Greatest Movie Series
Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)
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)
|Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)
d. Don Taylor, 98 minutes
Film Plot Summary
This third film opened with a helicopter transmitting a report of a downed spacecraft "just outside the surf line," initiating a pickup and recovery operation off the Pacific coast. The capsule was hauled by a towline to a nearby beach where USMC soldiers, trucks and jeeps awaited. When the hatch was opened, three white space-suited astronauts emerged. When they removed their helmets, General Winthrop (Harry Lauter) in charge was astonished by the sight of three apes: archaeologist Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and his wife, vet and animal psychologist Zira (Kim Hunter), and their 'genius' colleague Milo (Sal Mineo). The three were secretly transported to the Marine Corps Air Station at El Palomar, California, to be "hidden from the public" and "quarantined." The ape-chimpanzees, presumed to be vegetarians, were fed oranges (which they ate on plates with cutlery), while awaiting transfer to the sickbay infirmary of a local zoo. In a guardhouse jail on the military grounds, the apes had discarded their spacesuits and changed into their normal clothing.
A police escort took them to the Los Angeles Zoo Infirmary where they were again caged in a large enclosure, and disconsolate Zira complained: "This cage stinks of gorilla." Milo tried to make sense of what had happened to them: "We have traveled from Earth's future to Earth's past." Although they had seen Earth's destruction, they had barely escaped through a time warp: "We have passed through a backward disturbance in time." The date meter moved backwards when the shock-wave hit their ship: "We have returned to Earth nearly 2,000 years before its destruction." Milo encouraged them to remain silent about what would occur in Earth's future, utter destruction caused by an "ape war of aggression." Present-day apes in the year 1973 could not talk, and Milo suggested for the moment: "We should follow their example."
Two scientists were called to the Zoo to observe the apes: animal psychiatrist Dr. Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and research associate Dr. Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy). Dixon at first thought the apes were mimicking and imitating human behavior. To the animal keeper named Arthur (Marshall Stewart), Dr. Dixon announced he would begin testing the apes, Zira first, with the Wisconsin Multiphasic - a test to identify different colored and shaped wooden blocks, with a window shade-like screen between the test subject and the observer. Zira quickly identified and answered the first question, prompting Dixon to say: "She seems to be pretty smart." With a more difficult test, Zira swiftly selected the five correct blocks to confound the disbelieving doctors. She also replaced all twelve blocks into their proper carved-out drawer slots. But with the next unfamiliar test, dangling a banana high in front of her, she paused before assembling interlocking large-sized colored blocks in the cell in order to allow herself to sit directly under the tempting food - and then deliberately chose not to eat it. Dr. Branton was incredulous: "Why doesn't she take it?" -- and Zira, exasperated by this time, blurted out: "Because I loathe bananas!", impatiently exposing the fact that she had the power of speech.
When the trio of chimpanzees argued amongst themselves over Zira's 'talking' incident, the agitated gorilla in the adjoining cage rose up, and as Milo asked: "Use your heads and start thinking. Now that they know we can speak, how much will we tell them?", the gorilla extended its hairy arm into the cage and strangled Milo to death. The other animals in the zoo area were alarmed and panicked: a mountain lion growled, an elephant trumpeted, and a tiger roared, etc. Dr. Dixon ordered an autopsy with special attention paid to the cranium and oral areas of Milo's brain. Afterwards, Dr. Dixon tried to assure the two remaining apes: "We mean you no harm...We will not hurt you." The uncivilized gorilla was bound by chains and sedated. Zira told Dixon that she was a psychiatrist, who had often bound "humans" by chains and medicated them. He stated: "Nobody's gonna believe this" -- "That primitive apes can talk." Zira smiled at him and confessed: "I like you." Cornelius added: "I have from the beginning."
Meanwhile, the US President (William Windom) announced to his stunned advisors that the previous day, a US spacecraft splashed down off the S. California coast - it was one of two missing in space for over 2 years, the ship commanded by Colonel Taylor. Two of the three ape astronauts survived to the present day (although one succumbed in the LA Zoo due to an unfortunate accident that same morning): "They are not astronauts...they are apes. Chimpanzees to be more precise. They are harmless, friendly, and by all reports, extremely intelligent and sophisticated creatures." However, they needed to know where Taylor's spacecraft came from and how the animals came to be aboard it. Therefore, the President was convening a Presidential Commission of Inquiry the next day in Los Angeles, where the two surviving apes would be presented for inspection. The "extraordinary discovery" would no longer be concealed from the press or public. French, German, and Japanese newsreports were broadcast about the apes. The UK broadcaster stated that the spacecraft was manned "by monkeys."
