After the darkness of Conquest, the final film in the original Apes series is a little more family-friendly, and is my next stop in the Sci-Fi Chronicles book.
Caesar (Roddy McDowall) is trying to keep his people safe, as he rules the apes, after the consequences of the war that was hinted at during the end of Conquest…
He is trying to live peacefully with his people and the enslaved and tribes of humans, but of course there is trouble on both fronts, even with the lawgiver’s commandment that ape must not kill ape, there are factions at work inside Caesar’s own camp, in the form of General Aldo (Claude Akins) and on the human front there is Governor Kolp (Severn Darden). Also on hand is the peaceful and clever Virgil, played by Paul Williams.
There exists an uneasy peace between ape and man, that gets increasingly shakier as Aldo pushes for more violence against man, and the violent inclinations of the enslaved men, and the rebellious tribes that still exist, makes for dire times for Caesar, his wife, Lisa (Natalie Trundy) and son, Cornelius (Bobby Porter).
Virgil, Caesar and the human, MacDonald (Austin Stoker) set out for the Forbidden City, one of the cities hit by a nuclear weapon to seek out the recordings of Cornelius (McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) that spoke of the future of the planet, and the ultimate fate of apes and man.
As Kolp discovers the continued existence of Caesar, he plans an attack from the devastated cities, leading an army of irradiated humans, while Aldo plans a coup that brings about disaster for Caesar’s family.
While no where near as dark as its predecessor, the film is still making commentary on society, warfare, and our inability to live in peace with one another. It’s troubling that we as a species, seen multi-fold in this film as the apes, and our mutated selves, can’t learn to share the planet with one another, and it’s our own folly that may doom us, our inability to get along with one another because of perceived differences.
And even though both the film’s villains get their comeuppance, one is left to wonder if the future has been changed, if the suggestion of hope for both species at the film’s end is enough to change the future we’ve already seen.
Unfortunately we won’t find out in this series, as the next one is a bit a of an homage film, and then the series gets a bit of a 21st century reboot a little later.
Still these are fascinating films that have endured for a reason, they have some wonderful actors, McDowall has always been a favorite, and they have a stories to tell, one of entertainment, and one with a deeper meaning and significance for the viewing audience.
These are true classics.