On April 3rd, 1968, a movie came out that would forever change the way Science Fiction movies were viewed by the masses. That a movie based on a book by French writer Pierre Boulle, who himself regarded it as one of his minor efforts, and unworthy of being proper cinematic material, became such a Sci-fi landmark, is all the more surprising. It was mainly thanks to the efforts of producer Arthur P. Jacobs, who’d read the novel before it was even published back in 1964, that the movie got any traction at all. Its journey to the big screen however, was a four-year ordeal where Jacobs had to make use of all his publishing skills to turn it into a reality.
The ideas’ man.
Arthur P. Jacobs was a former publicist turned agent and later on producer. His jump into producing movies was encouraged by one of his high-profile clients at the time, Marilyn Monroe, who convinced him it might be a good idea for him to produce his own movies. His first feature as a producer released by his newly formed film production company APJAC, was What a way to go!, released through Twentieth Century Fox. Monroe was going to star in it, but her untimely death forced Jacobs to look for another actress, and with Shirley McClaine as the new lead, the movie was a resounding success. Jacobs was off to a good start, and seemed set to have a brilliant career as a film producer, when he came upon a copy of a French author’s yet unpublished in the US latest novel, Planet of the Apes. Boulle was an up-and-coming French writer who’d already had one of his books adapted to the big screen, The Bridge on the River Kwai. The 1957, Award-winning, David Lean-directed movie had been a massive success, both critically and at the box office, after which the non-English speaking Boulle had experienced his first foray into the Hollywood scene, when he had to receive the Oscar for Best Screenplay for the movie, as the two screenwriters who had worked on the movie, namely Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, had to remain uncredited due to have been blacklisted during the McCarthy era. They would posthumously both receive official credit for their work years later, and Wilson would later play an integral part in the scripting process of Planet of the Apes.
Jacobs really liked the concept behind Boulle’s book of a planet on which the higher being in the evolution chain are Apes, while human beings have been rendered to a bestial state. He immediately bought the rights to the novel, and ensured Boulle and his agent that he could get the film made. That was easier said than done. The first thing to do was to find a writer who could adapt the book. He got in contact with TV screenwriter Rod Serling, mostly known for writing episodes for the popular TV show The Twilight Zone, which made the material ideal for him, being used to dealing with Science Fiction themes. Serling wrote a number of drafts, more or less sticking closely to the novel. In the meantime, Jacobs commissioned a series of conceptual drawings by background artist Don Peters, who at the time was working at Disney, to go along with the scrip, and try to shop the idea around to all the major studios. Jacobs used all of his contacts, and employed every trade secret he knew, to try and generate interest for the movie, at one point even sending the script to big name actors like Marlon Brando and Paul Newman, who ultimately passed on it; the idea being that once Jacobs had enlisted a big Hollywood star for the movie, Studios would start showing interest. The closest Jacobs came to finalizing a deal on those early days was when Warner Bros. with director Blake Edwards, who even suggested some changes be made to the script, showed interest in the movie. Sadly, in the end, it was never meant to be.
The story, and early development of the script.
