Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Revolt Of The Apes

The most violent and incendiary of the four original APES sequels, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, released with a PG rating in 1972, is no less than a call to arms for the oppressed ape nation. Allowed a very low budget from 20th Century Fox (the lowest of any APE film), director J. Lee Thompson (THE GUNS OF NAVARONE) took advantage of an intelligent Paul Dehn (GOLDFINGER) screenplay and cleverly redressed Century City locations to fashion a powerful film about slavery and insurrection.

Twenty years after the world’s only talking chimpanzee was left in the secret care of circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalban), the now-adult Milo (top-billed Roddy McDowall, who is fantastic) is separated from his adoptive father and sold into slavery. A plague that killed all the world’s dogs and cats led people to adopt simians as pets, which evolved (devolved?) into training them to perform household chores and eventually using them as slave labor.

Now dubbed Caesar—his new owner, the tyrannical Governor Breck (Don Murray), leader of the totalitarian North American sector, allowed him to choose his own name—the highly intelligent chimp becomes fed up with the humans’ mistreatment and even physical torture of his species and organizes a rebellion, while simultaneously being hunted by Breck’s men.

The metaphors may not be subtle, but they are effective, particularly the casting of black actor Hari Rhodes (TROUBLE MAN) as Breck’s aide McDonald, the lone sympathetic (re: liberal) member of the cruel human member’s staff. Thompson and cinematographer Bruce Surtees shoot the action tight, probably to conceal the parts of the Century City locations that didn’t look futuristic. This gives the film a claustrophobic effect, and combined with the fire effects and ghostly lighting in the climax, turns McDowall’s Caesar into a demon straight out of Hell.

Fox junked Thompson’s original cut out of fear of garnering an R rating from the MPAA (and likely of rattling the cages of sedate moviegoers who wanted to forget the real race riots that raged across America just a few years earlier) and replaced the director’s ending with a more peaceful one (cobbled together sloppily in post-production). Thompson and Dehn’s original ending is much better, as Caesar inspires his followers not to lay down their arms, but to beat down their captors and spark a worldwide revolution.

The acting across the board is strong with McDowall, Montalban, and Rhodes taking top honors. Murray has a properly nasty way of throwing orders at his jackbooted police, and Severn Darden inspires squirms as Breck’s chief torturer. Also co-starring are Natalie Trundy (as a chimp this time), Lou Wagner, Gordon Jump, William Bryant, H.M. Wynant, and John Randolph (SECONDS). Tom Scott (UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT) delivers an uneasy (in the best possible sense) score with a dose of Goldsmith. BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES followed a year later.

1 comment:

Grant said...

This was my first APE movie, so I'm very sentimental about it. It wasn't till a few years ago that I finally saw the "original cut," and I'm always torn between the two, since I don't mind the little message at the end of the other version.

I've always had mixed feelings about the name Caesar. I'm sure this has occurred to everyone, but as far as history goes, that's hardly the name of someone who rose from slavery, and is trying to end slavery! (Of course, at the other extreme, a name like "Spartacus" would've been too heavy-handed!)