An allegorical fable of fascism and slavery, CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is the best of the four sequels in the hugely successful APES series, as well as being the darkest and most violent. Roddy McDowall, who had played Cornelius in two of the previous entries, gives a fiery
performance as Cornelius's grown son Caesar, who leads the apes in a revolt against their barbarous oppressors.
1991 North America is a police state in which cats and dogs have been wiped out by a virus brought back from space by astronauts. Apes are imported from Africa and auctioned off as household pets and trained to perform menial tasks. A circus owner named Armando (Ricardo Montalban) arrives in the
city with a grown ape named Caesar (Roddy McDowall). Eighteen years earlier, Armando had hidden the baby Caesar, whose parents were intelligent and articulate apes who had traveled back from the 40th century and were killed in an attempt to prevent future ape domination. Although warned by Armando
not to speak so that he won't give away his identity, Caesar is appalled at the degrading treatment of the slave-apes at the hands of the police and he curses one of them. Armando is apprehended by the police and interrogated by the ruthless Governor Breck (Don Murray), but Caesar gets away and
hides with a group of gorillas destined for the slave block.
After being put through a brutal training and conditioning program, he's sold to Breck and put to work in the city's communications control center, but when Armando jumps out a window to his death while being interrogated, Caesar reveals his true identity to the governor's sympathetic black
assistant MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) and begins to organize an ape revolt. Caesar is captured by Police Chief Kolp (Severn Darden) and is tortured until he admits he can talk, but when Breck orders that Caesar be electrocuted, MacDonald secretly shuts off the power preventing Caesar's death. Caesar
escapes and leads a victorious street fight against the militia, eventually capturing Breck, but sparing his life. He then rallies the other apes by delivering an impassioned speech predicting that man will destroy itself in nuclear warfare and apes will ultimately rule the world.
CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a hard-edged thriller featuring a sleekly sinister look and a disturbing tone that's quite different from any of the other films in the series. British director J. Lee Thompson, known for such muscular action movies as THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961) and the truly
nasty original version of CAPE FEAR (1962), brings a dynamic visual style to the film, utilizing kinetic hand-held camerawork and low-angle, deep-focus widescreen compositions to convey a jittery and menacing atmosphere. The entire film is marked by brooding anger and hostility (the apes being led
around on chains and beaten by the police who are dressed like Nazis, the vicious reconditioning where the apes are "trained" with flame-throwers, and the harrowing electroshock torture of Caesar); and there's also some trenchant social satire in such scenes as where snotty women browbeat the apes
while the animals groom the ladies' hair and light their cigarettes, and in the fact that the entire film takes place in the futuristic environs of the then-new Century City complex next to the old Fox lot, with its ubiquitous surveillance cameras and outdoor loudspeakers used to bark out orders
to the public.
The final hand-to-hand combat between the apes and the militia--a fierce tour-de-force that lasts for 30 minutes and features wholesale slaughter by knife, machine gun, and every weapon imaginable as the city goes up in flames and an impassioned Caesar delivers a tirade against mankind--was
explicitly designed to evoke images of the 1965 Watts riots and is extremely effective. The film was so bloody, in fact, that it was the only one of the series to be rated PG (all the others surprisingly received G-ratings in spite of violence and mild profanity), and the studio toned it down from
the original cut, fearing it would turn off the series' intended family audience (it would doubtlessly receive a PG-13 now). Nevertheless, the film was another huge success and director Thompson was brought back for the fifth and final entry, the routine BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973),
for which, unfortunately he acceded to Fox's pressure for kinder and gentler monkeyshines. (Graphic violence.) leave a comment