VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: Treachery and Greed On the Planet of the Apes (1981)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the May 9, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

Making a Planet of the Apes TV series was a plan by its producer Arthur P. Jacobs as early as 1971, but because the movies were still doing well at the box office, development was put on hold until Battle for the Planet of the Apes was complete in 1973.

Sadly, Jacobs died within days of that film being released and his production company sold the rights to 20th Century Fox, who sold the first three Apes movies to CBS. When they aired in September of that year, they did big ratings and that’s when the network got excited about the potential of a series. They even turned down other series in development, like Gene Roddenberry’s Genesis II, instead making that as a series of TV movies while Apes was greenlit for 14 episodes.

Made for $250,000 an episode (around $1.5 million today), the show aired from September 13 to December 27, 1974 before ratings didn’t live up to expectations. The show had a whole new cast of humans to worry about. Colonel Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Major Peter J. Burke (James Naughton) are astronauts who — just like Taylor — have crashed landed on the future world of the apes. They become friends with Galen (Roddy McDowall, who had already played Cornelius and Caesar), a chimpanzee who has been tasked with their care. The rest of the apes see him as their master; they certainly don’t feel that way. Their main nemesis would be the brutal Security Chief Urko (Mark Lenard, Spock’s father), who defies Dr. Zaius (Booth Colman, taking over for Maurice Evans, but even wearing the same costume) by wanting to kill the humans instead of bringing them back to be studied.

Yes, this is in the same universe as the films — well, until the planet gets blown up, so maybe a side universe — as Zaius mentions that human astronauts landed a decade before. Or maybe not, as in Planet of the Apes as American Myth: Race and Politics in the Films and Television Series, Eric Greene theorized that the show takes place in the year 3085, which is 900 years before Taylor’s crash in the original film and 400 years after the Lawgiver’s sermon in Battle. As the show has a society where apes are in control of humans, the Lawgiver’s message of equality between man and ape has failed. Maybe the end of Battle had it right all along.

The good news is that the show looks amazing. They had a great set — it was mostly shot in what is now Malibu Creek State Parks — and after five movies, creating the ape makeup had become an art form.

Where the show suffers is, well, no one cares about the humans. By the last of the movies, the story had moved from Taylor and Brent to Cornelius, Zaius and their son Caesar as the true heroes. Going back to the original idea of humans on the run felt like a step backward, even if the show is really well done. Yet that look cost a ton, so the show had to do way better than it did. It was developed for television by Anthony Wilson, a story consultant on Lancer, the creator of Future Cop and Banacek and the man who wrote Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby). Even wilder, the story consultants were Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, who went on to make so many show that I also grew up with, including creating Scooby-Doo, as well as Bigfoot and Wildboy, and producing cartoons like Chuck Norris: Karate KommandosRamboTurbo TeenRubik the Amazing Cube and perhaps most importantly, the post-apocalyptic Jack Kirby-driven series Thundarr the Barbarian.

A year after this show ended, NBC aired thirteen episodes of Return to the Planet of the Apes, an animated series in which three more astronauts — Bill Hudson (Tom Williams), Jeff Allen (Austin Stoker, who was MacDonald in Battle) and Judy Franklin (Claudette Nevins) — who try to navigate a world divided between the apes, regressed humans and the advanced mutants. Creative director Doug Wildey, who also was the creative force behind Johnny Quest, had only seen the first two films, so that’s what you get in this show. But hey — General Urko, Zira, Cornelius, Dr. Zaius and Nova are all in it.

After that show only lasted a season, it seemed like no one wanted to watch the apes any longer. Then, something funny happened.

UHF stations started getting the rights to show the films and would air them in Ape Weeks that did big local ratings. But after a few years, there weren’t any more ape movies to show, right?


In the early 80s, Fox reedited ten of the episodes into five television films. Each film combined two episodes and they even shot new prologues and epilogues with McDowall as an aged Galen. The films were titled with some of the wildest names in the series: Back to the Planet of the Apes, Forgotten City of the Planet of the Apes, Life, Liberty and Pursuit on the Planet of the Apes, Farewell to the Planet of the Apes and — the film we’re here to really discuss — Treachery and Greed on the Planet of the Apes.

Made up of two episodes, “Horse Race” and “The Tyrant,” this film combines what are really episodes nine and eleven of the show, so they don’t go together at all. Trust me, if you were a big Apes fan like my brother and I were — actually was, his house is filled with Ape memorabilia including a neon smoking ape sign — you were beyond excited for more.

In “The Horse Race” segment, a human blacksmith named Damon (Russ Martin) and his son Gregor (Meegan King) get involved in the adventures of Virdon, Burke and Galen. When a scorpion stings Galen, Gregor saves his life by riding a horse to get the antidote. Despite saving an ape’s life, Gregor finds himself up for execution because, after all, ape law says that humans are not allowed to ride horses. To win back the blacksmith’s son’s life, Virdon agrees to put his life up against chimpanzee ruler Barlow’s (John Hoyt) best rider. And that ends up being, of course, Urko.