Planet of the Apes tells the story of journalist and space traveler Ulysee Mérou who, along with Professor Antelle and Physicist Arthur Levain travel on a spaceship to the Betelgeuse system. With a smaller space module, they go down to one of the planets, which seems to be very similar to Earth, to investigate, and discover that a primitive race of human beings who can’t talk, and behave like animals, inhabit the planet. On the second day, without warning, the astronauts are attacked by the savages, their clothes ripped off their bodies, and their ship runsacked. Forced to accompany the savages to their camp, the next day the camp is attacked by a hunting party of talking apes dressed like humans. Levain is killed in the ensuing chaos, Proffesor Antelle gets lost, and Mérou is wounded on the neck, caged, and transported back to the city, where he’s put inside a cage in a medical facility. Though wounded, Mérou tries to make contact with a female chimpanzee psychologist, Dr Zira, who seems to be sympathetic to humans. In this facility is where Ulysee meets Dr Zaius, an orangutan who seems to be in charge of the facility, and it’s not impressed in the least with Ulysee’s apparent efforts to try and make verbal contact to prove that he is much more than he seems, and would be much happier if he was to be lobotomized. After some frustrating first tries, Ulysee finally manages to make contact with Dr Zira, who expresses her desire to help him, and takes it upon herself to teach Ulysee the Ape language, their customs, and culture. After a few months under Dr Zira’s tutelage, Ulysee’s secret identity is ready to be revealed to the world. During a Biology Congress in front of the whole Ape scientific community, Ulysee reveals his true identity, where he comes from, and how on Earth men has evolved from Apes, and not the other way around, as it is believed on their planet, which Ulysee has named Soror on account of its similarity with Earth. Ulysee is now treated as a celebrity, given all kinds of comforts, and paraded around by the Ape authorities. He still goes back to the hospital, to visit both Proffesor Antelle, whom they found living in a cage in the local zoo, and has now been transported to a comfortable cell inside the hospital, and Nova, the first female savage Ulysee and his group encountered when they first landed on the planet, and whom Ulyssee has become infatuated with after sharing the same cage at the hospital for months. Dr Cornelius, an archeologist and scientist, who’s also Dr Zira’s fiancee, tells Ulysee of an archeological dig that his group have been working on in the outskirts of the city. Ulysee agrees to go with him, as the change of scenery will be a welcome change to a stifling social calendar. Once there Cornelius explains to him that his team has uncovered the ruins of a human city, with traces of a civilization equally advanced to that of the Apes. Emboldened by this, Ulyssee confronts Dr Zaius, who’s also at the dig, and tells him that by all accounts, the Apes inherited a culture and a science that is that of the humans, after the latter falling off the evolutionary ladder for some reason. Zaius, and those who follow him, are not the least pleased about this, and try to silence him. On his return to the city, Ulysse is informed that Nova is expecting a child. He’s also informed by Dr Zira that he is prohibited from visiting Nova, but is secretly taken there by her. Zaius and his zealots are afraid that if a child were to be born out of the union of Ulysee and Nova, said child could conceivably speak, and usher in a new turn in the evolution cycle. As both Dr Zira and Dr Cornelius suspect that Zaius wants to do away with Ulysee, Nova, and their newly born child Sirius, and due to Ulysee’s ship module having been trashed by the savages on their arrival, they concoct a plan to hide away all three of them in the inside of a satellite which the Ape authorities were planning on launching to space, manned with human guinea pigs. Once the switch of crew is done, and the satellite reaches orbit, Ulysee can easily reach the orbiting ship, and fly away with his family. The plan goes to perfection, and Ulysee succesfully navigates the ship back home, only to find to his horror that the ruling species on Earth are now Apes.
On this basis, Serling wrote his first three drafts, with some major changes especially between the first and third drafts, the more drastic one being three completely different endings, for each of the drafts. On the first draft, Ulysee and Nova manage to get back to the ship and escape, while on the other two an important twist suggested by Arthur P Jacobs is introduced; the Statue of Liberty twist. When irrefutable evidence is discovered that the human city indeed proves that Men were in fact the dominant species in ancient times, Dr Zaius orders the whole dig to be rigged with explosives and blown up. The geological shifts provoked by the explosion lead it to uncover a distinct piece of architecture that’s been hidden underground all this time; the Statue of Liberty, which makes the protagonist realize that they were on Earth all this time. On the second draft, after discovering this horrifying fact, Thomas, for that is the name given to Ulysee on Serling’s script, decides to go back to the jungle, to join his fellow human beings, and start a new civilization. On the third draft however, Thomas, unable to cope with the truth decides to give up, and he’s shot to death by Zaius’ goons. Other changes implemented to the book were the changing of the names for the first astronauts from Ulysee, Levian, and Antelle to Thomas, Dodge and Lafever. There was also the inclusion of a fourth crew member named Steward who dies after the dome of his sleeping chamber is cracked during the flight. In the book, aside from the three protagonists, there’s also a chimpanzee named Hector, who dies at the hands of Nova shortly after the arrival of the crew on Soror. The change of setting from a distant planet in the book to Earth was one suggested by Jacobs, and introduced in all subsequent drafts thereafter.