In the hallway of the LA Federal Building where the closed Presidential Inquiry hearing was to be held, the President's Senior Science Advisor, Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden), was asked what was expected from the historic meeting and he simply replied: "Fear." The two apes were loosely chained together by the wrist as they entered the room to appear before the Presidential Commission. To begin the inquiry, Dr. Dixon announced, to everyone's astonished disbelief and laughter, that "our chimpanzee friends are ready to answer your questions, too. Not by signs, not by looks or movements, but by words." He emphasized to the Chairman (John Randolph) of the Commission: "These two apes have acquired the power of speech...It is for you gentlemen to assess how far that power can be exercised intelligently." After identifying herself twice as Zira, she was insulted by the Chairman's aside: "One might as well be talking to a parrot." The Chairman believed her speech was only "mechanical mimickry." Cornelius then identified himself - as Zira's "lawfully-wedded spouse," and explained how he had been speaking "the language of our ancestors for nearly 2,000 years" - although he didn't know it was called "English." Zira put down gorillas and orangutans in her community: "...the gorillas are a bunch of militaristic nincompoops. And the orangutans are a bunch of blinkered pseudoscientific geese!" In her view, only the advanced chimpanzees were intellectual. After examining thousands of humans (she first used the word "dissecting" but then corrected her slip of the tongue about operating on humans), Zira said she only found two who could talk in her lifetime -- [Taylor and Brent, the two US astronauts from the previous films]. Cornelius added: "Where we come from, apes talk. Humans are dumb." He wasn't sure, however, where exactly they came from, although he claimed that Dr. Milo, their genius colleague, was the one who salvaged the spacecraft ("studied it and half-understood it"). When "war became inevitable," Milo's work was enough for them to escape before the war had ended, and he navigated the spaceship. Zira dropped a bomb-shell: "We came from your future." Cornelius claimed that the war was between the gorillas and whoever lived beneath the Earth, and chimpanzees were simply home-abiding pacifists. The two chimpanzees, sensing that they shouldn't answer truthfully, denied that they knew Colonel Taylor. Zira said that they were "peaceful creatures, happy to be here" and asked to be unchained - they were applauded as celebrities. In the hallway as he departed, the Chairman called the inquiry "preposterous," while the rest of the members of the commission gave "no comment."
In the small side room next to the hearing room with the two doctors, Cornelius (after prompting by Zira to be honest) confessed that the two of them did know Colonel Taylor: "We came to love him...Where we come from, apes did not love humans. They, uh, hunted them for sport, much as you would animals." Zira continued: "We use their bodies, alive and dead, experimentally - for anatomical dissection and scientific research." Dr. Lewis agreed that this was a "revelation the masses would not take kindly to," and that they were wise to keep it secret. The two of them then revealed that they watched "from the windows of the spaceship - we saw the Earth destroyed."
Eyewitness News TV newscaster Bill Bonds (Himself) interviewed Dr. Hasslein on his news-show that afternoon about the "most incredible story" he had ever covered, regarding the Presidential Commission in which apes talked, and "the crucial statement" made by the female ape about where they had come from: "From your future." Hasslein responded that he believed the statement to be absolutely true: "It is the only explanation." He attempted to describe the complicated nature of time travel (from the past to the future, or vice versa), using the example of an artist painting a picture of a landscape: "Time can only be fully understood by an observer with a godlike gift of infinite regression...it is the moment when our artist has regressed to the point of infinity, and himself becomes part of the landscape he painted, and is both the observer and the observed...Time is like a freeway with an infinite number of lanes, all leading from the past into the future, however, not unto the same future. A driver in lane 'A' may crash while a driver in lane 'B' survives. It follows that a driver, by changing lanes can change his future...In the dark and turbulent corridors of outer space, the impact of some distant planetary, even galactic disaster, jumped the apes from their present into ours." When the interview ended, Bonds complimented the apes: "by their intelligence and their good humor, the two so-called 'ape-o-nauts' have already captured the hearts of the entire American nation."
