Thursday, 8 February 2018

Planet Of The Apes (1968) 50th Anniversary Part 1

Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!

The World Premiere of Planet Of The Apes was held fifty years ago today, Thursday 8th February 1968, at Loew's Capitol Theater
at 1645 Broadway, New York City. The movie opened at screens across the US on 3rd April, 1968.


Charlton Heston (Taylor)
Kim Hunter (Zira)
Maurice Evans (Dr Zaius)
Roddy McDowall (Cornelius)
James Whitmore (President of the Assembly)
James Daly (Dr Honorious)
Linda Harrison (Nova)
Jeff Burton (Dodge)
Robert Gunner (Landon)
Lou Wagner (Lucius)
Woodrow Parfrey (Dr Maximus)
Buck Kartalian (Julius)
Norman Burton (Hunt Leader)
Wright King (Dr Galen)
Paul Lambert (Minister)
Dianne Stanley (Stewart)

Dr Galen (Wright King) with Dr Zira (Kim Hunter)

and featuring Army Archerd, James Bacon, Erlynn Mary Botelho, Priscilla Boyd, Eldon Burke, David Chow, Billy Curtis, Frank Delfino,
Buddy Douglas, Chuck Fisher, William Graeff Jr, Lars Hensen, Irvin 'Zabo' Koszewski, Norma Jean Kron, Robert Lombardo, Jerry Maren,
Cass Martin, Steve Merjanian, Harry Monty, John Quijada, Smokey Roberds, Dave Rodgers, Jane Ross, George Sasaki,
Felix Silla, Emory Souza and Joe Tornatore.

Here's Roger Ebert's contemporary review:

Somehow the chemistry has gone to work, the word has gotten around and the mass audience is interested. There was even a line in front of the theater Friday morning, and that's a sight you don't see every day.

Since Planet already seems to have found its audience, then, I thought I'd address this review to the others -- to those who wouldn't be caught dead going to see anything called Planet of the Apes.

I can understand their bias; until I started reviewing movies I probably wouldn't have gone to see it either. And any number of friends have been telling me they've heard it was "awful" -- when, in fact, nobody in Chicago had seen it until Friday and the reviews from other cities have been pretty good.

What they were really implying was that any movie named Planet of the Apes had to be awful. This kind of snobbery may be good for a chuckle or two, but those who practice it miss a lot of entertaining movies.

Planet of the Apes is one. It is not great, or significant, or profound. Occasionally it is distractingly cute, as when the apes rewrite one cliché after another: "Man see, Man do," for example, or "To apes, all men look alike." But, this is part of the fun. So is that much-publicized ape makeup: it does look real, by jingo, and after awhile you really do start thinking of those apes as individuals.

The plot is cast in the time-proven Hollywood adventure tradition. A space explorer from Earth (Charlton Heston) crash-lands on an unknown planet where apes rank higher than men on the evolutionary ladder. He tries to convince his captors he is intelligent; there are some good action sequences; some amusing twists; some easily digestible sociological and philosophical points, and a thoroughly satisfactory surprise ending.

Heston is by now just about the only Hollywood actor capable of playing archetypal heroes -- Moses, Ben-Hur, the last man alive, etc. -- and there must be a reason. In stature and screen presence, he is heroic and he is noble; you've got to admit it. He's right for this role, however preposterous it really may be, and he carries the film effortlessly. The actors hidden behind that ape makeup (Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Roddy McDowall, etc.) are difficult to review as people, but they're fine as apes.

What I'm getting at, I guess, is that Planet of the Apes is much better than I expected it to be. It is quickly paced, completely entertaining, and its philosophical pretensions don't get in the way.

If you only condescend to see an adventure thriller on rare occasions, condescend this time. You have nothing to lower but your brow.

Meanwhile here's what John Mahoney had to say in The Hollywood Reporter

By its appeal to both the imagination and the intellect within a context of action and elemental adventure, in its relevance to the consuming issues of its time, by the means with which it provides maximum entertainment topped with a sobering prediction of the future of human folly, 20th-Fox's release of Arthur P. Jacobs' production, Planet of the Apes, is that rare film which will transcend all age and social groupings, its multiple levels of appeal and meaning winning response in similar kind if not degree at each. 

