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“Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”

Cast: Charlton Heston (George Taylor), Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Dr Zira), Maurice Evans (Dr Zaius), James Whitmore (President of the Assembly), James Daly (Honorius), Linda Harrison (Nova), Robert Gunner (Landon), Lou Wagner (Lucius), Woodrow Parfey (Maximus), Jeff Burton (Dodge), Buck Kartalian (Julius), Norman Burton (Hunt Leader), Wright King (Dr Galen), Paul Lamber (Minister).

Written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling. Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner.

STORY:

In the year 1972, a team of four astronauts, comprised of three men and one woman are on a deep space mission to another star system.. The mission goes horribly wrong. Waking to find that his spaceship has crashed into a lake, and is steadily sinking, the ship’s commander Colonel Taylor, finds that female astronaut Stewart has died in her sleep, her suspended animation chamber having developed a leak killing her and leaving a mummified corpse. Taylor and his remaining crew of Landon and Dodge abandon ship in a life raft and watch their ship sink. They are  now stranded on an unknown planet with little hope of returning home.

 

 

The three crewmembers trek through blistering desert terrain, discussing where they could have possibly landed, wherever they are, it is now the future, Taylor having taken an earth time reading before abandoning the ship – it’s now the year 3978, over two thousand years have passed since they left Earth.

 

Encountering vegetation at last, the trio encounter a group of primitive caveman-like mute humans, Taylor remarks: “If this is the best they’ve got around here, in six months we’ll be running this planet”. These are almost his famous last words, has a hunting horn sounds and the humans run in fear into a nearby cornfield. The three astronauts can’t believe their eyes as armed gorillas on horseback start to hunt the fleeing humans! During the hunt, astronaut Dodge is shot dead and Taylor loses track of Landon, before he himself is shot in the throat, passing out, he is loaded into a wagon with the other humans captured in the hunt.

Taylor awakens to find a society where apes – orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees are the dominant species and human beings are little more than animals to be hunted to death, put in zoos or experimented on to further ape science.

Unable to talk due to his throat injury, Taylor attempts to make contact with female chimp scientist Dr Zira, who calls him ‘Bright Eyes’, stealing a notepad from her he writes her a quick note which reads “My name is Taylor”. Zira is astonished as she reads the note while his ‘keeper’, the gorilla Julius, subdues Taylor.

Zira brings Taylor to the attention of her fiancé, Cornelius a chimp archaeologist, through notes and a lot of note gesticulating, Taylor manages to explain his situation to the two apes. They are interrupted however, by Dr Zaius, an orangutan scientist, who is the head of the ape government. Taylor is taken back to his cage, which he now shares with the beautiful mute human girl he has named Nova.

Overhearing Julius saying that he is too be gelded, Taylor escapes from his cell and makes a run for it, pursued through Ape City.  Fleeing from a temporary hiding within a simian church, he encounters the corpse of Dodge, who has been stuffed and mounted as a display in an ape museum!

Pursued through the streets Taylor is netted and hoisted aloft by the gorillas. Arriving on the scene, Cornelius, Zra and Dr Zaius witness the first words spoken by Taylor since his throat injury. “Get your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” A human who can speak stuns the apes!

Taylor is taken back to his cage and separated from Nova. Later, he is taken to a council chamber, where three orangutan judges, headed by Dr Zaius will decide his fate along with Taylor’s friends Cornelius and Zira.

During his ‘trial’, Taylor finds out that Landon, is still alive but has been lobotomised by Dr Zaius, who says that Landon could never speak!. Incensed Taylor make a run for Zaius but his restrained again. Back in the chamber Cornelius tries to argue that Taylor is the missing link between ape and human, but the three judges are having none of  it and he his silenced.

Taylor is dragged away for a private audience with Zaius, who informs him he has always known about man and has always feared his coming. To preserve the status quo Zaius informs Taylor he will be emasculated and then operated on like Landon – sentenced to a kind of “living death”.

Back in his cage again, Taylor is contemplating his fate, when a young chimp called Lucius arrives informing keeper Julius that Taylor is to be transferred to the zoo. Lucius manoeuvres Julius to the bars of Taylor’s cage, where Lucius gestures Taylor to grab Julius while he clubs the gorilla over the head!

Freeing Taylor, Lucius informs him that he is the nephew of Dr Zira, who is waiting for them with Cornelius so they can escape Ape City. Taylor goes along with the plan, but insists that they take Nova with them.

