Greatest Movie Series
Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
Planet of the Apes Films
Planet of the Apes (1968) | Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) | Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) | Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
Planet of the Apes (2001) | Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
|Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
d. Ted Post, 95 minutes
Film Plot Summary
Primitive mute human Nova (Linda Harrison) and US astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) left on horseback to follow the shoreline in the quarantined "Forbidden Zone" - "once a paradise" according to orangutan Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) which the human breed made a desert ages ago. Taylor was still determined to find out why there was "a planet where apes evolved from men - there's gotta be an answer." Zaius cautioned: "Don't look for it, Taylor. You may not like what you find." Zaius told chimpanzee Zira (Kim Hunter) that Taylor would soon find "his destiny." The opening credits played above Taylor and Nova riding along the beach, and the shocking conclusion (of the previous film), now abbreviated, in which Taylor dismounted to stare upwards, drop to his knees, and pound his fist into the sand: "Damn you all to hell!" (Note: the original was "Goddamn you all to hell"), at the sight of the spiked crown of a battered Statue of Liberty buried waist-deep in beach sand. They continued to ride through the arid desert area.
In another location in the "Forbidden Zone," a second US spacecraft had crash-landed, and one of its two surviving astronauts, John Brent (James Franciscus) emerged from an escape hatch in the wreckage to help his seriously-injured, blinded 'Skipper' Maddox (Tod Andrews) lying on the ground. He mentioned that the Earth-Time reading gave the year as 3955 A.D. [Note: In the original film, the Earth-Time year was 3978] and that they had "followed Taylor's trajectory...so whatever happened to us must have happened to him." Brent speculated that they had passed through a Hasslein Curve -- "a bend in time," and had arrived at an unknown planet (with plentiful oxygen and water), and were "lucky to be alive." The skipper soon passed away and was buried in a mound of dirt. Then, Brent heard the sound of a horse's neighing and snorting, and watched as Nova (alone on horseback, without Taylor) rode up on the other side of a sand dune and approached the spacecraft. She could not understand his questions. He noticed the metal ID tag hanging around her neck, with Taylor's name on it, and asked excitedly: "Where is he?...Is he hurt? Is he alive? Where is he?"
Frustrated by Nova's inability to talk, Brent told her: "You take me to Taylor" - and then mounted onto the horse's back behind her. They rode out of the desert into a lush green area close to Ape City, where they found throngs of gorilla-ape soldiers cheering in an open-air arena where speeches were being delivered by ape-men (Brent: "My God! It's a city of apes!"). The imposing Ape-Army leader in military uniform, General Ursus (James Gregory), was lecturing to the Citizens' Council: "The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked merciless force!" Other members of the ape hierarchy, revered orange-dressed orangutans and dark green/gray costumed, intellectual chimpanzees in the amphitheatre's audience were silent. Ursus recommended the extermination of primitive humans: "Our great Lawgiver tells us that never, never will the human have the ape's divine faculty for being able to distinguish between evil and good. The only good human is a dead human! But those fortunate enough to remain alive will have the privilege of being used by our revered Minister of Science, the good Dr. Zaius." Listening incredulously, Brent thought he was delusional: "It's a bloody nightmare." Among the chimpanzees, Dr. Zira feared that the "rabblerouser" General Ursus was threatening the future of science by "fomenting a senseless military adventure." Ursus continued his speech, claiming that the vast barren area of the Forbidden Zone (closed for centuries and ravaged by humans) was now inhabited by unknowns - its productive "feeding grounds" would provide the apes with a new replenishing food source if it was conquered: "It is our holy duty to put our feet upon it, to enter it, to put the mark of our guns and our wheels, and our flags upon it. To expand the boundaries of our ineluctable power. And to invade!" Cornelius (David Watson replacing Roddy McDowall) scolded resistant wife Zira for her behavior during the meeting, when she remained seated while everyone else stood in applause during a standing ovation. Brent was appalled and refused to listen to anymore talk, somehow hoping to escape the planet: "I'm not staying here." A patrolling gorilla guard thought he heard noises in the dense brush as Nova and Brent scrambled away, and followed their trail - he shot aimlessly into the overgrowth where they crouched and grazed Brent in the arm - believing that it was only a bird that flew into the sky.
