After the commercial success of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, 20th Century Fox wanted more of the Apes saga. Producer Arthur P. Jacobs and writer Paul Dehn reunited to continue the adventure while moving it in a new direction. British director J. Lee Thompson, best known for films such as Taras Bulba (1962), Eye of the Devil (1967) and Mackenna’s Gold (1969), came on board for the final two entries in the series. With baby Milo alive and well in 1973 at the end of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, a new timeline had been created. But was humanity still headed for destruction?
As we begin Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), the timeline that Cornelius gives during the government hearing is now apparently either forgotten or changed. The centuries it originally took mankind to destroy themselves and apes to reign has been put on the fast track. We jump to 1991 and discover that the disease that wiped out all dogs and cats occurred in 1983. Humans have started keeping apes as pets, eventually training them to do simple household chores. By 1991, apes are now being used as slave labor, just as Cornelius stated they would, just on an accelerated timeline.
Roddy McDowell transitions from playing Cornelius to now playing his son Milo, still traveling with Armando’s (Ricardo Montalban) circus. After Milo inadvertently speaks out against police who are beating an ape, he runs away as Armando is arrested and interrogated by Inspector Kolp (Severn Darden, The Six Million Dollar Man). Kolp works for Governor Breck (Don Murray, The Viking Queen), the leader in this city in what now appears to almost a police state. Rather than give Milo away, Armando commits suicide by jumping out a window. Meanwhile, Milo is captured and sold in an auction to Governor Breck, who allows Milo to choose his own name. He chooses the name Caesar.
Caesar begins working alongside Breck’s assistant MacDonald (Hari Rhodes, Daktari), who sympathizes with apes and soon discovers who Caesar really is. After Caesar finds out that Armando is dead, he begins to train the other apes, teaching them about combat and secretly collecting weapons. Caesar is building a resistance as the time has come for the apes to be in control of their own destiny. It is time for the birth of the planet of the apes.
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes continues the shift from apes being the oppressors to mankind being the root of all evil. You easily sympathize with the apes in this movie and root for Caesar to overpower the evil Governor Breck. Having McDowell play the lead character here makes sense and allows the actor to continue in the role he was meant to play. Natalie Trundy is back as well, this time playing chimpanzee Lisa, who becomes the love interest of Caesar. In fact, Lisa becomes the second ape to speak, saying the words “No” to express how she does not want Caesar to kill Breck. This is another change from what Cornelius had previously described, mentioning how it was an ape named Aldo who first spoke. However, we would get to see Aldo in the next movie.
The racial tensions present in this movie were a direct parallel of what the United States was experiencing in the 60s and 70s. The violence present here was much more than seen in previous movies, which played a part in some heavy editing prior to the film’s release. Some clever rework at the end and a new voiceover by Roddy McDowell toned down the violence. The recent Blu-ray release has the restored violent scenes that are a little jarring upon first viewing. However, I think they enhance the movie and are worth checking out. A pre-title sequence involving an escaping ape was also apparently filmed but was not in the original release nor was it restored for the Blu-ray. The smaller budget is easily visible in the limited set pieces but location shooting covers most of this up.
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes was not a movie in heavy TV rotation in the 70s, at least not in Wichita. While the first three films and the final fifth film were often shown on TV, the fourth film was always skipped. When Power Records did their book and record adaptations, it was also omitted. However, it did receive a novelization and comic book adaptation. I didn’t view this film until the late 80s and I still enjoy it today as much as I did then. I recommend checking out the unrated version.
Check out the trailer as well as the original ending of the film. I enjoy this movie quite a bit but always think of it more as a separate entry apart from the first three as it just has a more adult tone. I wish this is where things would have stopped. However, next time get ready for the Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973).