Ape Week: Planet of the Apes (1968)

La Planete des Singes is where Planet of the Apes gets its start. It’s the story of three humans who travel from Earth to the star Betelgeuse, where apes are the dominant species. So many of the ideas that appear in the movies come from this book, save the shock ending that all surprise endings yearn to emulate.

Let me tell you — Planet of the Apes is beyond Star Wars for some folks. How many other franchises have had so many sequels, two reboots, a TV series and a cartoon?

Boulle’s literary agent, Allain Bernheim, sold the novel to film producer Arthur P. Jacobs, who once said, “I wish King Kong hadn’t been made so I could make it.” Luckily, he had just the ape project to sell him.

Jacobs spent over three years trying to convince someone to make the movie. The screenplay, from Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, went a long way toward making that happen. He added themes from the Cold War and added the aforementioned twist ending. But with production costs at $10 million — $70 million today — no studio wanted to make it.

Jacobs and associate producer Mort Abrahams kept at it and once they got Charlton Heston on board, things started to get rolling. Heston brought director Franklin J. Schaffner (PattonThe Boys From Brazil) on board and for a screen test.

This screen test featured Heston, Edward G. Robinson appeared as Dr. Zaius and two then-unknown Fox contract actors — James Brolin and Linda Harrison — who played Cornelius and Zira.

It worked and convinced 20th Century Fox to make the film for $5.8 million, which paid off — the film made $22 million.

Astronauts Taylor (Heston), Landon and Dodge awake from hypersleep as their ship crashes into an unknown planet. A malfunction has already claimed the life of their crewmate Stewart. As they leave their spacecraft, Taylor notices that they are 2,000 years in the future and on a planet that appears to be a wasteland.

Soon, they’ve been attacked by not only primitive humans but militant apes. Dodge is killed, Taylor is injured and Landon is knocked out. Animal psychologist Zira (Kim Hunter) and surgeon Galen (Wright King, Invasion of the Bee Girls) save Taylor and place him with Nova (Linda Harrison, who for some time renamed herself Augusta Summerland thanks to her spiritual advisor), a gorgeous primitive human.

The apes live in a caste system, with gorillas serving as the muscle, orangutans handling religion and government and chimpanzees being involved in medicine and science. Humans are seen as nothing more than animals to be herded and hunted.

This all changes for Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira when they learn that Taylor can speak. After all, how else would we get such classic lines like “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”

Of course, a visit to the Forbidden Zone — a trope that would come back in nearly every post-apocalyptic film ever — we learn that this isn’t another planet. It’s Earth. It’s also the best ending to probably any movie ever made.

Two months after this came out, they were already talking sequel. Stay tuned all week — we’ll be covering every single film in the series.

Want to learn more? Check out the official Planet of the Apes site.

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