Today’s movie is Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). This movie followed the original two years later. Based on my youthful remembrances, this movie should rank four out of the original five. Fox studios gave this movie 2.5 million, which is half the amount paid for the original. Director Tom Post, with his television background, was able to cut the cost. However, the ape masks suffered.
Kim Hunter as chimpanzee doctor Zira, Maurice Evans as orangutan religious leader Dr. Zaius, and mute human Linda Harrison as Nova all returned for this movie and all three were covered in Episode 118 – Planet of the Apes (1968).
Charlton Heston returned as astronaut Taylor. Heston was first covered in Episode 44 – The Omega Man (1971).
Thomas Gomez played the role of the human mutant Minister. Gomez was covered in Episode 40 – Key Largo (1948). This was Gomez’s last film.
Lou Wagner as chimpanzee Lucius and Roddy McDowall as Cornelius were both shown in archive footage.
James Franciscus played Earth astronaut and Charlton Heston look-a-like Brent. Franciscus was born in Missouri in 1934. Franciscus graduated from Yale University in 1957. Although he made many a great movie, he will always be known as a television actor to me. He played a detective on “Naked City” 1958-1959, he was in “The Investigators” that only ran in 1968, he was a teacher in “Mr. Novak” 1963-1965, a blind detective in “Longstreet” 1971-1972, which had Bruce Lee in one memorable episode, and “Doc Elliot” 1973-1974.
His memorable films include Marooned (1969), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), and disaster flick Concorde Affaire ’79 (1979). He married Kathleen Wellman, who is the daughter of director William A. Wellman. He slowed his production work around 1980 and retired. He died very young at 57, in 1991.
James Gregory played pugnacious gorilla General Ursus. Gregory was born in 1911, in the Bronx, New York. In high school, he was already interested in drama, but he went to work on Wall Street in 1929. Good timing. He stayed on Wall Street until 1935 at which time he became a professional actor. He debuted on Broadway in 1939 and continued this work for about 16 years except for the time he spent in the Navy and Marine Corp during World War II.
Gregory played a detective on “The Lawless Years” 1959 to 1961. He began his film career with a Film Noir The Naked City (1948). Other films include Gun Glory (1957), Nightfall (1957), Onionhead (1958), Al Capone (1959), and X-15 (1961). His biggest film role came playing Senator Iselin in The Manchurian Candidate (1962). With his gravelly voice, he was an expert at playing slightly dumb men with power. Other movies include PT 109 (1963), Twilight of Honor (1959), A Distant Trumpet (1964), The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), The Silencers (1966), Murderers’ Row (1966), The Ambushers (1967), The Secret Wars (1968), Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Million Dollar Duck (1971), Shoot Out (1971), The Strongest Man in the World (1975), The Bastard (1978), and The Main Event (1979).
Gregory was active in television and one of his funnier roles was as a Deputy Inspector on “Barney Miller” 1975-1982. Gregory died in 2002 at the age of 90.
Natalie Trundy played the human mutant Albina. Trundy was born in Boston in 1940. A strawberry blonde with freckles, Trundy started working as a child model before doing a live television show. She debuted on Broadway at the age of 13. When she was 15 she got her first role in The Montecarlo Story (1956) who’s other stars included Marlene Dietrich. During this production, she also met producer Arthur P. Jacobs.
Trundy continued to appear in movies before taking a break to attend New York’s Briarcliff College. In 1963, she was hit by a car and severely injured apparently ending her acting career. Five years later, she was reintroduced to Arthur P. Jacobs. The pair married in 1968. Jacobs, the producer of Planet of the Apes (1968), got Trundy roles in the four sequels. He died suddenly at the age of 51, ending her career a second time. Trundy took over the operation of the production company. She is still alive.
They did have a diverse cast of human mutants. Victor Buono played one of the mutated humans known unflatteringly as Fat Man played the role of King Tut on televisions “Batman” 1966-1968. Don Pedro Colley played Ongaro, the only unmasked black person in the film and was run in the original credits as “negro.” Gregory Sierra was in the role of Verger. Sierra played the Puerto Rican neighbor on “Sanford and Son” 1972-1975 and was a regular on “Barney Miller” 1975-1976, along with James Gregory.
