Today’s movie is Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). This movie is the third of the original series and in my opinion, it is the second best preceded by the original. This movie didn’t receive any big awards or feature prominently on any lists. So, with that, let’s jump into the actors, many of whom are show veterans.
Roddy McDowall returned as Cornelius. McDowall was covered in Episode 118 – Planet of the Apes (1968).
Kim Hunter also returned as Zira. Hunter was covered in Episode 118 – Planet of the Apes (1968).
M. Emmet Walsh played a military aide and actually got a few laughs. Walsh was covered in Episode 36 – Back to School (1986).
Natalie Trundy played veterinarian Dr. Stephanie Branton. Trundy was covered in Episode 119 – Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970).
Ricardo Montalban played zoo-owner Armando. Montalban was covered in Episode 50 – Battleground (1949).
Robert Gunner as Landon was in uncredited archive footage from Planet of the Apes (1968).
Bradford Dillman played animal psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Dixon. Dillman was born in San Francisco in 1930. He graduated from Yale University before serving with the Marines in the Korean Conflict 1951-1953. When he returned, he began studying at the Actors Studio. His first professional stage work was in 1953. His first play on Broadway was in 1956.
Dillman started out as a film actor with many great movies such as A Certain Smile (1958), In Love and War (1958), and Compulsion (1959). However, just as quickly he started getting poor quality material to work with. These films include Francis of Assisi (1961), Circle of Deception (1960), A Rage to Live (1965), and The Plainsman (1966). He performed very well in The Iceman Cometh (1973) and The Lincoln Conspiracy (1977). But it wasn’t long until he was acting in films like The Swarm (1978) and Piranha (1978).
However, Dillman always did well on television and in television movies. His last work was in the mid-1990s but he is still alive.
Eric Braeden played the role of presidential science advisor Dr. Otto Hasslein. This character was mentioned in Planet of the Apes (1968) and Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) in conjunction with the theory of time travel and space. Braeden was born in Germany during World War II. Sounds nice. As a teenager, he moved to the US. He and a friend made a movie while at Montana State University. When they went to Hollywood to try and get it distributed, Braeden was discovered.
He got a role in televisions “Rat Patrol” 1966-1968 playing a Nazi fighting against Americans and British in the deserts of North Africa. He could be quite reasonable at times for a Nazi. His main foe was played by Christopher George.
Braeden did quite well working in television and theater plus a few movies. His best-known films are 100 Rifles (1969), Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), and Titanic (1997).
In 1980, Braeden took a role on the soap opera “The Young and the Restless” 1980-2017. During this time, he won five Emmys. Braeden is still alive.
Sal Mineo played Dr. Milo, one of the chimpanzees that returned to modern Earth. Salvatore (Sal) Mineo Jr. was born in 1939 in New York City. After being thrown out of parochial school at 8, he began running with street gangs. Arrested at the age of 10, he was given the choice of confinement or acting school. He quickly rose to act in the theater with well-known professionals. He made his first movie at 16, Six Bridges to Cross (1955) with Tony Curtis. That same year he played Plato in Rebel Without a Cause (1955). He allegedly turned down the James Dean took because he thought Plato was more interesting. You see how that worked out.
Mineo still received a best-supporting actor Oscar nomination for his role. Mineo starred with James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Elizabeth Taylor in Giant (1956). Mineo was nominated, again for a best-supporting Actor Oscar as a Holocaust survivor that fought for Israeli independence in the great epic Exodus (1960). He had an extremely minor role in The Longest Day (1962) but hey so did everyone else. He had a large role in the John Ford apology Cheyenne Autumn (1964). He was also in the epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).
Suddenly, the movie spigot turned off. This was partly because he had outgrown his youth roles and partly because he played a sexual predator in Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965), and because of his homosexuality. He still had a solid career in theater and television.
Mineo was trying to get his film career going again and signed on to Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). However, even this role was cut short. In spite of all of that Mineo was on the way to a comeback when he was murdered in 1976. It was not a planned attack against Mineo as the killer said he chose his victim randomly.
This movie begins at the same seaside cove that Taylor and Nova rode through before they encountered the Statue of Liberty. Then a helicopter breaks the silence. The ship that Taylor and company traveled to the planet of the apes in, is floating in the surf. Rescue divers jump into the water and the Marine head down the beach to line the shore. A cable is attached to the ship and it is pulled to shore. When the ship is on the beach, the general orders it opened and three astronauts climb out and are helped down. The general gives a crisp salute and says welcome gentlemen as the three ape-o-nauts take off their helmets. Is he more shocked that they are apes or that one of them is female?
