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“We think we've got all the time in the world,

but how much time has the world got?”

Cast: Roddy McDowall (Cornelius), Kim Hunter (Zira), Bradford Dilman, (Dr Lewis Dixon), Natalie Trundy (Dr Stephanie Branton/Stevie), Eric Braeden (Dr Otto Hasslein), William Windom (The President), Sal Mineo (Dr Milo), Albert Salmi (E-1), Jason Evers (E-2), John Randolph Chairman of the President’s Committee of Enquiry), Harry Lauter (General Winthrop ), M. Emmet Walsh (General Winthrop’s Aide), Roy Glenn (Lawyer), Peter Forster (Cardinal), Norman Burton (Army Officer), William Woodson (Naval Officer), To Lowell (Orderly0, Gene Whittington (Marine Captain), Donald Elson (Curator), Bill Bonds (TV Newscaster), Army Archerd (Referee), James Bacon (General Faulkner), Ricardo Montalban (Armando).

Screenplay by Paul Dehn. Directed by DonTaylor.

STORY:

In the ocean off the coast of California, a battered spaceship is found floating by a Navy recovery team. The ship is brought ashore and its escape hatch prised open.

On the beach in front of the ship, a line of military dignitaries waits to greet the returning crew of astronauts. The three fully suited up figures emerge from the ship. The dignitaries salute them as the ‘spacemen’ take off their helmets, revealing themselves to be chimpanzees!

The apes are detained at the Los Angeles Zoo, in a cage next to a depressed gorilla. Their human captors are surprised when the chimps change out their spacesuits into clothing they have stored in a carpetbag.

The three are put under the care of animal psychologists Dr. Lewis Dixon and Dr. Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Branton who are to run intelligence tests on the trio. After completing one such test, the female chimp refuses to retrieve her ‘prize’, a banana. The two psychologists are puzzled until the chimp snorts: “I loathe bananas”. Dr. Dixon is open-mouthed, and Stevie faints – all three apes, Drs. Cornelius, Zira and Milo can talk!

The astounded psychologists leave the three chimps to report their discovery, while reproaching Zira; the gorilla in the next cage strangles Dr. Milo.

The two surviving chimps appear before a presidential commission, which is to probe into how the apes came to be in the spaceship, originally piloted by Colonel Taylor and his crew.

Chaperoned by Dixon and Branton, the two apes are asked questions about their culture, which Cornelius and Zira answer truthfully without giving the full details. Zira does let slip that she has only met two humans who could talk, but when asked about the identity of the two, Zira becomes upset and says that only Dr. Milo knew the precise details of their journey and the craft they made it in.

Impressing the assembled press corps at the hearing, the two chimps become media darlings and they are moved from the zoo to a luxury hotel on the orders of the President.

The apes are kitted out in the latest fashions and are invited to speak at various events, Zira develops a taste for champagne, which she calls ‘grape juice plus’, and Cornelius even attends a boxing match, much to his dismay.

Dr. Otto Hasslein, the President’s scientific advisor, and head of the apes’ commission is intrigued by the chimps’ story. While on a visit to a museum, with Zira, he becomes all too aware of the apes’ story. When Zira faints in front of a stuffed gorilla, Hasslein helps her up off the floor, she then lets slip she is pregnant!

Zira is escorted back to her hotel and plied with champagne by Hasslein.  Under the influence of the drink; Zira recounts the story of her and Cornelius’s escape from Ape City on the eve of war, fearing for the safety of their unborn child. Leaving the planet in the spaceship, the three apes saw the destruction of the entire Earth from space!

Hasslein reports back to the President about his findings, the good doctor reminding the Commander in Chief, that Zira’s baby will have the ability to speak, which will be propagated onwards until every ape on the planet can speak! Fearful of the damage killing the two apes and their unborn child will do to his standing, the President does agree to allow Hasslein to engage the CIA in questioning Cornelius and Zira.