After the rally in a steam-bath room, General Ursus and Dr. Zaius spoke further about the "strange manifestations in the Forbidden Zone," including the disappearance of eleven scouts - "the 12th returned with incredible stories of huge walls of fire, strange violent earthquakes" and a shattered mind. Ursus stressed: "Now, we invade or we starve, it's as simple as that," but Zaius thought it was too "hasty" to invade against a "dangerous" and unknown foe. Ursus asked: "What is more dangerous than famine, Doctor?" - Zaius answered: "The unknown."
Nova cautiously led Brent to the home of Cornelius and Zira, who had just arrived there and were complaining about their low status (Brent and Nova were hiding and listening to their discussion): "The trouble with us intellectuals is that we have responsibilities and no power." Zira criticized the gorillas: "Gorillas are cruel because they're stupid - all bone and no brains." Nova and Brent emerged from behind a curtain - Zira was shocked that Brent could talk, like Taylor - who was "a fine, a unique specimen" - "In a whole lifetime devoted to the scientific study of humans, I've only found one other like you who could talk." Brent claimed he didn't know Taylor's whereabouts, but learned that Zira had saved Taylor from being stuffed and displayed in a museum "with his two friends." While his wound was treated, Brent demanded food, water, and a map, and was shown where they last saw Taylor with Nova in the Forbidden Zone. Dr. Zaius arrived at the house, as Brent and Nova scurried to hide, to discuss "headstrong" Zira and her "bad behavior at the meeting." Zaius described how the militaristic, bullying Ursus was poised to go on "a rampage of conquest," and as Minister of Science, he was obligated to join Ursus to find if life existed in the Forbidden Zone - something that might be a threat to simian survival and innocence. He urged them to remain out of trouble - "I am asking you to be the guardians of the higher principles of science during my absence. I am asking for a truce with your personal convictions in an hour of public danger." He speculated that he might not return from the unknown, thereby leaving "the whole future of our civilization" for the two of them to either preserve or destroy.
Zira and Cornelius assisted Brent and Nova to escape (and provided him with clothing 'fit for humans'), and advised: "Never to speak" if caught by the gorillas: "Only apes can speak. Not her, and not you." They would be dissected and killed if found speaking. As they rode off from Ape City, their horse was shot out from under them, and they were soon captured in a net. A leather collar with leash was put around their necks and they were thrown as captives into a large circular cage with other humans. The next day in the prison compound, squads of gorilla soldiers were practicing military exercises. As they were transported in a horse-drawn wooden cage, they watched behind bars as soldiers conducted drills, bayoneted straw dummies, and whipped and seized human subjects with nets and other harsh methods. When Brent and Nova were roughly herded into another experimental caged enclosure, researcher Zira spotted them and urged the Sergeant to let her look at the specimens "of extraordinary clinical interest" - "This is a Type E cranium. Very unusual. With occipital development. Substandard lobe." When she selected them for study, General Ursus refused: "They are marked for target practice." As the two were loaded into the back of a horse-drawn wagon-cage to be driven to the target range, Zira unlocked the door, feigning that she was double-locking it, and wished them "good luck" in their escape. On a deserted road, Brent opened the cage door, climbed up onto the cage behind the driver, and fought with him until the gorilla was knocked off by a large tree branch. He then gathered the reins, stopped the wagon, unhitched the horses, and the two of them rode off bareback.
However, when they were spotted by gorilla cavalry and pursued, they ducked into a cave in an unusual rock outcropping. They eluded the gorillas and found themselves next to a tiled wall with dripping water -- and he saw a corroded TELEPHONE booth inside a New York subway station, identified as QUEENSBORO PLAZA. He was bewildered and shocked by the discoveries. He climbed down onto the subway tracks and held up another rusted sign: NEW YORK SUMMER FESTIVAL. He pondered outloud about the destruction of the world: "God Almighty. This used to be my home. I-I lived here, worked here. What - what happened? What could've happened? My God, did we finally do it? Did we finally really do it?"