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner with an unfaltering ability to invest the basic fantasy with credibility while bringing the deeper implications into relief, and benefiting from a finely crafted Michael Wilson-Rod Serling screenplay adapted from the novel by Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes stars Charlton Heston, in whose performance man the individual and man the symbol are uniquely conjoined. Planet of the Apes equals gargantuan box office. 

Wilson and Serling introduce us to astronaut Heston and his space crew 2,000 years in space from their launching from Earth as they prepare to put down on an unidentified planet. Heston closes his tape recorded final report with words which will ironically apply to him alone. "You who are reading me are a different breed," he muses, closing with the hope that the intervening years have served to squash both man's ego and the wars which have picked his history. Thereupon begin the adventures which will humble this embittered cynic, an unlikely Adam upon whom will rest the future of man's dominion and destiny. 

The female among his crew, the link to a future, dies in the landing. Another crew member, Jeff Burton, is slaughtered when the astronauts and a herd of human animals, mute natives, are captured by an army of gorillas, the apes having evolved as the rulers of this planet. Humans are considered the lower beasts of prey. Burton is stuffed for the wildlife exhibit in the museum of natural history. The last crewman, Robert Gunner, is subjected to a clumsy lobotomy, while Heston, suffering a neck wound which makes him as mute as the other herded homo sapiens, is caged for future vivisection and gelding. Through the intervention of Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall, chimpanzee scientists exercising a simian equivalent of humanitarianism, Heston is temporarily spared and given an Eve, Linda Harrison, to bunk with. 

Surprise Ending

McDowall, an archeologist, and Miss Hunter, a behaviourist, believe that Heston's exceptional mimickery of higher intelligence provides the missing link to prove their theory of evolution, a thesis which is branded heresy by Maurice Evans, an imperious orangutan who is one of the chiefs of state, who condone human genocide as a means of subduing the menace of man's anti-social tendencies. To silence both Heston and the blasphemous chimps, a trial without rights is conducted by James Whitmore, Evans, James Daly and Woodrow Parfrey. In a final attempt to silence Heston, Evans, who knows his story to be true, offers Heston his life if he will recant his story of a civilization in which man reigns supreme. Ultimately Heston finds proof of a higher human society and embarks in search of a new Eden in a surprise ending which brutally questions the ability and right of contemporary society to prevail on its current course. 

Eminently successful on its primary level, the film has its weaknesses in the crowding of allegorical meanings. At one time or another the film deals with race relations, war and pacifism, church inquisition, senate investigation and suppression of thought, sexual myth, the credibility gap in official statements of position, the selective deductive processes of historians, the generation gap, blind allegiance to the status quo, the imperative right of dissent, social structure and the caste system. 

As a means of mirroring the totality of civilization in the totality of another, this is certainly defensible. Dramatically, it is cumbersome. Since the film sets up an anti-war stance at the outset and builds to an overwhelming symbolization at the climax, a number of the tangential commentaries might have been sacrificed toward the unity of that theme, which in fact encompasses a good many of the other problems alluded to. 

Dialogue Appropriative

The dialogue is appropriative, again as it need be in parallelling the two civilizations. Human cliches are constantly rephrased in simian terms. As this usage gives indication of a process of natural selection in banality, it makes for sharp irony, good laughs and points well underscored, but there are also paraphrases which are ludicrous of themselves. At different moments, Planet of the Apes is Swfitian social satire, allegory, straight-faced science-fiction and spoof, the latter, it seems, an error. Lenders include the Bible; Will Rogers ("I never met an ape I didn't like."); Animal Farm ("Some apes are more equal than others."); Milton ("The proper study of apes is apes."); and Edgar Rice Burroughs (Me, Tarzan. You Jane.).

There is even a visual pantomime of the "see-hear-speak no evil" trio, which could possibly be justified by the information we learn in the surprise ending, but seems more like the screenwriters imposing a contemporary gag reference at the sacrifice of another period, locale and logic which has been carefully fabricated. 

Such undue emphasis has been placed visually and verbally on elapsed Earth time in the opening minutes of the film, that many will quickly guess the surprise. However, the following envolvements and the ingenuity of the ending should still maintain the final punch. 