Finding a new direction.
When the deal with Warner Bros. fell through, Jacobs went back to Twentieth Century Fox. Richard Zanuck, who’d recently taken over as Head of the Studio from his father, the legendary producer Darryl F. Zanuck, was already producing Jacobs latest venture; Doctor Dolittle (Richard Fleischer, 1967). The incredibly costly film, which would end up being a complete box office failure, and costing the Studio millions of dollars ( even though it would later be nominated for 9 Oscars, taking home two), did however provide Jacobs with enough clout to push Planet of the Apes through. Richard Zanuck finally yielded to Jacobs’s mounting correspondence, and constant on-set pestering, as Jacobs too had an office at Fox Studios. He did however, had several conditions. For one, the budget of the movie had to be relatively low, as Zanuck felt that they were spending too much money on Dr Dolittle as it was, the script had to be re-worked, a star had to agree to do the movie, and the most tricky of all the demands; the Ape makeup had to be believable, and not be laughed at by the audience. The first two conditions weren’t difficult to work out, even though some important changes would have to be made. Seeing that it would be too costly to shoot the movie in a modern setting, with cars, skyscrapers, helicopters and Apes dressed as regular day to day citizens, it was decided that the story would be set in a more rustic, almost medieval setting, with some modern day trappings such as firearms. That would surely keep costs down, as it would reduce the number of sets that had to be constructed, and it would also allow for the necessary tweaks to be made to the script, while at the same time staying true to the spirit of the novel. The third condition was arranged by convincing Charlton Heston to star in the movie. At the same time that also solved the problem of finding a director, as Heston recommended they hire Franklin J. Schaffner to helm the picture. They had worked together on The War Lord (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1965), and even though the movie hadn’t turned out exactly the way they wanted, mostly due to Studio interference, they had enjoyed a good working relationship. It’s funny that J. Lee Thompson, one of the first filmmakers to be offered the role of directing the movie in the early days, but had to bow out due to scheduling conflicts, would end up directing the last two entries in the saga; Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), respectively. For the last condition; it was arranged by the Studio to have a screen test of one of the scenes from one of Serling’s last drafts, as a way to test out the make-up. The man in charge of make-up for that scene was Ben Nye, who at the time was Head of the Makeup department at Fox Studios. The scene was an enactment of the scene in which Thomas and Dr Zauis have a discussion in Thomas’s tent about the recent findings in the archeological site, with Heston playing the role of Thomas, actors James Brolin and Linda Harrison playing the roles of Dr Cornelius and Dr Zira respectively, and the great Edward G. Robinson playing the role of Dr Zaius. Even though the Ape makeup on both Brolin and Harrison was a very basic one, the one applied to Edward G. Robinson was complex enough to convince Zanuck to green light the movie. Now it was only a matter of finding the right actor for each one of the roles.
Having already cast Heston in the lead role, it was just a matter of surrounding him with the best actors to give the whole thing as much credibility as possible. For the part of Dr Zaius, they went with British stage and screen actor Maurice Evans. Evans came into the role after Edward G. Robinson had to step down due to his age, and the limited tolerance he had for the lengthy makeup process he would have to endure to play the part. Roddy McDowall was offered the role of Dr Cornelius by Jacobs himself when the two of them coincided in the same flight. The actor accepted there and then, as he was very much intrigued by the story, as was equally the case with actress Kim Hunter, who took on the role of Dr Zira. The actress was best known for having won an Academy Award for her performance as Stella Kowalski in A Street Cat named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951). The actress was put off at first due to the lengthy process of applying all the makeup prosthetics that could take up to five hours, but was ultimately won over by John Chambers’s makeup team masterful work that allowed her performance to shine through the heavy prosthetics. Robert Gunner as Landon, and Jeff Burton as Dodge completed the cast, with the addition of Linda Harrison in her first ever big screen role as Nova. The actress was somewhat of an imposition by Zanuck, as he was dating the actress as the time. Harrison was well aware of her shortcomings as both an actress, and very limited on-screen experience. The rest of the cast showed her support to her by taking her under their wing, and showing her the ropes.
