ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES – A Movie aDay Day 17

The Planet of the Apes Series is really an attempt to cash in on the success of the original movie, in the cheapest manner possible. The follow up movies are really done in a style that was more befitting television rather than film. In fact by 1975 I think, there was a television series based on the concept. It lasted only one season so it appeared that the story had run it’s course, at least as far as the audience was concerned. This is not to say that the movies that came after were worthless, but they were unnecessary and sometimes kind of weird.

I actually saw this movie on a triple bill in 1973 I think. That was another one of the differences between movie going as a kid and the way we experience movies today. Since there were no video releases, studios could either sell their material to play on TV or they could find other ways to exploit them. Re-releases are most well know as the tool that Disney used to generate cash on a regular basis. Every seven years or so, they would take out one of their classic animation films, and play it in movie theaters. This was also done with the James Bond films. The first time I saw a Bond film was on a double bill and a second release (From Russia With Love and Thunderball). I had seen the original Planet of the Apes when it first came out, and I was it with my family. I saw the trailer for the movie at the Rialto Theater in South Pasadena. I don’t remember what it was playing with, and I don’t recall where we went to see it, I do remember being blown away by the ending.

I am pretty sure that I did not see the second “Apes” film when it first came out, and I don’t know how long it took to put all three together on one bill. Almost all movies in those days played as double features. Typically a new release was paired with a film that was a few months older. The addition of a third film was somewhat unique, and I know I went with a friend, because there was no way my family would have been able to sit through three movies. (I loved going into the theater in early afternoon and coming out in the dark, of course I am a bit of a freak like that). I do know that I saw the three films playing in Pasadena. I thought there was a big movie house on Colorado between the United Artists and the State, but it just might have been the UA that I went to.

“Escape” is a reversal of the original film. The humans are in charge and the Apes are out of place and can talk. This probably seemed like a clever twist on the original movie, and saved a lot on building new sets, since you could film around town and the setting was contemporary. You can add a lot of fish out of water sequences, and it sets up the rest of the series in a somewhat logical fashion. The opening revelation of the Apes returning to Earth in the 1970’s is a good visual sequence set on a beach, but once we get past the opening, things progress much too quickly to be very believable. Sal Mineo, an actor with an Academy Award nomination from Rebel Without a Cause, plays Dr. Milo, the Ape visitor that is killed ten minutes into the movie. This was his last feature role, he was murdered in 1976. So his last movie role you don’t even get to see his face. After the death of their colleague, the other two Apes end up in a series of comic scenes based on sexual stereotypes and the world at the time. It is hard to believe that the government would decide to put up these Ape visitors from the future at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, much less send them shopping and to cocktail parties, but that is what happens.

The villain of the movie is the science adviser to the President. In truth, he has a legitimate concern for future events. By the end of the movie however he has become so self righteous and single minded that he is pretty loathsome. I thought the President was well played by an actor I remember liking from a lot of things in the 60’s and 70s, William Windom. He may have the best written part in the movie, he comes across as smart, conscientious and politically savvy. The President has not ordered the elimination of the Apes, but the advisory committee he appointed is largely responsible. The President actually is sympathetic to the apes situation, and even though they have no scenes together, conveys a general feeling of what the world opinion about this situation might really be. On the other hand, the committee is played for laughs at first and then they become the heavies that enable the science adviser to act.

Bradford Dillman plays the supportive veterinarian, who tries to assist our heroes through the political events and then their escape. This might be the only sympathetic role he ever played. In most of the movies and TV shows I saw him in, he was the heavy or the slimy political hack. Roddy McDowell reprises his role from the first film, and I believe is in all of the following movies as well. I’m not sure why he was replaced in the second movie, but the character was nearly invisible in that film so it did not matter. His soft voice and genteel manner is one of the selling points for making us sympathetic to the apes in the first place. The movie is not great but of the five films, it is in the middle both in production and quality of the story.

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