The next day, the apes garneried tremendous media attention - they were moved by limousine to a luxurious Beverly Wilshire Hotel suite (filled with flowers and lavish gifts) and given an extended tour of the city. Both of them were treated to a shopping trip to buy new funky 70s-style clothes. In their suite, they were entertained with a reception-party, where Cornelius diplomatically answered a question about human women, and Zira enjoyed a champagne drink described as "Grape Juice Plus." Their busy schedule included a Bay Area Women's Club talk, attendance at a prizefight, a visit to the LA County Museum of Natural History, and the dedication of a new Jungle Cruise boat at Disneyland. [Zira spearheaded the women's movement when she told her applauding women's club audience: "A marriage bed is made for two, but every damn morning it's the woman who has to make it! We have heads as well as hands. I call upon men to let us use them!" Cornelius referred to the prizefight as "beastly."] In the ape section of the museum, Zira fainted at the site of a large stuffed animal - and then explained the unrelated reason: "I'm pregnant." In her suite while speaking to Dr. Hasslein and drinking Grape Juice Plus, she became intoxicated. He secretly tape-recorded their conversation as he further questioned her about the gorillas' war, and how she witnessed the Earth's destruction from their spaceship window: "We saw bright, white blinding light. Then we saw the rim of the Earth melt. Then there was a tornado in the sky." The date meter on the spaceship displayed the present year 1973, but before had registered "3950 something."
To press the matter and provide his proof of the destruction of Earth when apes dominated and ruled, Dr. Hasslein informed the President: "One day, talking apes will dominate this Earth and eventually destroy it by 3950 something." The President noted that the precise year of Earth's destruction was recorded on the flight's synthesizer, as 3955 A.D. Fearing for the future of the human race, Hasslein pressed for something to be done, but the President denied that killing the two innocent simian creatures (who were charming and peaceable) was reasonable, especially given their popularity ("the voters love them"). He even speculated that the apes' progeny "may do a better job of it than we have." Before he would do anything, the President insisted: "I want convincing that the handwriting on the wall is calculably true." Hasslein described the testimony of the apes, about how they had acquired the power of intelligent speech and soon became Earth's master race. The apes' unborn progeny would arguably spread the talking ape race. He proposed altering the future, although he wondered about whether it was right to do so: "If I urged the destruction of these two apes, am I defying God's will or obeying it? Am I His enemy or His instrument?" The President argued back: "We have no proof, Hasslein, that these apes are evil." Hasslein was given permission by the President to tell the Commission that the apes needed to be more thoroughly, professionally, and properly interrogated. The President agreed to "abide by their findings." In the Federal Building, the Commission's Chairman, in secret session, recommended that the apes were to be removed from public view, and taken to a restricted installation known as Camp XI, where they would be held and interrogated by the CIA under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Hasslein.
During interrogation by two CIA examiners (identified as E1 (Albert Salmi) and E2 (Jason Evers)), the two apes claimed that they withheld nothing, only that they weren't asked the right questions. Zira described how only gorillas and orangutans were responsible for Earth's destruction, not chimpanzees. One of the examiners insultingly replied: "What's the difference? You're all monkeys," angering Cornelius for its offensive nature. Cornelius noted that "the weapon which destroyed Earth was man's own invention...Man destroys man. Apes do not destroy apes." Hasslein defused Cornelius' anger, explaining that they were simply searching for facts about how apes rose in dominance over men. Cornelius then began a long description stretching back to pre-history, about a plague that befell dogs and cats. To prevent the spread of infection, hundreds and thousands had to be destroyed, and the Earth became devoid of pets. It was an intolerable situation for man, "so humans took primitive apes as pets." The apes were quartered in cages, and moved freely in people's homes, and soon became responsive to human speech, and in less than two centuries they were performing real services -- cooking, cleaning, shopping for groceries, waiting on tables, and then after three centuries, the apes "turn the tables on their owners." They united against slavery, assembled in small groups, and learned "the art of corporate and militant action. They learned to refuse." As fully documented in the sacred scrolls, according to Cornelius, the first ape who refused to grunt and actually responded with an articulate "No" on an historic day, was named Aldo.
The next lines of questioning were about how humans became dumb, and about Zira's censored admission before the Commission about "dissecting" humans in the course of her work. Dr. Dixon was summoned to administer truth serum (sodium pentathol) to Zira, while Cornelius was taken away to his quarters, when he strongly objected to the hypodermic needle injection: "We only use those things for killing." Dr. Dixon whispered to Zira: "This has the same effect as grape juice plus." After she became drowsy, the examiners asked her about her research, and she admitted she did comparative anatomy between apes and humans, and extensively operated on humans: "Gorillas hunted them for sport with nets and with guns. The survivors were put in cages. The army used some of them for target practice. We could take our scientific pick of the rest." Zira even revealed that they were advanced enough to perform experimental brain surgery on living humans, and even tried to stimulate their atrophied speech centers. She also inadvertently confessed that she knew Colonel Taylor.
