Ape Week: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Nothing succeeds like, well, success.

After Planet of the Apes, producers considered several treatments before finally hiring Paul Dehn to write the movie, making him the primary writer for the films.

They didn’t use the sequel suggested by Pierre Boulle, author of the original novel, whose Planet of the Men script had Taylor as a messiah leading humans against the apes.

However, he eventually agreed, only if his character died and all of his salary went to charity.

Dehn altered the script to center on a new character, Brent, played by James Franciscus. And with original director Franklin J. Schaffner unavailable, as he was making Patton, Ted Post was hired. He’d go on to make one of my favorite movies ever, The Baby.

Immediately after Planet of the Apes, Taylor (Heston) and Nova (Linda Harrison) ride through the Forbidden Zone. Suddenly, fire emerges from the ground and Taylor disappears into a mountain.

That’s when a second ship — looking for Taylor — emerges. It crash lands and only Brent (Franciscus) survives. He soon meets Nova and sees that she wears Taylor’s dog tags. She takes him to Ape City, where he watches General Ursus (James Gregory, who went on to play Inspector Luger on Barney Miller) rally his soldiers into conquering the Forbidden Zone. Brent is discovered and wounded, which brings him to the home of Cornelius (David Watson takes over for Roddy McDowall for this installment, as the star was in Scotland directing a movie) and Zira (Kim Hunter).

Orson Welles almost played Ursus. I wish that had happened. Plus, Gregory Sierra, who played Verger, was also on Barney Miller as Detective Sergeant Chano Amenguale. And for some real ape trivia, while Normann Burton played a human and an ape in the films (he was the Hunt Leader in Planet of the Apes and an Army Officer in Escape from the Planet of the Apes), only Natalie Trundy (who was the wife of producer Arthur P. Jacobs) played all three groups across four sequels. She’s the mutant Albina in this movie, then plays Dr. Stephanie Branton in Escape and then finally the ape Lisa in Conquest and Battle.

Soon, they’re back in the Forbidden Zone, where psychic voices tell Brent to kill Nova, voices that come from telepathic mutants who worship an atomic bomb. Either this is going to make you check out — as many critics did — or love this movie as much as I do.

In the ruins of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, these humans who survived the bomb and became mutants are ready to go to war with the apes, ready to use their Divine Bomb as a last resort. Then, you get to witness their religious ceremony where they remove their faces to reveal their true form — skinless faces praying to a nuclear god. This set is reused from Hello Dolly! if you can believe that.

Oh yeah — Victor Buono shows up too!

Brent is separated from Nova and taken to a cell where the mutant Ongaro (Don Pedro Colley, who would later play Sheriff Ed Little on The Dukes of Hazzard) forces him to battle the still-alive Taylor to the death. Nova utters Taylor’s name and the humans kill the mutant. 

Just like Shakespeare, everyone dies. Seriously, most of the mutants commit suicide, Nova gets killed, Menedez is shot, Taylor gets gunned down and Brent gets murked, too. Luckily, Brent took out Ursus and Taylor says screw it and nukes everyone and everything. The end of this movie is amazing, so astounding that Electric Wizard used a sample from it on the song “Son of Nothing.”

“In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead”.

An alternate ending was written where Taylor, Brent and Nova escape and return to Ape City. With the help of Zira and Cornelius, they release the humans from the cages and a new order of peace begins. Hundreds of years later, the Lawgiver is teaching a group of ape and human children when a mutated gorilla appears and shoots a dove.

Before Richard Zanuck was fired as studio president during production, he is the one who gave the thumbs up to using the bomb to end this series. It was another Charlton Heston idea, who really didn’t want to be in these movies it seems. That said — this isn’t the end. Not at all.

How many movies keep going after the entire world gets blown up?

 

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