The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) Classic Movie Review 121

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)


An emperor ape might do slightly better?


Today’s movie is Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). This movie is the fourth in original series and by my rating is 3rd out of the original 5. The mask quality continued to go down and I expected to see apes with plastic Halloween masks with the white elastic string in the back. This movie, in fact, had the lowest budget of any of the original five films.

This movie played heavily on the Civil Rights struggle that was still in full swing at the time of the movie. The movie has a strong anti-slavery message. It was also the most violent of the five movies with about 59 people being killed.

Most of the exterior shots were done at the University of California, Irvine campus, and the futurist buildings were only 6 years old when the movie was made.

We have a lot of show veterans so let’s jump right in.



Roddy McDowall as Caesar, the child of Cornelius and Zira, called Milo in the previous movie, Buck Kartalian as gorilla Frank, and Lou Wagner as a chimp busboy were all discussed in Episode 118 – Planet of the Apes (1968).

Natalie Trundy played a chimp named Lisa. Trundy was covered in Episode 119 – Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970).

Ricardo Montalbán played Armando, the friendly circus owner from the previous movie. Montalban was covered in Episode 50 – Battleground (1949).

Severn Darden played the role of Kolp, a kind of secret police chief. Darden was covered in Episode 36 – Back to School (1986) where he was trying to teach apes in a lab to talk, by having them watch television.


Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Don Murray played Governor Breck, a somewhat fascist leader of the humans. Murray was born in 1929 in Hollywood. Can’t get much closer than that. Murray did a lot of television like “The Outcasts” 1968-1969, “Knots Landing” 1979-1982, and recently in “Twin Peaks” 2017. One of his early movies was Bus Stop (1956) in which as cowboy Bo Decker, he tried to convince Marilyn Monroe’s lounge singer character to marry him. The next year he was in A Hatful of Rain (1957). In Advise & Consent (1962), he played a conservative Senator with a hidden homosexual past.  This movie, directed by Otto Preminger, is highly recommended and has an all-star cast featuring Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, and Walter Pidgeon. Of course, this great movie came out the same year as Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972). That same year, he was in a two-part Disney movie special, “Justin Morgan Had a Horse” 1972 about the development of the Morgan horse in America. His final notable movie was Endless Love (1981). Murray is still alive and still working.

Hari Rhodes played the role of MacDonald, an African-American that worked for the government but didn’t always support their methods. Rhodes was born in Cincinnati in 1932. He grew up in a rough neighborhood and hustled pool. At 15, he lied about his age and joined the Marine Corp. He served in the Korean Conflict and later wrote a book about the experience. Rhodes received a BA from Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. He then traveled to LA, arriving with only $12. His first job was as a sweeper for a dollar a day.

Rhodes did quite a bit of television and he was on the African adventure “Daktari” 1966-1969. This show was very loosely modeled after the John Wayne film Hatari! (1962). Rhodes is known for Shock Corridor (1963), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and Coma (1978). He died in 1992 at the early age of 59.

Gordon Jump had a very small role as an ape auctioneer. I only mention him because he played Arthur ‘Big Guy’ Carlson on the hilariously funny “WKRP in Cincinnati” 1978-1982 and the kind of funny “The New WKRP in Cincinnati” 1991-1993.


In 1991 in North America, club wielding guards are escorting gorilla, in red jump suits, chimpanzees in green jump suits, and orangutans, in, of course, orange jumpsuits.  The apes are being trained in the most inefficient manner in how to make beds, mop, sweep, and serve drinks. The music is very intense and is broken by the sound of a helicopter, much like at the beginning of Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). Inside of the helicopter is circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalbán) and horse riding chimpanzee Caesar (Roddy McDowall) who of course is really the son of Zira and Cornelius. They have come to the city to distribute fliers for their circus. They must be doing well if they can rent a helicopter to hand out fliers.

Armando goes through several layers of security with Caesar because the USA has become a neo-Nazi police state. When they go down the stairs Caesar starts talking and Armando explains the backstory. They almost get caught talking. Couldn’t all of this have been worked out before they flew to the city? Is between guard stations really the best place to work out the plan?

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Armando and Caesar go into the plaza and they see Gestapo styled policemen enforcing ape rule violations for things like gathering. Back in the old days’ slaves were not allowed to congregate except after church on Sunday. In New Orleans, the place where they could meet was called Congo Square. Today it is a reminder of good music.

