Filmsite Movie Review
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

And then for the first time, 30 minutes into the film, there was a full view of the "Apes' from the film's title. A cavalry charge was being led, on horseback, by uniformed, hairy-faced gorillas bearing modern weapons, commanded by a Hunt Leader (Norman Burton). Surrounded in the field, the desperate, fleeing primitives were caught by various nets, traps, and snares.

As the astronauts ran, Landon suffered a severe head wound when clobbered by one of the apes. He fell off a cliff into a very shallow river and was captured. Dodge was shot and killed, and the dark-haired female primitive was netted and rounded up by the brutal apes, as were many of the others. Taylor was shot in the throat as he tried to rappel down the steep embankment. All the live captives were strung up by their feet, and the dead and wounded were piled up. Unconscious, Taylor was put into a crude, horse-drawn wooden wagon-cage, to be transported along with the black-haired female (later identified as Nova (Linda Harrison)). Some of the talking apes took 'victory photos' of their victorious hunt with an old-fashioned camera on a tripod, prompted by a single word - the first word spoken by an ape in the film:


At "Ape City" (composed of a complex of adobe huts), the injured primitives (called stinking dirty "animals" or "beasts" carrying communicable diseases) were treated by two chimpanzee scientist-doctors:

  • Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), an animal psychologist
  • Dr. Galen (Wright King), a surgeon who considered himself no more than a lesser 'vet" doctor in the unsanitary facility

Both Taylor (the one with "strange clothes") and Nova were patients, lying side by side in an imprisoning cage. After losing a lot of blood from his neck wound, Taylor was being administered a blood transfusion in his arm, attached to Nova. Dr. Zira tried to convince Dr. Galen that the dirty "animals" were valuable for her research work, experimental brain surgeries, and studies of cerebral functions. Dr. Galen seemed envious that Dr. Zira had convinced her higher-up administrative boss, an orange-colored orangutan named Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), the Minister of Science, that she deserved more space and equipment.

One of the gorillas was hosing out the four caged jail cells of the imprisoned primitives, each lined with dirty straw. One of the cages held Taylor, who realized that as a result of the gunshot wound in the throat, he had been rendered mute like the other primitives. Jailkeeper-gorilla Julius (Buck Kartalian) reported that Taylor would often go into an "act" - he frantically appeared to stuggle to speak, but could only soundlessly mouth words. Zira's nickname for recovering patient Taylor was "Bright Eyes" - Julius noticed: "He keeps pretending he can talk." But Dr. Zira thought more was happening: "He's trying to form words." Julius sarcastically believed it was only mimicry: "Human see, human do." Taylor tried to grab Dr. Zira's pen and notepad (to respond in writing), but was repulsed by Julius.

The imposing, orange-bearded Dr. Zaius had been summoned by Dr. Zira to the jail area, to marvel at the "trick" of Zira's patient "Bright Eyes," but Zaius thought Taylor's act of looking like he was talking was merely amusing:

"A man acting like an ape...He has a definite gift for mimicry."

Zaius was disbelieving of the primitive's true capabilities: "Man has no understanding. He can be taught a few simple tricks, nothing more."

He then cautioned Zira about her behavioral studies, and gave his opinion that humans were just wasteful nuisances:

"Experimental brain surgery on these creatures is one thing, and I'm all in favor of it. But your behavioral studies are another matter entirely. To suggest that we can learn anything about the simian nature from a study of man is sheer nonsense. Besides, man is a nuisance. He eats up his food supplies in the forest, then migrates to our green belts and ravages our crops. The sooner he is exterminated, the better. It's a question of simian survival."

Note: There were four distinct social stratas, castes or levels in the apes' society:

  1. Gorillas: war-like and violent, composed of military and guards, police, hunters, and common 'blue-collar' workers
  2. Orangutans: the wise ruling elite or lawmaking aristocracy with all the power, composed of top administrators, bureaucrats, politicians, religious ministers, and lawyers (prosecutors)
  3. Chimpanzees: the scholarly intellectual and academic class, but powerless, composed of reserved and rational: doctors, scientists, veterinarians, and archaeologists
  4. Humans (mute): considered dirty animals, beasts, primitives, or creatures; hunted for sport or deliberately exterminated; also used for manual labor or as experimental research subjects for brain surgeries, or for cerebral studies

Shortly later, Dr. Zira ordered Nova to be caged with Taylor so that they could pair up or mate - but the pretty, expressionless female primitive could only sniff at him.