In the Ape City temple with a statue of the Lawgiver, the orangutan Ape Minister (Thomas Gomez) clad in purple, blessed General Ursus' troops on the "eve of a holy war" as they were about to embark on their trip against their "brutish enemies." A group of young, peace-loving chimpanzees picketed the procession of a large battalion of soldiers (with cannons on gun carriages) leaving Ape City, and blocked their way, crying out: "Love, yes. War, no! No more lies. No more crud. No more guns. No more blood! Stop! Stop! Stop the war! Freedom, freedom." The pacifistic, limp protesters were carried by their arms and legs to cage-wagons and jailed to clear the road. [This was a veiled comment about protest at the time toward the unpopular Vietnam War.]
Back inside the subway station, Brent spoke outloud about Nova's race of primitive humans: "Are you what we were before we learned to talk and made a mess of everything? Did any good ever come from all that talk around all those tables?" Outside the cave, he overhead the gorillas who were still searching for the two of them talking about the army's mission to the Forbidden Zone. Brent and Nova explored deeper into the train tunnel where they heard and followed a low-humming noise. At the end of a long passageway, Brent confirmed: "Well, whoever or whatever, something's guiding us. Whatever they are, they breathe air." The wind was being sucked into a white-tiled, circular hole high up on a wall - and as he grasped the ladder to climb up to the vent, the humming stopped. He mused: "There's an intelligence working in this place. That sound, good or bad, it's either a warning or some kind of directional device, I don't know which. It doesn't much matter. They know we're here." They both climbed up and entered the vent and walked inside the ten foot-high tube to a junction area with other giant vent cylinders. They eventually emerged before the crumbled remains of THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY with a crashed city bus in front of it, also THE NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE and RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL. The humming grew louder as they neared E. 51st St. - and then abruptly stopped, as they came near to the doors leading into St. Patrick's Cathedral. A jet of water from a fountain suddenly spurted out and they drank the fresh water from it, but then the vibrating sound became more intense. Brent inexplicably grabbed the neck of an understandably frightened Nova as she drank, and pushed her under the water, while he mouthed forcible words ordering him to kill her: "Put my hands around her throat." As he covered his ears, it took a major effort to speak to the voice to free its pull on him: "Get out of my head!" - they finally released their control of him.
He fell back against the doors of the cathedral and entered, where he saw a kneeling, robed figure praying or worshipping before an inverted, gold-plated cross object - a Divine Bomb - on the High Altar. It was a 20th century atomic bomb (a nuclear ICBM). Its lower left fin was marked with an ΑΩ (Alpha and Omega) symbol. He heard the individual, later revealed to be high-ranking religious leader Verger (Gregory Sierra) intoning: "I reveal my inmost self unto my God." Brent communicated with the mutant priest telepathically, and shouted back at him in conversation, sensing that Nova was in danger and needed to be saved: "What do you mean there's no point? Will they hurt her? No, maybe not physically, but here (he gestured toward his brain). Here, you can hurt here, I know. Your lips don't move. But I can hear. No, I mean, I know what you're thinking. Nothing, I saw nothing." Two unarmed guards removed Brent from the church for further interrogation. Others watched a projection of the scene as Brent was ushered through the church square (Nova was missing, but children were dancing and singing in a circle) to a white corridor or hallway lined with marble busts, leading into an Inquisition Room - the ruins of Grand Central Station. Five robed questioners (in different colored liturgical vestments), the underground city's rulers with highly-developed minds, stood above him - members of the Fellowship of the Holy Fallout: pretty blue-robed blonde Albina (Natalie Trundy), red-garbed Fat Man (Victor Buono), yellow-dressed Negro (Don Pedro Colley), purple-robed elder statesman Mendez (Paul Richards), and green-robed minister Caspay (Jeff Corey).
Through various methods of interrogation, including telepathy (thought projections), visual projections (on a giant wall behind the subject), painful traumatic hypnosis (physical/mental torture), or verbally-spoken words, they gained information. The group first suspected that human refugee Brent was a spy. He vowed that he was only an astronaut, sent on a rescue mission to find a fellow astronaut named Taylor. Both were from the planet - but from another time 2,000 years earlier. He explained how he couldn't return after passing through a "defect - a slippage in time" - it was the same thing that had happened to Taylor. Brent claimed he was alone, after his 'Skipper' passed away. When asked about Nova, he denied knowing her and deflected the question, and was subjected to mental torture. Under pressure, he then explained that he did know her, and that she had found him two days earlier, but claimed: "she's harmless. Let her alone...She helped me to break out of Ape City." All of the members of the group were intrigued by his mention of Ape City and telepathically 'spoke' to him simultaneously. Mendez informed the inquisitors that Brent - with "limited intelligence" - couldn't handle the overload. They were instructed to revert to a more primitive communication technique -- verbal questions offered one at a time.