This movie begins at the coolest archeological site ever, by the ocean. They show clips from the Planet of the Apes (1968) covering from just before Taylor (Charlton Heston) and Nova (Linda Harrison) leave. Cornelius reading the warning about mankind, and they continue up to where they find the bombed-out Statue of Liberty.
Nova and Taylor continue into the Forbidden Zone and it is a pretty crappy place. Something like Brownsville, Texas, with maybe just a bit more water.
The scene switches to another part of the Forbidden Zone. There is another ship similar to the one Taylor arrived in but this one crashed and burned. Astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) climbs out and gives aid to a wounded astronaut laying on the ground.
The man on the ground is the captain (Tod Andrews) of the ship. He is blind and has other injuries. When he finds that they have traveled forward in time and all his loved ones are dead, he gives up and dies. Brent mentions that they were following Taylor.
After Brent buries the skipper, he hears a horse. He looks up to see Nova riding in on the horse that she and Taylor had. Hey, not too bad a planet. It does look like they have her wearing a bucked tooth prosthetic. She had a better smile in the original.
At first, Brent hides, but then he calls to Nova. Nova is not much of a talker. She sees that Brent has dog tags and she touches the pair that Taylor gave her in the next flashback. Brent reads the name Taylor aloud and Nova remembers in a flashback that Taylor gave her the dog tags.
With more prodding from Brent, Nova flashes back to the pair riding and then being stopped by walks of fire, strange lighting, earthquakes, and rock formations that just appear. Taylor tells Nova that if they get separated for her to go to Zira. Taylor walks to the rock formation and attempts to hit it with the butt of his gun but he falls away and Nova is alone on a flat desert.
Back at the crashed ship Brent demands to be taken to Taylor and jumps aboard the horse. He rides in the back. Does this mean anything? He is a Heston look-a-like but he is nowhere near the same quality as an actor.
Nova and Brent ride to a hill overlooking Ape City. The pair watches from above as the apes hold an open-air forum. General Ursus (James Gregory) is lobbying for a war against humans in the Forbidden Zone. He is using phrases like the only good human is a dead human. The gorillas are all for it, the orangutans accept it, and the chimps are opposed but they go along. Just like when a madman takes over the country!
A gorilla and this time they are wearing cheaper masks hunt for Nova and Brent as the two flee on foot. I don’t know what happened to the horse. The gorilla fires into the bush wounding Brent in the arm, but a bird is flushed and the ape goes away.
General Ursus and Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) meet in a sauna. General Ursus says the only one of 12 scouts that returned described the same stuff that Taylor saw before he disappeared. General Ursus says the apes must invade or they will starve.
Nova and Brent sneak into Zira’s house. Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson) discuss their expected baby. Wait a minute, Roddy McDowalls’ not playing Cornelius. Heresy I say, heresy. Nova and Brent walk in and at first Zira thinks it’s Taylor. Brent wants to get out quick and asks for food and map.
Dr. Zaius shows up at Zira’s house. Dr. Zaius chews Zira out for standing up to General Ursus. They have a debate about science versus expedience. He asks them to take care of things until he returns from the Forbidden Zone. This is odd because at the end of the last movie they were to be tried for heresy. They give Brent rags to wear and tell him to never let anyone hear him speak.
Nova and Brent go back to the horse. It was waiting in the bushes. As they ride, the horse is shot out from under them by a gorilla. A foot chase ensues until the humans are caught in a net. They are thrown in the pen with the wild humans. The gorillas use their captured humans to train for warfare. It reminds me of the gladiator school in Spartacus.
Nova and Taylor are sent to Zira’s lab but they are taken away for target practice. Zira sneaks out and unlocks the lock on their transport wagon. Brent climbs on the top of the wagon and tries to wrestle the ape driver. Fortunately for the humans, a branch knocks the ape off. Brent unharnesses the horses so now the two humans have two horses. They are spotted by an ape cavalry unit that quickly chases after. Nova and Brent, lose their pursuers by leaving their horses and entering a cave. It quickly becomes apparent that the cave is a remnant of the old New York subway system. Brent sees that it is the Queensboro Plaza and he has to accept the truth that he is on Earth. He also realizes that humanity blew itself up.
