The fourth in the superb Planet of the Apes series of films picks up a few years after Zira and Cornelius gave birth to their talking baby ape in Escape From The Planet of the Apes.
The year is now 1990 and, as Zira and Cornelius foretold before their assassination, a plague has killed all cats and dogs on earth and apes have been domesticated as pets and – when found to have a superior intelligence – put to work as janitors, waiters and menial labourers.
These slave apes are “conditioned” to obey human masters – “Go!” “No!” “Do!” – and are punished via further “conditioning” when they fail in their tasks or simply don’t perform fast enough.
Having been raised by kindly circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalban), the young talking chimpanzee, Caesar (Roddy McDowall), now sets about leading his fellow apes in revolt against the humans who have enslaved them.
Governor Breck (Don Murray) is aware of Armando’s connection to Cornelius and Zira and suspects that Caesar may be the slain couple’s son, long believed dead. He buys Caesar at a slave auction.
Hiding the fact that he can speak, Caesar begins to covertly organise a resistance movement among the apes until his identity is discovered. MacDonald (Hari Rhodes), a black government official sympathetic to the apes’ plight, helps Caesar escape.
Led by Caesar, the apes soon gain control of the city and apprehend Breck and his staff.
Caesar vows revenge on the humans but ultimately chooses to show mercy on his former captors – “We who are not human can afford to be humane”. History, he observes, is on the side of the apes.
Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes was made for just $1.7 million and earned $4.5 million in its original release. At just 88 minutes, Conquest is a short, fast and brutal film, but it is also one of the most effective and direct science fiction movies of the era.
Screenwriter Paul Dehn, in his third stint as the chronicler of the apes’ story, provides excellent orientation for newcomers to the series with expository sections that are both clear and gracefully worked into the new material.
Most of the film was shot in Los Angeles at Century City and the futuristic-looking campus of the University of California at Irvine. Century City, a commercial/office complex in Beverly Hills, still looks much the same as it did in 1972, and sharp-eyed viewers will have no problem finding the backdrops used for several skirmishes between apes and soldiers.
In keeping with the films’ themes of prejudice and class warfare, the riot scenes were modelled after the actual race riots that occurred in Watts, California, in 1965.
J Lee Thompson