The man behind the mask.
John Chambers, a prosthetics specialist who had worked with WWII veterans, and ended up applying his skills in Hollywood, was the man chosen to make the Ape makeup look believable on-screen. It was thanks to his expertise, and constant experimentation that he achieved what everyone thought impossible. One of the major concerns from all the Studios Jacobs tried shopping the project to was the believability of recreating what Pierre Boulle had envisioned in his book. They thought at first that the Ape characters would be basically actors in monkey suits, which would make the whole thing look cheesy and laughable. It also didn’t help the fact that most Studio execs, and many audience members thought Science Fiction stories to be B movie material, and TV fodder for quirky shows such as The Twilight Zone. There wasn’t a great of deal of respect for Sci-fi stories, and movies based on them. John Chambers managed to crack the formula, even beating Stanley Kubrick’s team to the punch at the Oscars the following year, who was using actors in “monkey suits” for the opening scene of his landmark Science Fiction masterpiece, 2001, A Space Odyssey (1968). Chambers and his team started by making molds of the actors faces, and then breaking the makeup down in different pieces that could be applied separately. At one time during the production, Chambers had as many as 80 makeup artists working all together to produce all the necessary prosthetics needed not only for the principal actors, but for all the extras as well. Chambers had the whole crew working non-stop to have enough spares, because the different pieces tended to break up due to intensive heat. Actors were advised to stay inside their air-conditioned trailers when they weren’t required to be on-set, to eat non-solid food, so little pieces of food wouldn’t get stuck in between the jaw piece (which often happened), and to eat in front of a mirror, so they wouldn’t make a mess of their makeup. For those on the crew who had to wear makeup, and were heavy smokers (like it was the case with Kim Hunter and Maurice Evans, for instance), they were given large cigarette holders, to keep both the heat and smoke from the cigarette from ruining the makeup as well. Even though it was an early morning call for all those involved, and the make-up process was still a painstaking and slow one, Chambers’s crew got so good at it that they managed to reduce its application from six to three hours.
To re-write the script, the Studio hired screenwriter Michael Wilson. As mentioned before, Wilson had already been involved in adapting one of Pierre Boulle’s books, The Bridge on the River Kwai. A victim of the Hollywood Blacklist in the 50s, Wilson had been steadily working his way back to artistic recognition, and the Planet of the Apes script was the perfect opportunity for the writer to get back into the limelight. He not only americanised the names of two of the astronauts, changing them from Thomas and Lavefer to Taylor and Landon, he changed the whole setting and aesthetic of the story; now the Ape City, aptly renamed Ape town, was a series of arboreal-like structures connected by aerial passageways, that aesthetically resembled the work of Antoni Gaudí. The Apes still used firearms as weapons, but the rest of their society was a primitive one, with very few technological advances, still making use of horse-drawn carriages, and horses as their main mode of transportation. The first part of Serling’s script in which the ship lands in a valley, and the astronauts use an all-terrain vehicle to explore the planet, but have to abandon after it gets caught in quicksand, and sucked under, was dropped. That’s when the long trek across the desert idea was introduced. The ship crash lands in a lake in Wilson’s script, never to be seen again, and the crew had to abandon it in a hurry. All these changes were implemented to cut down the costs of the production. Wilson also rewrote most of the dialogue, added little touches like turning the fourth astronaut Stewart, from a man into a woman and the scene in which Landon pitches a small American flag on the ground once they reach the shore, and more importantly, rewrote the ending. The Statue of Liberty twist was still there, but he drastically changed Taylor’s fate. Another idea that was included in Wilson’s script, but ultimately dropped in the final cut of the movie was Nova being pregnant. It was decided that this side plot would be too much of a distraction, and the filmmakers wanted to move ahead with the story. He streamlined the script from a heavily-dialogued parabole on the place of man in the universe, and the Class system, into more of a straightout Sci-fi adventure with a political undertone. That political undertone, most notable in the trial scene, was probably a product of Wilson’s own experience during the McCarthy era, and how he was mistreated at that time. It’s fairly obvious, and surprising that he was able to sneak it in without anyone noticing. Further dialogue rewrites and scene re-structuring were done on-set and on location by writer John T. Kelley, with additional input by Charlton Heston who ad-libbed, or re-wrote some of his own dialogue, most notably for the last scene, in which he went back and forth with the producers on whether he could use the word damn on-screen for his last line of dialogue.
