Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Written by Paul Dehn. Directed by J. Lee Thompson. 18 years later, Cornelius and Zira’s son, Caesar, becomes the leader of an ape revolution to free ape slaves. Running time 1 hour 28 minutes.

Synopsis

18 years later: Armando (Ricardo Montalban) and Caesar (Roddy McDowall) travel to the city to post flyers for Armando’s circus. While walking around, they see apes doing various tasks like cleaning the sidewalk, serving food, running errands. They also witness people yelling at the apes for mistakes and police using batons on the apes for disobedience. Armando tells Caesar about a plague on cats and dogs 10 years prior which wiped them out. Humans then began using apes as pets until they figured out they could be trained to do tasks. Apes became slaves to the humans. Armando warns Caesar it is important for him to act like a normal ape and not to talk for fear people will find out he is the true son of Cornelius and Zira, the talking apes who came from Space and were killed–along with their infant son.

After witnessing more police brutality, Caesar cannot hold silent and yells, “Lousy human bastards!” to which Armando takes the blame and the cops buy it for a moment. Later, Armando decides to go to the police and explain to them again it was innocent and Caesar is not who they think he is. He leaves Caesar under a stairwell and tells him if he doesn’t come back, he needs to blend in with the other apes. Naturally, he doesn’t come back.

Armando refuses to admit who Caesar really is and makes the ultimate sacrifice. Caesar, heartbroken, decides to take action. He blends in with a new shipment of apes, gets himself in the ape training center, and quickly emerges as an ape who can learn quickly. He gets bought by Malcom MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) who works for the governor Breck (Don Murray). While Caesar works and listens to the Governor and workers about the apes disobedience and the search for Caesar, he secretly gets the apes organized, trained, and weaponized for a revolution.

Eventually, Breck and MacDonald learn Caesar has been under their nose the whole time. MacDonald tries to help Caesar escape but Breck’s men capture him for electrocution. Caesar survives the electrocution due to MacDonald’s help, gets away from the guard, and gives the charge to the apes in waiting.

A huge battle ensues between the apes and the heavily suited riot police. Caesar’s apes capture Breck and MacDonald and bring them to the courtyard for execution. Caesar spares MacDonald who pleads with Caesar to show mercy to Breck saying, “Violence prolongs hate, hate prolongs violence. By what right are you spilling blood?” Caesar responds with the call to action and declaration of the future. “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!”

But just as the apes are about to pummel Breck to death, Lisa (Natalie Trundy)–a female ape who has become enamored with Caesar–utters the word, “no”. Caesar hears this and has a change of heart, sort of. The apes put down their weapons as Caesar declares, “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 mans 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 city continues to burn.

What I Liked

I liked the story was able to jump 18 years and still make sense. Well, mostly. In the previous installment, Escape From the Planet of the Apes, Zira tells of the plague which wiped out cats and dogs sparking the use of apes as pets then alter as slaves. It’s now come to pass, despite the efforts of killing Cornelius, Zira, and their infant son which was meant to prevent it. Prevent the plague? The use of apes as slaves? Obviously, it didn’t work. Armando explain: Astronauts, on their return from a space mission, introduce the plague to Earth wiping out cats and dogs.

I liked the jumbled camera work in this film because it felt chaotic, unsettling, and imbalanced at times which I think is what Caesar must have felt seeing the city and his people being treated so horribly. The battle scenes shot this way as well made them feel larger and crazier than the actual choreography of the fighting and such had it been done with a steadier hand. As dusk begins and darkness falls, the lights in the courtyard never come on which I felt was interesting since there were humans walking about while the loud speaker told them to get back to their homes as the revolution was beginning. The limited use of light and then the glow of fire was instrumental in the apes overtaking the riot police.

As mentioned above, the dialogue is fierce. I’ve already quoted Caesar’s final monologues but other moments need a moment. The word “no” is said so many times toward the apes, it’s no wonder it’s the first word Lisa utters; except, it’s the ONLY time when it’s used properly. So powerful. The exchange between Caesar and MacDonald when Caesar reveals to him he can speak and Caesar tells him his plan of revolution. MacDonald warns Caesar of the potential failure of the revolution and Caesar says he’ll keep trying and adds, “You, above everyone else should understand, we cannot be free until we have power! How else can we achieve it?” Pointing out MacDonald’s being Black and a descendant of slavery. The exchange after Breck’s been captured by Caesar. Caesar, “The King is dead. Long live the King! Tell me Breck, before you die – how do we differ from the dogs and cats that you and your kind used to love? Why did you turn us from pets into slaves?” Breck, “Because your kind were once our ancestors. Because man was born of apes, and there’s still an ape curled up inside of every man. You’re the beast in us that we have to whip into submission. You’re the savage that we need to shackle in chains. You taint us, Caesar. You poison our guts. When we hate you, we’re hating the dark side of ourselves.” WOW.

Also, KNOWING from Zira’s account and the footage later shown in Conquest about the plague, shouldn’t the government have known about the plague’s potential and eventual use of ape slaves leading to the eventual ape revolution? I mean, Zira warns them 18 years prior, they have it on tape, and yet NO ONE learns and the prophecy is fulfilled. Good job humans…

What I Wished Was Better

At 1 hour and 28 minutes, I felt like they could’ve spent a few more minutes on the plague and the eventual apes turned to slaves. It’s a few lines of exposition. Plus, the infant ape was named Milo, not Caesar, so it would’ve been good to know how the name change came about. Like, he was given the name of the other ape baby–the one who was killed–in order to conceal his true identity. *Caesar is obviously more of a revolutionary leader’s name than Milo–at least in the movies– at Caesar does mean “King” so there ya go.*

Final Thoughts

Even with warnings, humans do not learn unless they are forced. Why does it need to come to violence? I love violent movies when the stakes are high and the message is clear. When the story requires it and delivers the hammer on to the violators. This film wasn’t about the violence for me but the word heard so often throughout the film. “No.”

Why doesn’t the word “no” uttered strongly or just spoken have the weight to change the behavior. In any circumstance. We teach our kids the varied meanings of “no” in the way it matches certain behaviors. “No” right before they do something dangerous or potentially harmful. “No” as a punishment for doing something dangerous, harmful, or plain irresponsible. “No” as a response when someone asks or wants them to do something dangerous, harmful, or irresponsible to themselves or others OR when someone is trying to do it to them. “No” as in ‘not right now’ or ‘you gotta get through a lot of no’s before you get to the yes’ or “don’t take no for an answer–keep on trying, keep on going, keep on pursuing your dreams…

“No” for many people means ‘no, you can’t live here’ or ‘no, you can’t eat here’ or ‘no, you can’t marry them’ or ‘no, you can’t work here’ or ‘no, you can’t_________. For so many of the people who have heard this their WHOLE lives and have stood up to it to make change in the world, legislation, policies, mindset—WHEN will your voice be heard? WHEN will change truly happen? WHEN? If not now, WHEN?

Many people may not watch Conquest of the Planet of the Apes thinking it’s just another sequel in wacky sci-fi series. What they’re missing is truth about human conditioning, thought, hate, prejudice, justified violence, and so much more. Also, about kindness, working together, and helping people stand for what’s right. Available to stream. Watch the trailer below:

Fun Facts: Most of the outdoor scenes were shot at the University of California Irvine for the courtyard and stairs. Roddy McDowall continues the legacy playing his own son, Caesar, in this installment. Natalie Trundy (Dr. Elizabeth in Escape From the Planet of the Apes) returns as the ape Lisa. The film takes place in the year 1991.

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