Heston and the mute Miss Harrison are they only players with human features who prevail throughout the film. The creative simian make-up designs by John Chambers, executed by Ben Nye and Dan Striepeke, are therefore a major contributor to the film's success. While the make-ups realistically simulate ape features, they have been devised so that the projections converge at the natural creases of the face, insuring maximum mobility and animation. Even more outstanding are the individual personalities devised within each species and the allowance for individual tics and expressions of character for each of the leading players, the doleful eye droop and slack jaw of Evans' orangutan, the quizzical eyebrow arch and compassionate smile of Miss Hunter, the nervous nose twitch and youthful excitability of McDowall. 

Acting Superb

Heston, performing in the buff for the greater portion of the footage, is outstanding in the classic situation of a man pitted against the elements, and, in this case, left to reinstate vestigial human virtues in an animal kingdom that man himself has perverted. He is introduced as an otherwise successful drop-out from humanity who must endure to create that better world for which he had long before despaired. The force of Heston's personality is equal to the assignment, but it is the strength of the actor's ability which invests it with understanding and dignity. 

Miss Hunter sensitively projects the essence of curiosity, hope and compassion which lubricate progress and understanding in the most restrictive eras, while sustaining the suggestion of liberal patronization, timidity and superstition with which even the most kindly approach those who appear different.

McDowall's is an individual and (pardon) very human characterization as the farsighted youth who is ready to compromise, rather than make waves. His scenes of momentary jealousy and humorously smitten smoochery are a mastery of the make-up for extra effect where another actor might have succumbed to restriction. 

Evans is excellent as the benign defender of what's best for the populace. He states the case against man with an eloquence that defies argument, and executes his belief with the self-righteous conviction traditional with the misguided and the misguiding. 

Lou Wagner, an Actor's Studio student seen in a Christmas production of Heidi two years ago, is the teenage rebel chimp who aids Heston's escape at the initiation of the local anti-vivisection league, another of those quirky references which is more ludicrous than humorous. Wagner's performance is brightly comic, well developed and likely to spark a special measure of identification among sub and post-teens. Whitmore, Daly and gorilla-guard Buck Kartalian are expert, while Miss Harrison is an attractive and believable Eve without backtalk. 

Shamroy's Work Soars

Leon Shamroy's Panavision and DeLuxe Color cinematography is a soaring achievement, literally as well as figuratively. Schaffner employs sweeping, desolate aerial shots and barren long shots which desolate the men in the early sequences of the splash dive of the craft and the search by the three survivors for life forms.

Though not the least of their contributions, L.B. Abbott, Art Cruickshank and Emil Kosa Jr. create some excellent effects of sudden electrical storms and luminous radiation overcasts. The time taken to document the details of the landing, the swim for survival and the men's confrontation with this strange world, actually the Lake Powell and Colorado River wilderness of Utah and Arizona, is well spent. So is the native sequence, and a nude sequence which adds to a sense of primitive realism, while establishing characters and setting up the situations which follow. Hugh S. Fowler's editing, particularly in blending the aerial pull-outs and dramatically composed land shots in movement, is perfectly paced. 

The abstracted village setting of the ape colony by Jack Martin Smith and William Creber, with set decoration by Walter M. Scott and Norman Rockett, is a fine realization of fancy and the logic of parallel development, and features innumerable touches which parody contemporary artifacts within a primitive style. 

Music Among Finest

Jerry Goldsmith's score employs unusual instrumentation to achieve effects that are at once primordial, suggestive of electronics, symbolic and yet still melodic above the undercurrents. Chavezian in its percussive moments, chimes tolling, distorted echoes reverberating, it makes exceptional use of pizzacato strings and piano, in keyboard solo and struck from within. Its effect is to suggest the echoes of a world bereft of past life, desolate beyond the crest. Avoiding electronic cliches and adapting to the complex demands of the action and the moods, it deserves rank among the finest of its genre.

- John Mahoney, originally published 5th February 1968.

Roddy McDowall, an experienced actor, recommended to his companions in make-up that they should frequently add tics, blinks and assorted facial gestures to add a sense of realism and keep the make-up from appearing "mask-like". McDowall reportedly drove home with his make-up on, shocking some of the other drivers on the freeway.

Charlton Heston was sick during much of the film with the flu. Rather than wait for him to get better, the producers felt that his hoarse voice added something to the character of Taylor. According to Heston's diary, after filming the scene where Taylor and Nova are forcibly separated, he wrote that he was feeling like hell while shooting because of his illness, and felt even worse "every time that damn fire hose hit me".