A hot and dusty affair.
The film was shot mainly in Utah, Arizona, at the Fox Ranch, located in Malibu Creek State Park, and in soundstages 20 and 22 at Fox Studios. The first location proved to be the more agonizing for both the cast and crew. The high temperatures, and remote location, where all the shooting equipment had to be transported via helicopter and mules, took its toll, with many actors and crew members fainting because of the heat. Right before shooting started, Fox cut down the filming schedule from the already agreed 55 days, down to 45. It also didn’t help that Schaffner was taking a very long time to film the scenes of the trek along the desert. The brass back at Fox Studios, who were screening dailies of the shot material every night, were getting restless, and started inquiring Schaffner as to the purpose of taking such a long time in setting up, and filming those shots. Schaffner was adamant that these were very important scenes in the movie that would help set up the tone of the story for the rest of the movie. On location accidents, like some boulders suddenly crashing downhill, destroying equipment, and almost causing serious injury or death to some of the cast and crew, made it all the more important that Schaffner wrap up shooting there. In the end, Associate Producer Mort Abrahams, Arthur P. Jacobs’s man on the ground, had to renegociate the shooting schedule in order to have more days to finish the movie, in case they ultimately went over the allotted time. Another point of contention that was fortunately quickly resolved was Schaffner’s choice of DP for the movie. The Award winning Leon Shamroy had clashed with Heston when they had worked together in Carol Reed’s The Agony and the Ecstassy (1965), due to how long the Cinematographer took to set up and light his shots. Heston felt that too much time had been wasted waiting for Shamroy on that production, and with the reduced filming schedule imposed by Fox on Apes, he didn’t want to repeat the experience. He spoke up against the Studio hiring him, but was ultimately overridden. The age of Shamroy coupled with his way of working, and the often unbearable weather conditions in the Arizona location, was a cause for concern for most of the crew but, against all odds, Shamroy turned out to be the consummate professional, surrounding himself with a group of assistants that would take light measurements, and set up shots when either the weather conditions, or the terrain made it impossible for him to do it himself.
Ape town and other neat tricks.
The whole of Ape town was built out at the Fox Ranch, in Malibu Creek State Park. It was made to resemble the architecture of famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. The base structure was made out of metal pencil rods around which there were placed a malleable form of cardboard that could be bent and made into any shape the set designers wanted. The interior of those would then be filled with a rapidly expandable form of foam that would harden quickly, after which the cardboard outer structure could be removed, and you had a fully-funtioning, sturdy structure. To give the impression that Ape Town was actually bigger than it appeared, cardboard cutouts of the buildings were strategically placed around the surrounding hills to give the set more depth, achieving the illusion by using forced perspective. William Creber was the set designer in charge of building Ape town, and also a life size mock-up of the conically-shaped spaceship that was anchored to the bottom of Lake Powell, Arizona, for the scenes in which the astronauts are trying to escape the sinking spaceship. The final shots of the ship sinking to the bottom of the lake were achieved using a mixture of models and matte paintings to enlarge the mountainous background. For the shots of the spaceship crash landing, the filmmakers decided not to show the ship physically crashing into the lake, but resorted to a more traditional method, by showing tilting camera angles of an airborne object coming nearer and nearer to the ground, as though from the ship’s main cabin window POV. To achieve this effect, the crew strapped a camera to the nose of an airplane, but due to the dreadful weather conditions, the resulting footage was unusable. In the end, the editor had to cobble together whatever footage they could find to make up the shot. But the more complex shot of the whole movie was that of Taylor and Nova finding the rusted Statue of Liberty half-buried in the beach. It was achieved by building mock-ups of both the torch and the crown and placing them on top of a scaffold structure for the reverse, high angle crane shot of Taylor looking up at the statue from down on the beach. Both the torch and crown were made out of a very light material that made them easy to move around, and the crew painted and aged both models to make them look ancient and rusted. The whole sequence, as were those that take place in the beachside archeological dig, were shot at Zuma Beach, Malibu, California. The last iconic shot of the half-buried Statue of Liberty is actually a matte painting by matte artist Emil Kosa Jr, made to match with a cliffside at the end of the beach whose rock face had some moss that resembled rusted metal.