Then they shocked Brent by describing the bomb as their God: "The Bomb is a holy weapon of peace." The group of inquisitors was "determined to know what the apes want - war or peace." And then they described their own defense weapons as "purely illusion...Traumatic hypnosis is a weapon of peace." Mendez demonstrated two fantastic illusions: the "visual deterrent" (a wall of fire) and the "sonic deterrent" (a shrill high-pitched noise). Brent screamed back at their hypocrisy - he knew the bomb was a real defensive weapon: "Is that bomb out there, is that an illusion? It's operational, isn't it?" Mendez called them "the keepers of the Divine Bomb. It is our only reason for survival," but he considered them "defenseless against the slaughtering, monstrous, materialistic apes." Brent refused to help them against their ape foes, urging them to slaughter each other: "Annihilate each other." They continued pressing him to tell them "exactly what the apes are planning" but he claimed he knew nothing. To get him to talk, two guards dragged Nova into the court, and he pleaded that they not harm her. Albina told Brent: "We never harm anyone, Mr. Brent. You're going to harm her." The Negro closed his eyes and controlled Brent, who first kissed Nova, but then turned it into a lethal suffocating kiss, and she fainted to the floor. Debating whether to tell the truth or not, Brent was finally forced to confess, confirming their worst fears: "The apes are marching on your city."
In the next scene, the ape army was on the march, advancing into the Forbidden Zone. In front of them, they came upon the sight of gorilla scouts crucified upside-down on inverted crosses staked into the ground behind a wall of flames. [They were projections or illusions created by the mutants to prevent the invasion.] The soldiers in the gorilla army were aghast and agitated by the scene of "brutal butchery." Out of pity, Gaius encouraged Ursus to shoot the suffering scouts, but he disagreed: "I can't order them to do what the Lawgiver has forbidden. Ape shall not kill ape." The soldiers were further outraged, panicked and distressed by the view of a colossal, monolithic statue of their spiritual leader (the Lawgiver), an effigy on fire and bleeding from orifices in his eyes, mouth and forehead. Dr. Zaius recovered and became emboldened ("We are still God's chosen") when he interpreted the sight as an hallucinatory illusion: "This is a vision! And it is a lie!" He boldly charged alone, gallantly on horseback, along the rows of crosses and toward the flaming effigy - it toppled over, and then the entire fallacious vision disappeared. The apes were triumphantly signaled to continue their advance.
The mutants watched the army advancing (they viewed the ruins of the skyline of New York City), worried that they now had no defense "except our Bomb." The movement's people were called to the High Sanctuary, to view thought-projections (at adult and infant levels). In the cathedral, white-robed worshippers in pews sang from the Psalm of Mendez (a version of the Anglican Gloria Patri Doxology: "Is now and ever shall be. World without end. Amen") before a service led by Mendez: "The heavens declare the glory of the Bomb and the firmament showeth His handiwork..." He was kneeling before the altar, conducting a liturgical service, and then pressed some lighted control sticks that brought the Alpha-Omega Bomb into view, ready to be detonated. Mendez again repeated: "Glory be to the Bomb and to the holy fallout as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen." The congregation then sang a hymn of praise, a degraded Christian hymn: "Almighty Bomb, Who destroyed all devils, And created angels, Behold his glory." Brent and Nova, wearing robes, also attended and watched in amazement, as the congregation stood and, in unison, revealed or unveiled themselves by removing their latex masks ("I reveal my inmost self unto my God") - exposing their horribly scarred and skinless, veined faces after years of post-nuclear exposure to radioactive fallout. They then sang a corrupted version of "All Things Bright and Beautiful," extolling the Bomb Almighty. As the service ended with a blessing, the mutants were ordered to go to private shelters and to empty the streets.