Caesar is shocked by the menial tasks such as shining shoes that apes are forced to perform and by the brutality in which they are police. Caesar asks how it happened as they pass by a dog and cat memorial statue. A female chimp is resting on a planter and the police demand that she “GO!” When she doesn’t move fast enough they hit her with an electronic prod.

Caesar says that the apes have been turned into slaves and wants to know why they changed from pets to slaves. Armando goes to the dog and cat memorial statue which is date 1983. Armando explains that one of the astronauts brought a disease back from space that killed most of the dogs and cats. Zira mentioned this in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). Humans replaced their pets with small monkeys. When they discovered how easily they could be trained they began getting larger animals until all of the captured apes were used and treated like slaves.

A chimp named Lisa (Natalie Trundy) is picking up books for her master. Armando and Caesar go into the book store and when the two chimps see each other lighting flashes and they are in love. When Armando and Caesar go to an outdoor restaurant a gorilla Frank (Buck Kartalian) gets snotty with Caesar. As Lisa is running errands, Caesar sees her a few more times.

In another restaurant, they tip the apes with raisins. When flames flare up, the chimp bus boy (Lou Wagner) runs away in fear. He is dragged back by his master.

In another part of town, humans are protesting that they are losing their jobs to apes. A chimp named Aldo, not the Aldo referenced in earlier movies as the leader has to cross the picket line. When there is some shoving, the ape freaks out and the two regular cops with him start tugging and pulling. Two black clad Gestapo police come in and start really beating the ape. Mr. MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) who is an African-American and works for the governor, comes by and stops the beating. The cops show some good old fashion racism. Caesar cannot contain himself any longer and shout out “Lousy human bastards!”

The two cops run into the crowd and Armando says he was the one that yelled. As others start accusing Caesar, he manages to slip away in the confusion. Aldo wakes from his sedative long enough for Armando to escape as well. Of course, they beat Aldo.

Armando and Caesar meet in a stairwell. Armando says he will go to the police and explain that he yelled. He tells Caesar that if he doesn’t come back, he should him among the arriving apes.

Armando meets with Governor Breck (Don Murray). He says that he said “Lousy inhuman bastards!” However, they have records about the chimp born in the circus and Governor Breck suspects that the child of Zira and Cornelius is alive. Governor Breck says ape disobedience is on the rise. MacDonald contradicts him and references the chimp shot in the opening scene that was cut. They decide to keep Armando in custody.

Caesar strips and joins three orangutans in a cage coming from Borneo. Of course, we all know there are no chimps in Borneo. Caesar is processed by Ape Management. He sees all of the initial training. This includes fire de-sensation, beatings, loud music, electro-shocks with a speaker shouting NO, and other general serving tasks. Caesar is given a banana and placed in a cage with other chimps. He shares his food and becomes the group leader.

Kolp (Severn Darden) continues to interrogate Armando.  Caesar does very well at training. He helps the other apes pass their simple test. As a superior chimp, he is sent to the breeding annex to do his stuff. They don’t really talk about this in the movie but this helps spread the talking gene. The female chimp at the breeding annex makes come hither eyes at Caesar and he does.

Caesar is sent to the ape auction. Governor Breck watches from above like a Roman emperor. Governor Breck buys Caesar for use in the command post.

Governor Breck lets Caesar pick his own name from a book. Because he can read, he picks his own name. MacDonald is very sympathetic to the ape slaves. Other apes respond to Caesar as he passes. For some reason, Lisa is here too.

Kolp brings Armando in and says he is to be released. First, they make him sign a sworn declaration. Then they lower the authenticator, which makes people tell the truth. Rather than betray Caesar, Armando jumps out a window killing himself.

Governor Breck talks about Armando being killed and Caesar overhears. Caesar sees a circus flyer and cries for his old friend. However, he is now done with humans. Caesar is seen all over town encouraging the apes into acts of civil disobedience. The bus boy chimp is seen stealing a knife. Later Caesar is seen in a basement where other apes bring in the weapons they have stolen. One ape brings in a small strainer and Caesar says okay. This movie was spoofed in “Mad Magazine” (really four of five) and Caesar tells the apes “Of all the apes in the 4 movies so far, you are easily the stupidest! So if I’m going to lead you in a revolt against the humans, you are going to have to follow my advice and not embarrass me! Like from now on, when you put on your shoes and socks, DON’T do it in that order!” [1]