Turning down the part of Zira was one of Ingrid Bergman's greatest regrets. Much surprised at how well the finished film turned out, she later confided to her daughter Isabella Rossellini that in hindsight the film would have been an ideal opportunity for her to "disregard her regal bearing". She also regretted missing the opportunity of working with Charlton Heston.

Producer Arthur P. Jacobs enlisted several journalists to play background apes. This was a clever way of ensuring that they would write about the film.

Kim Hunter reportedly found the facial ape prosthetics so claustrophobic that she took a Valium each morning while being made up as Zira.

In the original script, the female native humans were all bare-breasted. This idea was quashed by Fox to appease censors.

In the scene at the Ape City natural history museum, a large claw of a strange animal can be seen prominently displayed several times on a pedestal at the top of the stairs. It is the plaster cast made of the foot of the monster that attacks the spaceship in Forbidden Planet (1956).

At one of the first test screenings, a woman walked up to Charlton Heston and asked him how he was. Heston had no idea who she was until she revealed that she was Kim Hunter. He simply hadn't recognized her as he hadn't seen her without her ape make-up.

John Chambers' outstanding make-up effects pioneered in the film were based on a technique he had used during World War II to give disfigured veterans a normal appearance. Chambers spent many hours watching the apes at Los Angeles Zoo, studying their facial expressions. Several other productions were delayed due to the fact that many of Hollywood's top make-up artists were working on this film. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Chambers an honorary Oscar for make-up. His award was presented by Walter Matthau and a chimpanzee in a tuxedo.

During the hunt scene an unclothed Charlton Heston had to run through the poison oak undergrowth of Fox's Century Ranch.

Some of the discordant musical sounds were created by using stainless steel kitchen mixing bowls.

The apes' village is modelled on the work of legendary Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí and the Göreme Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey.

The make-up team consisted of over 80 make-up artists.

The heat in the desert scenes at the opening of the film proved so intense that many of the cast and crew fainted, including director Franklin J. Schaffner.

The fourth astronaut, Stewart, was originally written as a man.

Filming lasted between May and early August 1967. Due to the stifling summer heat, all four sequels were wisely shot during the winter months.

Both Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter spent a lot of time at zoos studying the apes, McDowall at the San Diego Zoo and Hunter at the Bronx Zoo.

Sean Connery, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, George Peppard, Rod Taylor, Burt Lancaster, James Garner, Rock Hudson, Gregory Peck, Cliff Robertson, Stuart Whitman and John Wayne were considered for Taylor. Charlton Heston was always producer Arthur P. Jacobs' first choice for the part, with Marlon Brando being considered as a back-up possibility.

Producer Arthur P. Jacobs bought the rights to Pierre Boulle's novel before it was even published.

The rifles used by the apes are remodelled American M1 semi-automatic carbines, primarily used during World War II.

The water pool where the astronauts enjoy a swim was built on the Fox Ranch by producer Arthur P. Jacobs for his adaptation of Doctor Dolittle (1967).

The producers considered Ursula Andress, Raquel Welch and Angelique Pettyjohn for the role of Nova, but they were either unavailable or uninterested.

"Angelic" Pettyjohn

In the Spanish-dubbed version, all characters retain their original names, except Cornelius who is, inexplicably, rechristened “Aurelio”.

All five original Apes movies were number one at the U.S. box-office when released. Planet of the Apes spent three weeks as the number one top grossing film.

Yul Brynner, José Ferrer, Alec Guinness, Edmond O'Brien, Laurence Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Orson Welles were considered for Dr Zaius.

Jonathan Harris turned down the role of Dr Maximus.

Planet Of The Apes was released the day before the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

Prior to coming across the original novel, Arthur P. Jacobs was eager to remake King Kong (1933).

Julie Harris was offered the role of Zira. While she liked the concept, she didn't think she could work with the make-up and turned it down.

Charlton Heston's famous last line was originally just "My God!"

The motion picture industry has never been the same since!

Full cast & crew credits at IMDb

Come back tomorrow at 17:30 GMT for more!


  1. fantastic post! keep it coming - I thought I knew everything about the film, but you somehow manage to unearth increasingly rare photos and morsels of information that keep me returning to your amazing website

  2. Thank you CatsUpdate for your very kind words. More 50th anniversary stuff coming up this evening! Don't miss it! and thanks very much for following Archives Of The Apes x