The three apes are trucked back to a military base and the space ship is carried on a flatbed with no cover. The general’s aide (M. Emmet Walsh) says he has called the zoo and they are fairly empty, with only a depressed gorilla and a few other animals. He has also picked up oranges as he has been told chimps are vegetarians (we now know that chimps kill and eat meat).
When the general and his aide arrive, the three chimps are getting dressed. When asks where the clothes came from, the general is told by the guard that they brought them with them. After the aide gives them oranges, they use plates and utensils to eat. They hear that they will be housed next to a gorilla at the zoo and the female makes a face. I had forgotten that she was pregnant at the end of the last movie.
They are moved to the zoo and the gorilla looks bad. When the keeper offers the female a banana, she slaps it away. After the keeper leaves, the apes begin talking and they are Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter), and Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo). Zira is very emotional and upset by the smell of the gorilla.
Milo talks about how the chronometer started going back. Zira can’t understand how they could be on Earth when they saw it destroyed from space. The destruction, as viewed from the space ship was filmed but not used, so the explosion that destroyed earth happened between Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and this movie. Milo tells them that they are around 2000 years back in time and they should never let anyone hear them speak or learn that the ape war caused the destruction. One thing this movie never explained was how the space ship was recovered from the lake, repaired, refueled, launched, etc. At least there were three stasis chambers for the apes. The do mention being hit by the shock wave so their trip may have been speeded up making stasis unnecessary.
Two, I assume, animal psychiatrists, Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy) and Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) come to the zoo to test the apes. Stephanie and Lewis are amazed that they changed into clothes. I would be more concerned that they have knives. Lewis starts giving tests to Zira and since she is a smart-aleck, she aces all of the memory tests. They then lower a banana to see if Zira can stack boxes to reach it. She does and just sits there looking at the banana. When Stephanie asks why she doesn’t take it, Zira blurts out “because I loathe bananas.” Lewis and Stephanie are shocked and go out for air. The three apes get into an argument about talking. The brilliant Dr. Milo gets too close to the gorilla cage and the gorilla snaps his neck.
Lewis goes in to talk to Zira and Cornelius. Zira mentions that she has done work on humans and they bond because both are psychiatrists. Zira and Cornelius feel they can trust Lewis.
The President informs the joint chiefs about the talking apes. He convenes a commission and invites the press. This has to be juxtaposed with the orangutan tribunal in the first movie.
Zira and Cornelius are brought before the tribunal in chains. They are still keeping any knowledge of Taylor or Brent a secret. They have a priest on the panel and he speaks out about the chimps being lawfully wedded. The President’s science advisor Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) tells the press that he expects to find “fear.” Zira does a great job charming everyone with her wit but she does slip and begins to talk about dissecting humans. Hasslein catches the slip. Cornelius wows the crowd when he says he can only speak if his wife allows it.
Zira tells the commission that they came from Earth’s future. They also don’t reveal that the Earth was destroyed.
After the hearing, Cornelius tells Lewis and Stephanie about Taylor and the human research. They also tell they saw the Earth destroyed from space. Stephanie makes a face like she has a turd on her lip.
Dr. Hasslein goes on a television show and talks about what the apes said. Hasslein explains time travel by an artist painting of a picture of an artist painting a picture of an artist and so on. Time is like a freeway with lanes to the future. I don’t get it. It’s like listening to A Short History of Time by Stephen Hawkins. I don’t get that either.
The two chimps are treated like visiting dignitaries. They are moved into a luxury hotel. Cornelius is given a suit and Zira gets a fine dress. Los Angelinas were shocked when they say filming and apes were walking the streets. The scene where Cornelius plays golf was cut from the movie prior to release. At a party, Zira is given wine and told by Lewis that it is grape juice plus.
Zira is speaking at a woman’s club while Cornelius is to be taken to a prize fight. Of course, Cornelius is horrified by the violence. Hasslein takes Zira to the Natural History Museum after her talk. Zira sees a stuffed gorilla and passes out. She reveals to Hasslein that she is pregnant. She asks for grape juice plus. Bad mama. Hasslein gives her the drink and she starts running her mouth. Hasslein records her words. She tells him that they saw the rim of the earth melt while they were in space. She also tells that they came from around 3950 or so.
Hasslein takes the information to the President. The President mentions King Harrod trying to have Jesus killed and how that worked out. The President will not kill the chimps without being convinced. Hasslein thinks they should alter the future. This is a good example of the time travel paradox of when you try to change the future and actually create it. Hasslein goes to the commission and gets the authority to future interrogate the chimps.
