I'd been three rounds with Mike Tyson by the time the movie was over.
Caesar and Armando see an ape being beaten and Caesar, forgetting he is not supposed to let people hear him talk, yells "Lousy human bastards!" The cops hear it and approach Armando, but Caesar keeps quiet and Armando says it was really him that yelled the epithet. The two manage to get away with it, but Armando tells Caesar that he, Armando, will have to turn himself in, and that Caesar should disappear among the incoming apes at the harbor.
Caesar ends up on the auction block and is bought by the Governor (Don Murray). He ends up in the archives room doing filing work, where he meets MacDonald (Hari Rhodes), a black man who is sympathetic to him in his slavery.
In contrast, it shows the interrogation of Armando by Kolp (Severn Darden) trying to illicit a confession of complicity in hiding the baby of Cornelius and Zira. The interrogation tactics are rather tame, but a lie detector machine is brought in to verify Armando's false story and rather than submit he commits suicide. Once Caesar hears of his friend's death, he becomes even more committed to change the situation with his fellow apes.
The later third or so of the movie show Caesar fomenting the rebellion, getting his fellow apes to commit acts of insubordination with their masters, and collecting various implements of destruction. This ultimately culminates with a rebellion like the city has never seen before, with cops battling hordes of armed apes, and the governor declaring martial law.
Spoiler Alert!! Ending ahead!
Ultimately. of course, the apes succeed in their rebellion, leading to the final scene in which Caesar grants the governor a stay of execution and declares this to now be "the planet of the apes!".
Note: The original ending did not have the last part of the speech. Instead it called for the execution of the governor. But preview audiences were disturbed by the ending so McDowell was called in to record some additional dialogue. (This is why the second half does not show his mouth moving, only closeups of his eyes. The movie was already in the can, all they could do was insert the dialogue.)
Well, that's the end of this session. Come back Monday for the final installment and celebrate the new Year of the Monkey with me. In the meantime it's time to take the old Plymouth home. So long from the back seat.