Directed by Jack Starrett (Run, Angel, Run!Cleopatra JonesRace With the Devil), this episode is filled with action. It was written by David P. Lewis (Death Ship) and Booker Bradshaw (who in addition to being a writer was also an actor; he’s in CoffySkullduggery and is one of the voices in the American dub of Galaxy Express 999). Lenard said that Starrett was “a funny sort of Western director; he brought humor into it, lots of fun and a kind of carnival atmosphere with horse racing.”

In a funny story — as told to future X-Men writer Chris Claremont in a UK issue of the Marvel Planet of the Apes comic book — Lenard said that Starrett had no idea who he was out of makeup. “I’d done several days of shooting and had a late call, so I went out to the Fox Ranch early and said hello to him. He got a funny look on his face, and I said, “You don’t remember me, do you?” And he said, “Well, I’ve seen you somewhere; I’ve seen your face somewhere.” And I told him I was Urko. He turned crimson, blushed, and got embarrassed.”

The action is probably why this was Harper’s favorite episode. In an interview in the book I Talked with a Zombie: Interviews With 23 Veterans of Horror and Sci-Fi by Tom Weaver, he said “I knew how to ride pretty well because, years earlier, I’d worked on a ranch out in South Dakota for one summer. The other ape was played by a stuntman — Wesley Fuller — a guy who had been a regular, and he really could ride. I said, “Jesus, where’d you learn to ride like that?” and he said, “That’s my bag, baby!” I don’t know if he was a jockey or not, but he was an excellent horsemen. There’s one scene where you can see that I’m riding full-out and he’s riding next to me, and he starts hitting me with his whip, and then I grab the whip — it’s an old, standard thing in Westerns, where you take the whip out of the other rider’s hand and smack him back with it. He worked with me on that, and we were even able to keep the horses going at a pretty good clip as we carried this off. And the stuntmen hated horses. They said, “They’re dumb animals, and they’re heavy, and you can’t predict them and you can’t really control them!” So they hated horses! I had three stuntmen working on that episode, doubling me. Two of them broke a leg, and one wrenched his ankle or his knee so badly he was incapacitated for the rest of the shoot. All three injuries involved the horses.”

This episode was also turned into a book, Journey Into Terror.

The second part of the film is “The Tyrant” episode, which was directed by Ralph Senensky (a TV career that goes from The Twilight Zone and The Fugitive all the way up to Star TrekNight GalleryThe Wild Wild West, the TV movie Death CruiseHart to Hart, the Casablanca TV series and so much more) and written by Walter Black (tons of TV, including The FlintstonesBonanzaThe High Chaparral and S.W.A.T.).

Our heroes must stop the plans of a corrupt gorilla official named Aboro (Percy Rodrigues), who is using the huge taxes he throws at humans to fund the bribery he’s using to stay in power. Galen disguises himself as Octavio, Zaius’ assistant, and turns Aboro against Urko. In fact, he goes so far that he tries to have the ape general murdered. Burke is conflicted but ends up — for not the first time in the series — working with his enemy.

Senensky has an amazing site where he breaks down everything he directed, including this episode. He got the basics of the show and what made it work right away: ” recognized back then that the series was a reenactment of early America’s history with slavery, with the humans being the enslaved. What I didn’t recognize, but do now, is how much the format of Planet of the Apes bore a very strong resemblance to that of The Fugitive. The two astronauts and Galen, like Kimble, under constant pursuit by the law, would become emotionally involved each week with some person or persons, and the following story would proceed from there.”

He also had the same experience that Starrett had with Lenard: “I never saw the real Roddy McDowall; I never met Roddy out of make-up.”

Senesky has a really well-considered appraisal of the show, saying that fourteen episodes weren’t enough for it to find its footing or its audience. His work on Star Trek showed him that science fiction series needed time to find their way.

He also spoke of the TV movies: “Since fourteen segments was not enough to send the show into syndication, ten of the shows were selected and paired off in twos to create five television movies. “The Tyrant” was combined with “The Horse Race”, retitled Treachery and Greed On the Planet of the Apes and today still plays occasionally on the Fox Movie Channel. Thirty-eight years later I still receive residuals for the endeavor. They’re not large, but they are cashable. The most amusing check I received was for an amount less than the forty-four cents the Director’s Guild had to pay to send it to me. The net amount on the check? Thirty-seven cents.”

This episode is one of the stories in the fourth Apes TV tie-in book, Lord of the Apes.

If you want to hear what it was like to be part of the Planet of the Apes TV series, director of photography  Gerald Perry Finnerman (Brother John, SssssssNightmaresMoonlightingDevil Dog and the sole survivor of a plane crash while scouting locations, which led to him wearing a metal full body brace for six years while still working) sums it up by saying, “It was a tough show. When it was canceled, I wasn’t sorry.”

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