The chimps are taken to a secret base. Lewis and Stephanie go along as caregivers. They use standard interrogation techniques like using a bright light. One of the integrators calls them monkeys and Cornelius objects. Hasslein says this is not an inter-racial hassle. Man, that’s some 70s jive.
Cornelius explains that there was a plague on dogs and cats. Humans took apes into their homes as pets. After about 200 years, the apes were more like slaves. In another 300 years, they over threw their masters. According to the pre-history ape scrolls, a chimp named Aldo uttered the first word “no.”
They then call Zira out on her dissection slip. Lewis is called in and told to give sodium pentothal (truth serum) to Zira. Cornelius is locked away in his cell. Lewis warns Zira about what she is being given. Hasslein gets the information that Zira operated on live and dead humans. She tells about the gorilla hunting parties and military practices. They also learn that she and Cornelius knew Taylor and Brent.
Zira is taken back to her cage as Hasslein takes the new information to the President and the Commission. They basically accuse Zira of criminal atrocities. They are going to have the chimp baby aborted and sterilize the two adults.
Back in confinement, Cornelius is very upset. An orderly comes in with a tray of food and refers to the chimp baby as a little monkey. Cornelius smacks the orderly and then he and Zira escape out a window. Cornelius does not know that he has killed the orderly.
Lewis calls Stephanie to come help him tell the chimps about the Commission ruling. Zira and Cornelius open a gate and flee the compound. As the escape gets going good Zira goes into labor.
Hasslein and Lewis make it to the compound and find out about the escape and murder. This gives Hasslein the idea to have the two parents and the unborn child killed. The President doesn’t want to have the apes killed. The President orders they be taken alive.
Cornelius leaves Zira and goes to find Lewis. He knows he will have trouble for hitting the orderly. Stephanie makes it to the compound as the search party heads out. Cornelius hears that he has killed the orderly.
Cornelius flags Stephanie down and calls her Stevie. She agrees to help them. Lewis and Stephine take the chimps to a traveling circus run by Señor Armando (Ricardo Montalbán), a friend of Lewis’. He agrees to take the fugitives in. Armando has a chimp named Heloise that has just given birth.
Zira’s baby is born and they name him Milo after their dead friend. This name is changed to Caesar in later movies.
Back at the compound, Hasslein is freaking out but he makes the zoo – circus connections. Armando had planned to take them to Florida where they could live in the Everglades until they would eventually be killed by pythons. Armando gives a St. Francis medal to the baby. Zira goes to say goodbye to Heloise.
Lewis and Stephanie take Cornelius and Zira as far as they can, before giving them supplies. Lewis gives Cornelius a map. At this point, the greatest line in the history of cinema is uttered. Lewis asks Cornelius if he can read a map, to which the ape replies “I am an archaeologist, I can even draw one.” The map takes them to Long Beach harbor. They are to stay there a week and then they will be smuggled back to the circus. Cornelius asks for a gun so they can kill themselves rather than be captured. Zira kisses Lewis and says he is the second human she has kissed and Cornelius kisses Stephanie and says you are my first. Yall got jungle fever.
Zira abandons her bag in an oil field so she is only carrying the baby. The bag is found and reported to Hasslein. He goes in search and sees Cornelius moving on the deck of a ship. When Stephine and Lewis find out they head that way also. The three chimps are waiting in an oil tanker for help to come. Hasslein arrives at the ship and takes out his gun.
Hasslein finds Zira and demands the baby. Zira runs and the Marines and police arrive. Hasslein hides because he wants to kill the apes. Lewis and Stephanie show up as well. Zira tries to make it to Stephanie but Hasslein catches up to her and shoots her in the back before firing several shots into the baby. Cornelius uses his gun to kill Hasslein. The Marines and police gun down Cornelius. He falls to the deck. Zira throws the baby into the water and goes to join her husband in death.
Armando is preparing to move his circus to Florida for the winter. He goes to the baby chimp in the cage and calls him an intelligent creature. He then says so were your mother and father. They show the baby chimp wearing the St. Francis medal. Then the chimp says “Mama, mama.”
There was another ending where dogs tear up Cornelius and Zira after Hasslein shoots the baby. However, it was dropped. This would have fed into the longstanding hate of dogs by chimps (See Sundiver 1980 by David Brin).
World-Famous Short Summary – Trip to LA ends tragically
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Beware the moors