Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Written by Paul Dehn. Directed by Don Taylor. Apes from Earth’s future arrive in 1970s Los Angeles bringing both novelty and fear to society. Running time 1 hour 38 minutes.

Synopsis

An American space craft lands on the California coast. Everyone is shocked when the three crew members take off their helmets to reveal they’re apes. The apes are taken to the Los Angeles zoo for observation and tests. Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), Zira (Kim Hunter), & Milo (Sal Mineo) all make a pact to not speak. When one of the doctors wonders why the female won’t take the banana, Zira exclaims, “Because I loathe bananas!” The doctors are shocked and amazed. Dr. Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and Dr. Branton (Natalie Trundy) are fascinated by the apes and become friends with them right away.

Meanwhile, the president (William Windom) has put together an investigative council to determine who the apes are, where they came from, and what they’re intentions are, led by Dr. Hasslein (Eric Braeden). The apes go before the council, with the press present, and answer questions wowing the crowd.

Society becomes delighted and obsessed with Zira and Cornelius (Milo had an unfortunate incident with a gorilla at the zoo…). They are put up in a super fine hotel room, are given new clothes, grape juice plus (champagne), and parties. Meanwhile, Dr. Hasslein becomes obsessed with putting an end to Zira and Cornelius once he finds out Zira is pregnant. He’s worried that Zira and Cornelius will influence the Earth’s future sooner since they’ve traveled back in time.

Zira and Cornelius are taken into protective custody at a secure military base where Dr. Hasslein tries to get more information from Zira. Cornelius gets into a scuffle with an orderly giving them an opportunity to escape. As the ape hunt begins, Zira goes into labor. Cornelius tracks down Dr. Branton who, with the help of Dr. Dixon, gets Zira and Cornelius to Armando’s (Ricardo Montalban) traveling circus where she gives birth to baby Milo.

Zira, Cornelius, and Milo are given supplies and directions to an abandoned tanker ship in the marina where they can hide out for a week until the hunt dies down. Except, Zira, tired from giving birth, leaves her suitcase behind on the trail leading to the tanker ship giving Dr. Hasslein the clue to find them.

Dr. Hasslein sees Cornelius through the binoculars and makes his way to the tanker. He tries to get Zira to give him Milo but she runs off. Dr. Hasslein shoots Zira and Milo, the police and military show up, Cornelius shoots Dr. Hasslien, and then gets shot by the cops/military.

Armando packs up the circus and as the ape trailer passes by, he speaks lovingly to the baby ape who happens to be wearing a special necklace. As Armando walks away, the baby ape starts saying, “ma ma, ma ma…”

What I Liked

The third film in the franchise was able to add a fresh layer to the story while at the same time reinforcing the issues which plagued the future of man and ape from the first two films. Fear and division. The timeline is very tricky here and the film does its best to justify how Zira, Cornelius, and Milo came to Earth back in time. It makes sense IF you don’t pick the original film timeline apart or point out there was no Dr. Milo in the first film…or the second. (Basically, while Zira is figuring out who Taylor is, Milo has dredged up the space craft from the water where it crash landed. While he cleaned it up and learned how to use the controls, Zira and Cornelius helped Taylor and Nova in the Forbidden Zone. Then, Brent showed up looking for Taylor, Zira and Cornelius tell him where the Forbidden Zone is and probably Taylor. Brent finds the radioactive people and underground city while Zira, Cornelius, and Milo board the space craft and take off just as the Earth is destroyed by the underground people’s atomic bomb…)

I loved the groovy 70s music and clothes and the way the people embraced Zira and Cornelius into their society and groups. This film showed a society of people from all races doing things together and celebrating commonalities of life as well as highlight how one man’s fear of the future and his desperate attempt to keep the status quo can wreak havoc with dire consequences. There are moments of understanding and recognition of the 70s humans toward the apes as well as apes toward humans as they both realize the wrongs they’ve done in the name of research and lack of empathy to fellow living creatures.

The dialogue is fantastic, the makeup is even more flexible allowing more expression from the apes, and the settings for each location was perfectly suited to show similar environments to the ape communities from the first two–even though Taylor et al., did not receive the welcoming the apes did.

When Dr. Hasslein shoots baby Milo…omg. That was awful. Then Zira throws baby Milo into the water and then crawls over to Cornelius’ dead body and dies herself. That was terrible and heartbreaking. I remember the first time watching and just shaking my head at the senselessness of it. Of course then seeing the real baby Milo in Armando’s circus wagon! Zira switches out the baby without telling Cornelius just before they leave Armando’s for the tanker ship. Zira knew her fate and she did what she had to do for her baby’s future.

What I Wished Was Better

Maybe they could’ve used fellow veterinarian Dr. Galen from Planet of the Apes instead of creating a a new character with Milo to keep the structure in tact. I’m nit-picking here, of course. I also wish Milo hadn’t been killed off so easily. He’s barely in a choke hold through the zoo bars by the gorilla. Not much of struggle or anything…

Final Thoughts

I love the third installment. I feel like it got the story back on track and furthered the basic premise of the original story line and underlying messages of truth, status, fear, and what people/apes will do to protect their realities. It’s beyond entertainment, it’s a cautionary tale of the consequences of our actions if we don’t make the necessary changes. Available on various streaming platforms. Watch the trailer below:

Fun Facts: The make-up department managed to shave off a whole hour of application time by the time the third film was made. Kim Hunter (Zira) really didn’t like bananas. Sal Mineo was claustrophobic wearing the ape make-up which led to an earlier death in the film.

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