At a military compound the two apes are questioned again and again until they reveal the full story of the descent of man and the rise of the apes. Zira is even questioned by being injected with a truth drug, and she lets slip that she was a vet who in her job dissected humans and experimented on them as a medical researcher. She also reveals that she and Cornelius knew Taylor and that he must be dead.

Reporting back to the commission, Hasslein is informed of its decision, that the apes be allowed to live but the baby terminated.

Back at the compound, an orderly brings the two apes some food, inadvertently insulting Zira, the orderly feels the full force of an on-the-edge Cornelius, the ape knocking the man to the ground in a rage and accidentally killing him. Horrified at what he has done, Cornelius escapes with Zira into the night, being picked up by Stevie Branton who, along with Lewis Dixon, hides the two fugitives at Señor Armando’s circus.

Armando is a kindly man, who loves all animals, and takes a shine to the ape couple. It is at the circus that Zira gives birth, while watched over by circus chimp Heloise and her newborn.

As the authorities close in, Cornelius and Zira bid goodbye to Armando, Lewis Dixon and Stevie. Cornelius asks for a gun from Lewis, stating he would rather end their own lives than being allowed to live under the conditions dictated by the commission.

The two apes hide in an abandoned oil freighter at the docks, but Hasslein has found them. Hasslein shoots the fleeing Zira in the back, mortally wounding her; he then empties his gun into the tiny bundle her baby is wrapped in. Cornelius witnesses the shooting of his wife and child from the bridge of the ship, distraught; he turns his gun on Hasslein, killing him. Sharpshooters in turn kill Cornelius, his body plunging to the deck of the freighter.

Lewis and Stevie watch helplessly as the dying Zira drops her baby over the side of the ship and then crawl over to the body of her husband, dying with her head buried in his chest.

Some months later, Armando’s circus is striking camp; the circus owner barks orders as he wanders over to a baby chimp in a cage, talking affectionately to the baby. He then moves off leaving the chimp alone.

The chimp looks out from behind the bars innocently as it intones: “Ma-ma! Ma-ma!”

COMMENT: Escape from the Planet of the Apes takes the franchise’s core idea and neatly turns it on its head, telling a tragic love story, peppered with bits of humour while still maintaining the series’ adventure theme.

A returning Roddy McDowall (he was absent for Beneath, because of a commitment to direct a film in England) cements his place in ape and film history with his portrayal of Cornelius, which is more than matched by Kim Hunter’s final tour of ape duty as Zira.

Director Don Taylor’s assured handling never lets the film get maudlin or develop into farce making good use of his cast and limited budget.

Composer Jerry Goldsmith returns to the series, his score this time opens with a rocky/jazzy theme and some sequences (the apes entering 20th century society) have a more whimsical lilt while an action tempo comes to the fore when it comes to the hunt for the apes.

Escape is a hard film to watch because in some ways the ending is even more of a downer than the Earth blowing up in the previous entry! To get the whole sense of the Planet of the Apes story though, the film is vital viewing.

TRIVIA:

 · The full size mock-up of the spaceship from Planet makes another appearance. This time it appears as if it has been shortened somewhat at the back and been given a gull-wing escape hatch

· During filming of the spaceship recovery, the ship broke loose from its moorings and ended up on some rocks, breaking of its nose cone.

· The opening of the film, the revealing of the ‘apeonauts’ was originally longer. A sequence was filmed of the apes inside the ship witnessing the destruction of the Earth, their identities hidden by the darkened visors of their space helmets. The sequence was cut when editing the film.

· The King Herod like Dr Hasslein was mentioned in the previous two films. Writer Paul Dehn had to devise a chart with a timeline for the apes and characters so he could keep it straight in his head.

· Cornelius states that a plague from outer space killed all the cats and dogs on Earth, leading to apes being kept as pets and then as slaves.

· It is also revealed that a gorilla called Aldo was the first ape to speak, saying “No” to his master. This part of ape history is revised in the next film in the series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes!

 

- written by Peter Noble