There was never a more definitive “The End” moment in a movie than the closing scene of the original Planet Of the Apes movie (1968). As the surf hits the sand at the end – the only sound that plays over the closing credits – it was impossible to think that anyone could write a story beyond that point. Why would anyone try?
But The Planet of the Apes made a lot of money, so it stood to reason that a sequel had a good chance of making even more money. Enter Beneath The Planet Of The Apes – where we discover that not one but two spacecraft have actually landed on the planet.
The second craft contains our hero, Brent (James Franciscus) – another astronaut from the 20th century launched on a search and rescue mission in an effort to find the missing astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston). Brent’s ship passes through the same bend in time and crash-lands on Earth in 3955.
Charlton Heston only reluctantly reprised his Planet Of The Apes role for the sequel, and then only under the condition that he was not in the movie much. He appears as Taylor at the beginning, then disappears with the arrival of Brent (who is more or less interchangeable with Taylor).
With the help of Taylor’s mute girlfriend, Nova (Linda Harrison), Brent finally locates Taylor in an underground fortress in the Forbidden Zone – amongst the remnants of New York City – guarded by telepathic mutant humans who worship the ultimate in destructive power – an unexploded nuclear missile called the Alpha Omega bomb, housed in the ruins of St Patrick’s Cathedral.
At the same time, the apes are suffering famine and General Ursus (James Gregory) convinces Dr Zaius (Maurice Evans) to invade the Forbidden Zone in search of food and some understanding of the legendary evils said to lurk there. They and the mutants become locked in deadly combat.
In the inevitable confrontation, gunfire is exchanged, Brent and Nova are killed, and a wounded Taylor asks his old adversary Zaius for help. But Zaius’ views remain unchanged. “You ask me to help you?” he says. “Man is evil. Capable of nothing but destruction.”
Then, as if to prove him right while spiting him, Taylor detonates the “divine” bomb and a voiceover announces, “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star. And one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead”. Roll credits.
Once again, the finality of the climax is unequivocal – and yet the series later ingeniously found a way to write beyond even that point, producing Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971).
Roddy McDowall was unavailable for Beneath The Planet Of The Apes, making this the only in the series of films in which he does not appear. In his place, British actor David Watson put on the chimp make-up to play Cornelius. His impersonation of McDowall’s distinctive voice is spot-on.
Sadly, where the ape makeup never looked less than impressive in the first film, Beneath contains crowd scenes filled with apes wearing what look like store-bought Halloween masks.
Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter and Linda Harrison reprised their roles from the original. The film was made for $3 million and earned $7.2 million in its original release.
The original title for Beneath was Planet Of The Apes Revisited. The studio had also briefly considered Planet Of The Men.
The faces of the mutants were inspired by a photograph in the medical textbook, Gray’s Anatomy. Director Ted Post advised the makeup team to create faces without an epidermis (skin covering) that would expose muscles and blood vessels.
The set used for the mutant church was also seen as the Harmonia Gardens in Hello, Dolly! (1969).
Don Pedro Colley