The tape recorded findings of Dr. Hasslein were taken to the Commission, where its final recommendations were ratified by the US President. They determined that the female "undoubtedly committed actions against the human race" that would now be called atrocities, although 2,000 years into the future when humans were "dumb brutes," the situation might be viewed very differently. The Commission was still suspicious that "the progeny of these apes could, in centuries to come, prove an increasing threat to the human race and conceivably end by dominating it." The Commission therefore unanimously recommended that the birth of the female ape's unborn child should be prevented, and that both male and female would be sterilized. In their confined quarters, the two apes were brought food by an insensitive Orderly who called their unborn fetus a "little monkey." Already agitated by the humans' brutish behavior, Cornelius lost his temper at the teasing and lashed out at the man, upsetting the tray of food, and yelling: "Nobody makes a fool out of my wife." [The orderly fell bloodied to the ground and soon died of his fatal injuries - an accidental death when he fell on broken glass.] The two snuck away and escaped from Camp XI to go "on the run," while Zira was beginning to experience labor pains. Dr. Hasslein used their flight as an excuse to order their execution: "Now they've killed. For that, they must be killed." Although Hasslein feared that "the killers of today could become the mass murderers of tomorrow," the US President disallowed the killing of the unarmed "popular" apes, regarding them as "unique" specimens and "practically human." He ordered the suspects, innocent until legally proven guilty of murder, to be taken alive.
Cornelius flagged down the car of Dr. Branton, who was sympathetic to their plight. She contacted Dr. Dixon, and the two apes were driven to Armando's Circus where the caring manager Señor Armando (Ricardo Montalbán) agreed to shelter the two fugitives. In his circus, he had an unspeaking, primitive chimpanzee-ape named Heloise who had just given birth to a baby named Salome - he bragged: "the first chimp ever born in a circus." Zira's baby, a male, was soon delivered by Dr. Dixon, and named Milo after their dead colleague. Meanwhile, Hasslein ordered the immediate search of nearby menageries, circuses and zoos, knowing that Zira would soon give birth. Before the police arrived, Armando was forced to send the apes away. As Zira left, she said goodbye to Heloise - [and as it was later revealed, switched babies!]. The two doctors drove Zira and Cornelius to the city limits at the southern edge of an oil field (near an abandoned oil refinery and a harbor scrapyard for old ships), and provided them with a map and supplies. He suggested that they find a derelict tanker in the shipyard where they could hide for a week, until they could be smuggled back to the circus (and then taken by Armando to Florida to the Everglades where they could settle down in a colony and "live happily ever after"). When Cornelius mentioned that their fate would ultimately be death, he was granted a gun by Dr. Dixon so that they could commit suicide if necessary. Zira kissed him ("You're the second human I've kissed"), and Cornelius kissed Dr. Branton ("And you are the first"), before they ran off.
During the intense hunt for the apes, Zira's suitcase was found near an oil well, and Dr. Hasslein personally went on a vendetta to track down the apes. He found Zira hiding in a derelict tanker at the abandoned harbor area, while cradling her infant ape. When he demanded her baby at gunpoint, she refused and bolted. He pursued, and then ducked when police helicopters landed nearby and police cars arrived at the pier (along with the two doctors in their vehicle). With little time remaining, Hasslein ruthlessly shot Zira in cold-blood in the back, and then as she stumbled onto the deck and dropped her bundled baby, he fired four more shots into the blanketed infant. From another higher deck of the ship, Cornelius (with his gun) vengefully killed Hasslein, who fell off the ship into the harbor water. USMC snipers from the pier opened fire on Cornelius, who toppled to the next lower deck and landed near fatally-wounded Zira. With her last effort, Zira threw the dead baby overboard, and then stumbled to Cornelius' side to die lying on top of him on the deck.
In the film's epilogue, Armando was ordering the dismantling of his circus tents for their move to winter quarters in Florida. He turned to speak to an infant ape in a cage: "Intelligent creature. But then, so were your mother and father." The film ended with the baby ape Milo (with a protective St. Francis of Assisi medal around its neck), struggling to repeatedly speak the words: "Mama, Mama, Mama, Mama" with the voice of a human child - the first words ever uttered by an ape born in captivity.
Film Notables (Awards, Facts, etc.)
The third film in the original five-film series.
With a production budget of $2.5 million, and box-office gross receipts of $12 million (domestic).
Dr. Lewis Dixon
Dr. Stephanie Branton
Arthur, the Keeper
The US President
Dr. Otto Hasslein
Series-Introduction - Index to All Films | Series-Box Office