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – Mad Magazine

Since Caesar can write, the other apes bring in supply orders and he adds ammo, kerosene, and bullets that they can steal. Lisa is there and she looks sad. The bus boy chimp uses some of the kerosene to burn the restaurant where he works. He later got a job working with Henry Hill.[2]

Because of the rise in property damage, Governor Breck sends out the Achilles list of problematic apes. Klop finds out that an extra chimp came in with the Borneo shipment. Governor Breck is shocked that he has had the chimp he was looking for all time. Klop asks for permission to torture Caesar until he talks so the case can be closed. When Governor Breck calls MacDonald to have Caesar delivered, MacDonald lies and helps Caesar get away. Caesar speaks to MacDonald and even he is shocked. Caesar tells MacDonald that most humans are cruel and the apes will have to force them to be kind. He says he will lead a revolution.

As Kolp and his guards come in to pick up Caesar, MacDonald lets him go. Kolp orders all unaccompanied apes to be rounded up. That night Caesar get caught and taken to Kolp. They hook him to the electro shock machine and keep turning up the juice trying to get him to talk. Breck and MacDonald watch from above. Finally, Caesar chokes out “have pity.” MacDonald leaves the room and goes to the circuit breakers.

Breck orders Kolp to use the machine to kill Caesar. MacDonald turns off the power and Caesar acts like he has been shocked and killed. Once the others leave Caesar attacks and kills the torturer.

Caesar returns to his hideout and begins the ape revolution. Large groups take to the streets with their weapons’. The first target is Ape Management. They kill the humans and free the apes being held in the facility. Caesar uses voice commands on the intercom to create more confusion.

Riot police are deployed and the apes face them in the streets. Some police have assault style weapons but many are using only revolvers. The apes use fire and flanking to overpower the cops. Lisa hears Governor Breck give the shoot to kill order.

Finally, the apes make it to the command post where Caesar used to work. The apes in the command post start acting up as well. Governor Breck can’t believe they are using a welding torch to cut through the door. The apes inside corner the humans and Governor Breck orders them shot down. The armed apes break through the door killing or capturing everyone inside. Caesar personally stops some gorillas from killing MacDonald.

The battle occupies about 25 minutes of the movie.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

The apes drag Governor Breck into the courtyard. They get ready to kill him as MacDonald begs for the man’s life to no avail. Caesar in a rage says:

“Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch, and conspire, and plot, and plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall. The day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity! And we will build our own cities, in which there will be no place for humans except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you NOW!”

The gorillas raise their rifles to kill Governor Breck. However, chimp Lisa utters a guttural “No.” This works on Caesar and he orders the apes to lower their weapons before giving another speech as follows:

“But now… now we will put away our hatred. Now we will put down our weapons. We have passed through the night of the fires, and those who were our masters are now our servants. And we, who are not human, can afford to be humane. Destiny is the will of God, and if it is man’s destiny to be dominated, it is Gods will that he be dominated with compassion and understanding. So, cast out your vengeance. Tonight, we have seen the birth of the planet of the apes!”

The movie ends with Caesar standing defiantly overlooking the apes as the city burns behind him.


Apparently there was one female orangutan in this movie, but still, no female gorillas were seen. Sorry boys.

The jumpsuits worn by the apes were leftovers from televisions “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” 1964-1968. The Ape Management insignia and monitors all came from “The Time Tunnel” 1966.

Paul Dehn, the writer, envisioned this film as the ape version of the Civil Rights movement. Not bad for an Englishman.

At one point in the earlier films, they said knowledge of man was lost. Later it was in the sacred scrolls. At another point, they said Aldo was the leader of the revolt, but the Aldo in this movie is not that ape.

The original opening of an escaped ape being shot and found to have been beaten and whipped prior to his escape was cut as it was deemed too violent. However, while well received my more liberal audiences because of its pro-Civil Rights themes, many considered it too violent and too close to the riots that were happening in American cities. The final film of the series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), was toned downed and the apes and human live communally.

World-Famous Short Summary – Don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.

I hope you enjoyed today’s show. You can find connections to social media and email on my site at There are links in the podcast show notes as well. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to iTunes and give me a review. It really helps the show get found.

Beware the moors

[1] Mad Magazine, No. 157, March 1973

[2] Goodfellows (1990)

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

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