Every so often, we run into a classic film that has aged really, really badly. My wife confided that she wasn’t looking forward to sitting through this again. I said she’d enjoy the location filming. Turns out that was my favorite part as well.
One of the earlier drafts of Apes was written by Rod Serling, and I suspect my favorite scene in the film had a lot of his hand in it. It’s when they’re stomping across the desert and Charlton Heston’s character starts needling Robert Gunner’s, poking him about why he volunteered for this mission. It’s a good scene that underscores Heston’s cynicism and ends up informing his rash actions later in the film’s interminably long second act. Yes, the movie hits its peak for me before any apes show up.
Once we get into the ape city, there are little moments here and there, like the casual cruelty of the gorilla guards, that bring a little life to a long, long slog. I think the most interesting stuff is the material we don’t see. Throughout, we gradually realize that Maurice Evans’ Dr. Zaius, and by extension all the orangutans, know a heck of a lot more about their past than they want anybody else to know, and are covering up the truth. Governments are damn near always this way, but since this was made in the summer of 1967, it feels almost like 20th Century Fox knew Nixon was gonna get elected eighteen months later. The best single line in the film for me is Taylor reminding one of his chimpanzee friends to not trust anyone over thirty.
Overall, it just felt like a slog waiting to get to the punch line, and all the best moments are in the Grand Canyon and on that California beach. Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, and Roddy McDowall are very entertaining to watch, but I guess I’ve never really enjoyed this franchise very much. Maybe the first of the sequels was the best; I remember it that way anyhow. When we were young, one of the local UHF channels – probably WANX, later WGNX – would have an annual Apes marathon, beefed up with compilations made from the TV show with Ron Harper and James Naughton, and I’d watch them in the same disinterested way I would watch westerns when there was nothing else on.
Our son, for whom I’m writing this blog, was not impressed. I sold it to him as a classic and he usually buys my lines, but not this time. The famous ending landed with a shrug, and he said, not unreasonably, that he had a pretty good idea this was coming.
So to illustrate my point that no, this film really was an influential classic, I pulled up an episode of Jack of All Trades that we watched in the spring that ended with Verne Troyer doing his best Heston and pounding the sand. He enjoyed the lampoon and the reminder of a silly favorite more than the original, though.
Even Sid and Marty Krofft were paying attention at certain moments.