The US military rescues a strange craft from the Pacific Ocean (it’s Taylor’s triangular spacecraft from the original 1968 Planet Of The Apes film) and the soldiers are astonished when three spacesuit-clad chimpanzees emerge from inside.
The ‘ape-o-nauts’ – Cornelius, Zira and Milo – are transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo infirmary for study by two scientists, Dr Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and Dr Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy).
When they are left alone, the apes conspire to hide their intelligence from the humans and to not divulge that they have journeyed back in time 2,000 years from our future.
But after Milo (Sal Mineo) is killed by a gorilla in the next cage, archaeologist Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and his wife, animal psychologist Zira (Kim Hunter) introduce themselves to their caretakers.
The middle third of the film is the most delightful extended sequence featuring Cornelius and Zira checking into the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, where Zira experiences her first bubble bath.
The couple then tours Los Angeles, garbed in fashionable clothes (Zira’s 20th-century fashions were designed by Giorgio’s Dress Shop while Cornelius’ suit was purchased from Dick Carroll’s Men’s Shop) and become overnight celebrities. They are wined and dined and Zira speaks on Women’s Lib to an exclusive women’s club, while Cornelius is the guest of honour at a boxing match, which he pronounces “beastly”.
At a press conference, the two apes charm government officials and the media.
But the President’s crafty senior science advisor, Dr Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden), discovers that apes will one day rule over humans, and expresses concern to the President – especially after Zira announces she is pregnant.
Hasslein advocates that Cornelius and Zira be killed, in the hope of changing the future. Under further interrogation – and the use of Sodium Pentothal – Zira reveals that, in her time, she performed medical experiments on humans, who were often hunted for sport.
The government orders her baby destroyed, and Zira to be sterilised, but with the help of Lewis and Stephanie, Cornelius and Zira escape military custody and are hidden by Armando (Ricardo Montalban), a kindly circus owner.
Hasslein hunts them down and kills them both – but not before Zira gives birth to a son (pictured below).
Escape From The Planet Of The Apes cost $2.5 million to make and earned $5.5 million in its original release.
Theoretically, the Apes saga should have died after the second film (Beneath The Planet of The Apes), but somehow Escape kept the franchise alive. Who would have guessed two more sequels would follow – Conquest and Battle – plus a live-action and a cartoon television series, a Tim Burton re-imagining, and most recently an excellent series of movie reboots and sequels.
Escape was originally titled The Secret of The Planet Of The Apes. Armando’s circus was set up on a golf course across the street from Twentieth Century Fox.
Dr Lewis Dixon
Dr Stephanie Branton
Dr Otto Hasslein