CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 1972
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Don Murray, John Randolph, HM Wynant and Natalie Trudy.
It is the distant future age of 1991 when man has enslaved ape-kind. But the apes have one hope, the child of Cornelius and Zira. Being tortured and enslaved himself Milo, (Roddy McDowall) takes on the name Caesar and begins the ending of the age of Mankind.
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‘Conquest of the Planet’ of the Apes is considered by many to be the best and most edgy instalment in the ‘Apes’ saga, it is definitely the most violent. There are scenes of electrocution, many battering with blunt objects and people being set on fire. But it’s all for freedom which makes it alright.
One of my favourite things about old science fiction films is when the distant future they are set in has become our past. ‘Conquest’ is set in the year 1991, I first watched this film in 1993. When that title came up over the top of apes in orange overalls cleaning the city street I literally rolled on the floor with laughter. But maybe that’s just me.
The reason given for people’s adoption of apes as their pets and eventually their slaves is that all the cats and dogs in the world were killed off by a disease in 1983, so they had no pets. Not content, obviously, with birds or hamsters or rabbits or even snakes mankind turned to what they thought was the only available option, gorillas, chimps and orang-utans.
Somewhere within the eight years between the death of the cats and dogs and the beginning of the film, the apes were taught to do all the menial tasks that people didn’t want to do, effectively becoming a slave race. Now before you think this is a bad film just remember to suspend your disbelief, you should be fine. You have obviously watched the previous three ‘Apes’ films and so you should know by now not to let little things like logic get in the way of a good story. Which it is.
‘Conquest’ is essentially the story of Cornelius and Zira’s son growing up in the circus under the supervision of Armando (Ricardo Mantalban). Armando protects the chimp because he knows that the government want to kill him in order to preserve human civilisation. As a result neither of them knows much about what goes on with the ape slaves in the city. When they witness an ape being beaten and drugged Milo (Roddy McDowall) yells “Lousy human bastards!” The slave apes are not yet able to speak and so Armando must take the fall for Milo who nevertheless is taken away while Armando is interrogated.
Milo begins a slow character change from here on. At the beginning of the film, like his parents, Milo likes humans. After seeing the way they are treated and how they treat each other his character becomes more and more anti-human. Milo is bought by a man named Governor Breck (Don Murray), who allows him to choose his own name from the Bible. Milo chooses the name Caesar. He meets Governor Breck’s chief aid Mr. MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) who is a descendant of African-American slaves and sympathises with the apes. Eventually Caesar learns that whilst Armando was being interrogated he committed suicide in order to save him. It is at this point that Caesar begins plotting his simian revolution.
In regards to the acting in this film there isn’t much to say, Roddy McDowall is just great as usual. Ricardo Mantalban is genius as always and the veteran actor Don Murray as the ape hating Governor Breck is perfect.
Unlike the other ‘Apes’ films ‘Conquest’ doesn’t have that much of a twist ending. But it has one hell of a speech by Caesar. Just as Caesar is about to order Breck to be battered to death, Caesar’s girlfriend Lisa (Natalie Trundy) speaks for the first time. She says ‘No!’. Thus altering history, Caesar is turned by Lisa and decides to be merciful to Breck. ‘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 man’s destiny to be dominated, it is God’s 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!’
Originally the movie was meant to end with Caesar ordering the apes to beat Breck to death. Apparently the ending was changed in an attempt to get a ‘G’ rating for the film, it didn’t help as the film is rated ‘PG’. Also you can see why it isn’t the best ending, if the apes are going to be just as cruel to the humans as the humans were to the apes, who are the good guy. Caesar’s change of heart shows his compassion and humanity was never truly completely gone.
‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ is a great film because it knows its message and sticks to it. Ultimately it’s about oppressed peoples over throwing their tyrannical masters to gain their freedom.