Sound of the Apes
The sound mixing for the movie was another example of the Studio trying to cut as much financial corners as they could. They decided that they would use the Sound Library at Fox Studios, which is why some of the sounds heard in the movie sound so familiar, as they had used them before in hundreds of movies and TV shows. Whatever shortcomings the sound mix might have, (I never found it to be an issue, by the way), Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificently inventive score more than made up for them. Dealing with the theme of an upside down world in which the predominant species is the Ape, Goldsmith did lots of experimentation with instrumentalization to bring across the weirdness of the movie’s subject matter. Especially notable are his track for the trek along the desert titled The Searchers, The Hunt, The Revelation, and those for The Forbidden Zone.
Release of the Apes.
The movie was a massive success. It made $33,4 million on a budget of $5,8 in North American territories alone, garnering very good reviews in the process. People just flocked to see the movie, which immediately got the attention of the producers at Fox who wanted to monetize the phenomenon for all its worth. So, how did that work out?
The Apes legacy
The movie not only spawned four sequels ( Beneath the Planet of the Apes, 1970, Escape from the Planet of the Apes,1971, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, 1972, and Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973), of varying quality, and box office success, and for which they even managed to convince Charlton Heston to come back for the first one, but it also spawned two TV series, one live action which run for 14 episodes in 1974, in which Roddy McDowall came back to play the role of Dr Galen (he also starred in three out of the four sequels, being unable to return for Beneath due to scheduling conflicts), a cartoon series which run from 1975-1976, and produced 13 episodes, a remake directed by Tim Burton in 2001, and a franchise reboot that started with Rise of the Planet of the Apes (Rupert Wyatt, 2011), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, 2014), and War for the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, 2017). Marvel Comics also licensed a long-running comic book series, action figures and diverse Apes-related merchandise was produced, and lastly on August 28, 2018, Rod Serling was finally given his due when his original, unproduced script was adapted into graphic novel form by BOOM! Studios with the title Planet of the Apes: Visionaries, with writer Dana Gould, and graphic artist Chad Lewis as the creative minds behind it. I’ve had the chance to read it, as well as some of the script drafts he wrote, and I can’t help but wonder whether Serling’s version would’ve been a better movie on the long run, or not. Maybe as an intellectual exercise it would have endured longer, and got more praise from the critics than Wilson’s version did. I guess it’s just a matter of preference. I find myself enjoying both takes on the story for completely different reasons, and think that Serling’s script, which I think is brilliant, and more faithful to the novel, would’ve made an equally interesting and powerful movie, and don’t find writer Dana Gould’s assertion that Paul Newman would’ve made an interesting Thomas all that far-fetched. As it has been proven over the years with the multiple sequels, remakes and reboots, there’s plenty to be enjoyed in the Planet of the Apes universe. That’s the brilliance of Pierre Boulle’s book; it created, without the author suspecting it, a whole universe of its own, open to multiple interpretations. So, what do I think about the book and its big screen counterpart?
Book vs Movie, and final thoughts.