The quintet of Taylor, Nova, Cornelius, Zira and Lucius head into the desert region from out of which Taylor came from. The apes know the region as the Forbidden Zone, but Cornelius knows the area, having gone on an archaeological dig there. It is for the dig site they now are heading.

 

At the site at the edge of an ocean, the party find Dr Zaius and a band of gorillas have pursued them. Holding off the pursuers by aiming a gun at Zaius, Taylor invites the ape to come and look at Cornelius findings in a Cliffside cave.  The escapees head into a cave, with Zaius, a cave that Cornelius says contains proof that the apes’ sacred scrolls are not worth the paper they are written on.

Taylor examines Cornelius findings, which seem to point to an ancient human culture that predates that of the apes, a human culture that was very much like the one Taylor came from.  Zaius dismisses Taylor’s analysis of the artefacts while Nova plays with a dirt encrusted human doll. Turning the doll over, Nova is alarmed when the doll issues the cry of “Mama” from the ancient mechanism inside it. The apes are shocked. Taylor confronts Zaius with the question: “Dr, would an ape make a human doll that talks?”.

Before the question can be answered, there is the sound of shooting from outside the cave. The gorillas have overwhelmed Lucius who has been left on guard, but after a brief shoot out Taylor captures Dr Zaius and informs the gorillas, the doctor will be killed if they don’t back off.!

Tying Zaius to a tree stump, Taylor and Nova head off along the shoreline in search of somewhere they can make a life free of the apes and an answer to the riddle of the planet of the apes.

Cornelius and Zira untie Dr Zaius, while he orders the cave to be sealed and the chimps to be detained. The secrets of the cave must never be revealed or all of ape society will come undone. The gorillas make to pursue Taylor and Nova but Zaius calls them back. Zira asks the doctor what will Taylor find? “His destiny” he replies.

Taylor and Nova ride through the surf happy to be free of the apes, but along the bluff the final secret of the planet is revealed.

Taylor sinks to his knees, the sea lapping at him while he rages at his fellow man: “You finally really did it – you maniacs! You blew it up! Damn you! Damn you all to hell!

 

Nova looks at Taylor and then up at the statue, its  head and shoulders erupting from the beach in rust and centuries of decay, it’s arm still reaching skyward, holding its torch aloft, a torch that no longer burns with hope – the Statute of Liberty.

Fate has played it’s final joke on Taylor, he has been home all the this time – the planet of the apes is Earth!

 

COMMENT: Planet of the Apes is almost a perfect science fiction film. It successfully asks questions about man’s place in the universe and his final fate while making social comment and satirising human society and beliefs. While the basic thrust of the narrative is the fish out of water and the man on the run stories combined. All this is done in a way that is not hackneyed and remains entertaining decades after the story was first consigned to film.

All of the parts come together in this film, the acting is top notch, director Schaffner eliciting the best from all concerned, Heston is given more than ample support from notable character actors, and the star himself plays a part that is completely different from his usual repertoire of historical and biblical figures. Colonel Taylor is a cynical misanthrope, a type that in the 1960s would be played by a younger man.

The camerawork by Leon Shamroy conjures up an alien feeling to the landscapes in the early part of the film that was shot in Utah and Arizona. There also seems to be some handheld work when the three astronauts scramble down a shale-strewn hill.

The art direction, special effects also combine well to portray an environment that had never been seen before on film. All this topped off by composer Jerry Goldsnith at his most ambitious and experimental.

TRIVIA:

· Diane Stanley (uncredited) is  the ill-fated astronaut Stewart. An old lady in  make-up plays her mummified corpse!

· The sound effect that accompanies the spaceship crash is from Lost in Space.

· Blooper! When you first see the crashed spaceship in the lake, the hatch has already blown off! This sequence happens later.

· The first glimpse of the apes doesn’t happen until 32 minutes into the film.

· Originally Nova was pregnant with Taylor’s child, but a few studio executives were outraged with this development, Nova being seen as subhuman by some!

· Charlton Heston has admitted that the part of Taylor was his most difficult, as he was hosed, stoned, beaten and held upside down in a net!

· What would give the game away is the appearance of the moon at night, but it is noted by the character Dodge, that there is continuous cloud cover at night with a strange luminosity. Mind you, this doesn’t explain why the apes themselves speak English!

 

- written by Peter Noble