Back in Ape City, they are praying to their god to give them victory in battle. The ape column heads out. There is a young chimpanzee peace protest but they are quickly hauled out of the way by the gorillas. In 1970, didn’t we have young people in the street protesting for peace and being drug away?
Nova and Brent sleep in the subway for a bit. The gorillas are still outside so the pair of humans’ head deeper into the tunnel. They hear a loud magnetic hum and walk towards it. They wander through some tunnels before climbing a ladder into an upper air corridor. Brent thinks it is guiding them or warning them away. They come out in front of the New York Public Library but are still underground as they walk by the stock exchange and Radio City. Around E 51st the sound stops. Brent keeps trying stagnant water sources. He’ll be dead in a week. A water fountain turns on and they both get fresh water before the sound starts again. Brent tries to drown Nova in the water because of the brain noise. She takes it pretty well.
Brent backs into a cathedral and the noise stops. On the altar, by the pipe organ, is a big gold atomic bomb labeled with alpha and omega. A man in robes praying talks to Brent with telepathy. A couple of more robed guys take Brent in tow while three other mutant people use mental power to watch. He is taken to the room and it is actually five people. They think Brent is a spy and he tells them he is looking for Taylor. They torch his mind when they don’t like the answers. When he mentions Ape City, their rapid-fire questions hurt his brain so they switch to normal speech.
The robed people say the bomb is their god and it is a holy weapon of peace. The robed people say illusion is their only defense. They also say that the gorilla’s skulls are too thick for their mind control powers to penetrate. It seems the bomb is operational but they want Brent’s help. They bring in Nova and start having Brent try to kill her again. She’s not taking the second murder attempt so well. Brent finally tells them the apes are marching on the city.
The ape army is deploying into lines in the Forbidden Zone. They begin their advance when fake fire and upside down impaled ape appear. The army is falling apart when the Law Giver statue appears and begins crying blood. Dr. Zauis realizes it’s a false vision and rides forward. The images disappear.
When the robed people see that apes are advancing again, they call all the members to the bomb. The apes see the burned-out city of New York. The robed people go to pray to the bomb. Brent and Nova are robed and brought in as well. They prepare the bomb for launch. All the robed people pull off their masks and they are veiny mutants from the fallout.
Following the ceremony, Brent is taken back to a cell where Taylor is being held. The guard uses mind power to make the two Earthmen fight. Heston is winning because he is a better actor. Guard guy throws in a spiky club for Brent. Nova is being escorted down the hall, but when she hears Taylor she bites the crap out of her guard and escapes. Nova yells or grunts Taylor. This gives the two men long enough to kill their guard.
Brent is wounded and he tells Taylor about the bomb. Taylor knows it’s the doomsday bomb. Did they get that from Kubrick and Strangelove? Dr. Zauis and the ape army find the subway entrance. The ape attackers make it to the city and start killing. The three humans escape from the cell.
The two men arm themselves but a gorilla gets the jump on them and kills Nova before they can stop him. Taylor has lost hope but finally goes to stop the bomb. Dr. Zauis is destroying idols with his group. Finally, the apes break into the cathedral and see the robed man at the controls of the bomb. The gorillas shot the man down. Brilliant gorilla General Ursus orders his men to pull the bomb down. It starts leaking coolant. General Ursus goes to turn the bomb off. Brent makes a distraction on with the organ. Taylor tries to come around but the apes shoot him. Brent kills General Ursus and gets busy shooting gorillas.
Taylor says to Dr. Zauis, it’s dooms day and then he asks for help. Dr. Zauis refuses and says that man is only capable of destruction as a group of gorillas’ guns down Brent. Taylor falls and intentionally sets off the bomb. With the hand on the control, a voice tells that a small blue green planet is dead.
There are no special notes and this movie is not really featured on any lists, except as number 46 of 50 Best Sci-Fi Movies of the 1970s by Rolling Stone Magazine.
World-Famous Short Summary – Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.
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Beware the moors