I think the concept is brilliant in either form. The book is more of a parabole about the frailty of the human condition, the consequences of our self-destructive nature, and the ever-present class divide system that’s inherit to every species, especially Men, who think are on top of the food chain. As for the movie adaptation, even though at its core, it definitely retains its social and political themes, it’s more of a crowd pleaser, there to, first and foremost, entertain you, while sneaking in a message or two. Does it work? It definitely does. Both book and film do, each in their own special way. The main plot is there, and so are the great characters, brilliantly brought to life by Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, and Maurice Evans. Each of the writers who worked on the different drafts over the years, trying to adapt Boulle’s book, brought their unique perspective and personality to it. As I said, the material lends itself to it. Even some of the writers who would years later come to work on the sequels, remakes and reboots like Paul Dehn, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, and Mark Bomback, would still draw inspiration from the original novel, and original movies, some even given them brilliant twists like Paul Dehn on Escape from the Planet of the Apes.
Planet of the Apes is not only a top-notch piece of cinematic entertainment, it also left us a legacy that still to this day, goes on. Every aspect of this movie seemed to come together at the perfect time, perfect place, and with the absolute best creative minds to bring forth the world created by Pierre Boulle. It is possibly one of the most challenging, and interesting characters ever played by Heston too. Being used at the time to being seen as the perfect cinematic hero, this role was quite a turn-around for him. Not only is Taylor fallible, arrogant and a downright cinic, he’s also a realist; he has no illusions as to the ultimate condition of mankind; men as a social experiment is a failure. Not to mention anything about what Heston went through while shooting the movie. He went through Hell. Make no mistake about it. He put his heart and soul into this one role, and for an actor cursed, as he was, with a very limited dramatic range, he sure as hell gave it his all. Picked up a chest cold from being constantly hosed down with cold water, and running around semi-naked, not to say anything about the high temperatures he and his fellow cast and crew members suffered while shooting on location in the Arizona desert. It was the role of a lifetime, and he knew it. It didn’t hurt that Franklin J. Schaffner always knew how to make the best use of him. He did it on The War Lord, and did it again on Planet of the Apes. But that’s enough about Chuck. What about the rest of the cast?
They’re all unforgettable. All three of them made their respective roles their own. Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall are wonderful as Dr Zira and Dr Cornelius, the two friendly chimpanzees who befriend Taylor. Hunter would return for two of the sequels, and McDowall for three, plus the short-lived TV series, but it’s no wonder the producers kept coming back to them to reprise their roles. A especial mention should be given to Maurice Evans as the malicious, and backwards-thinking Dr Zaius. One cannot help but wonder what Edward G. Robinson’s take on the character would’ve been. We did get a taste, however brief, of what that would’ve been like in the makeup screen test, and it was great; but it’s hard to now disassociate Evans from the character given what he was able to achieve with it. It’s like asking yourself what Kevin Spacey’s version of J. Paul Getty, (surely tacked away in a vault somewhere), on Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World (2017), would have been compared to that of the great, late Christopher Plummer. I’m sure he would’ve been equally great, but the thing is that once an actor makes an iconic character his own, it becomes very difficult to see past them. All three actors are not only mainstays of the first movie, but of the saga as a whole.
On a technical level, the movie passes the test with flying colours. Given the amount of cheating and corner-cutting the crew had to do to try and bring the movie in with as small a price tag as they could, it’s amazing how colourful, pristine and good looking it turned out to be. No doubt thanks to Leon Shamroy’s intricate lighting schemes, and William Creber’s imaginative Production Design. Schaffner conducts his personal orchestra with a firm hand, giving the film on occasion a documentary feel, aided with the extensive use of hand-held camera shots. That coupled with Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderfully eerie score helps to set the right tone for the movie, just as Schaffner always intended. There’s still lots to talk about when it comes to Planet of the Apes, and in time, I intend to cover each one of the sequels, which have their own merits. But first of all, I think it might be a good idea to tackle the much maligned 2001, Tim Burton-helmed remake which, imperfect though it may be, and definitely not in the same league as the original, or some of the sequels, it deserves some love and appreciation for what Burton was trying to achieve. But that’s a discussion for another day. Until then…
Thanks for reading.