On the eve of war, and because he knew too many "secrets" to be set free, Brent was taken to Taylor's jail cell, where he was astounded to see his fellow astronaut as a cellmate. The Negro told them: "We're a peaceful people. We don't kill our enemies. We get our enemies to kill each other." The telepathic mutant used his powers on the two men, forcing them to fight each other to the death. As they struggled, Nova was escorted by a guard nearby and heard Taylor's name. She bit the guard's hand, slipped away, and ran to the source of the sound, where in astonishment at seeing her former lover, she grunted out the word: "Tay-lor" - speaking for the first time. The distraction and loss of mind control gave Taylor and Brent a brief opportunity to strike at the Negro, and impale him between the spikes of the metal door and the cell bars. As Taylor attended to Brent's wounds, he was told about the operational atomic bomb that the mutants revered and intended to trigger - he recognized it from the "ΑΩ" (Alpha and Omega) markings as "the doomsday bomb...another lovely souvenir from the 20th Century. They weren't satisfied with a bomb that could knock out a city. They finally built one with a cobalt casing all in the sweet name of peace." Brent worried that if it was launched, it could set off a chain reaction in the whole atmosphere - Taylor added: "Burn the planet to a cinder. How's that for your ultimate weapon?"
In the Forbidden Zone, the gorillas found the entrance to the "subterranean passage" and entered the underground city's tunnels and catacombs. Gunshots were heard as the apes began killing mutants in their path. Brent, Taylor, and Nova escaped the cell's confinement, but while hurrying to the altar room to disable the Bomb and prevent it from being activated, one of the gorillas shot and killed Nova before he was clubbed to death. Taylor cradled Nova in his arms and mourned her senseless death: "It's time it was finished. Finished." Meanwhile in the hallway, Dr. Zaius and armed gorillas knocked down the marble busts (representing the lineage of Mendez), found the sprawled body of Albina who had taken a vial of poison, and used a battering ram to knock down the double doors into St. Patrick's Cathedral, where they found Mendez alone at the altar. Armed, both Taylor and Brent watched as Ursus ordered Mendez' arrest. The head mutant turned and authoritatively spoke to them: "This is the instrument of my God" as he raised the Divine Bomb into firing position. Ursus ordered his Sergeant (Eldon Burke) to kill Mendez, and he was gunned down. Unaware of the bomb's capabilities, General Ursus ordered his men: "If we can't shoot it down, we'll pull it down." Ropes, block and tackle were called for - as Zaius argued about how they should carefully treat the human weapon: "You don't know what you're doing. It will kill us all." When the missile was pulled down and slammed to the ground, the shell casing of the missile cracked open and a deadly gas was released. From different sides of the cathedral hall, Brent and Taylor attempted to stop General Ursus from accidentally setting off the weapon, but Taylor was shot and wounded. Retaliating in a rage, Brent came out into the open where he shot and killed ape commander Ursus, and continued to fire upon other gorillas until he was struck down and died in a massive volley of bullets.
As he staggered to his feet during the final showdown, fatally-wounded Taylor began to plead with Dr. Zaius to prevent a massive apocalypse: "It's doomsday. The end of the world. Help me." Zaius contemptuously refused and scoffed: "You ask me to help you! Man is evil, capable of nothing but destruction." Taylor responded with his final words: "You bloody bastard..." and died with his hand outstretched - appearing to deliberately grasp for the red triggering control switch of the Alpha-Omega bomb and set it off. [A similar scene occurred at the conclusion of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) - was it deliberate or accidental?] A blinding white light intensified until it whited out the image of Taylor's bloody fingers hanging onto the detonator. The film concluded with the narrator's (Paul Frees) voice-over: "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." The pessimistic, downbeat film ended abruptly, without traditional closing credits.
Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)
The first of four sequels in the 1970s, and the second film in the original five-film series.
With a production budget of $3 million, and box-office gross receipts of $19 million (domestic).
With the tagline: "The bizarre world you met in 'Planet of the Apes' was only the beginning...WHAT LIES BENEATH MAY BE THE END!" The poster description went further: "An army of civilized apes...A fortress of radiation-crazed super humans...Earth's final battle is about to begin - Beneath the atomic rubble of what was once the city of New York!"
This was the only film in the original series of five films without star Roddy McDowall.
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(Don Pedro Colley)
Series-Introduction - Index to All Films | Series-Box Office