"Bright Eyes" and Nova were allowed to exercise and get fresh air in a large, domed outdoor enclosed cage. Dr. Zira's fiancee, chimpanzee archaeologist Dr. Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) was brought to the cage for her to show off her special study subject - "Bright Eyes." They were distracted as "Number One" Dr. Zaius, accompanied by the Hunt Leader, joined them, while Taylor was attempting to communicate with all of them by writing in the dirt in big capital letters: "I CAN WRITE." He caught Nova wiping away the first two words of his message, and angrily pushed her aside. Another primitive was provoked into a fight with Taylor, who was forcibly suppressed by one gorilla-guard with a flaming torch, and two other guards with a painful neck restraint, who led him back to an indoor cage. As Dr. Zaius walked away, he told the Hunt Leader that it was unlikely for animal psychologists, such as Dr. Zira, to prove that they could "domesticate" man. And then, ironically, he looked down into the dirt in the cage where part of the word "WRITE" remained - it was proof that Taylor was intelligent, but he obliterated the word with his cane.

Now confined in an indoor cage, Taylor received an apology from the sympathetic Dr. Zira. He approached the bars of the cell, where Dr. Zira had stepped very close, and stole her pen and notebook from her front pocket. He fervently scribbled a note to her: "MY NAME IS TAYLOR" while Julius beat him and confiscated the stolen note pad. When it was handed back to Dr. Zira - she was stunned - and immediately firmly ordered his release to her own home to study him further, although it was against the rules: "Get me a collar and leash. I'm taking him out of here....Do as I say!" She beckoned Taylor to come closer and quietly inquired: "You wouldn't hurt me, would you - Taylor?"

In his home office, the doubting and unimpressed Cornelius thought that the many samples of Taylor's writings were only a stunt, and asked: "Where did you learn to do this?" Taylor replied with another note: "Jefferson Public School, Fort Wayne, Indiana." Cornelius thought Taylor was possibly intelligent, but also crazy. Taylor scribbled out another question to inquire about his surviving crew member Landon that had flown there with him from Earth. He was unable to convince them of the possibility of space flight, even after astonishing them with a paper airplane demonstration - they were however, amazed and speechless. Taylor also asked: "Do you have maps?" With one of their crudely-drawn maps, Taylor pointed out where he had landed, trekked through the desert and mountains, and reached their inhabited jungle area - but Cornelius scoffed that he had survived what was called the "Forbidden Zone."

Dr. Zira suggested that Taylor could prove Cornelius' brilliant hypothetical theories about evolution - although they were dangerous and heretical ideas to subscribe to, according to the Academy:

...the ape evolved from a lower order of primate, possibly man.

During an archaeological dig in the Forbidden Zone in the past, Cornelius had discovered traces of a culture "older than recorded time." His discoveries revealed that humans had once ruled the alien planet, but he knew his findings wouldn't be supported by the Academy. Zira thought Taylor might be "a mutation, a missing link between the unevolved primate and the ape," although Taylor firmly objected to that idea by slamming his fist on a table. He also handed Zira another note: "I AM NOT A MISSING LINK." Cornelius was worried that questioning the status quo would jeopardize their futures: "Marriage, stimulating careers."

Dr. Zira was reprimanded when Dr. Zaius and Dr. Maximus (Woodrow Parfrey), Commissioner for Animal Affairs, appeared - and reminded Cornelius of a missed appointment. Dr. Zira was also scolded for taking a human outside the compound without a leash. She vainly argued it was a "special case" - due to her experiments. However, Taylor was muzzled and gorilla-guards led him back to his cage. Dr. Zaius also discovered Taylor's paper airplane "toy" and refused to see how it "floats on the air" - aware now that the human had both the ability to reason and to understand technology - two major threats. With one word "Nonsense," he crumpled the paper.

In a compound cage, sleeping curled up next to Nova, Taylor overheard that Dr. Zaius had personally ordered him to be gelded (emasculated or castrated) with a surgical procedure performed by one of the vets. Fearing for himself, Taylor fought off Lucius as he was about to be transported, and escaped. Barefoot, he ran through the "Ape City," causing cries of shock as if he was an animal on the loose. He entered an ape temple and hid during a memorial service being held to commemorate a fallen gorilla - the deceased was lauded by an orangutan Minister (Paul Lambert) standing in front of a wooden coffin:

"Hunter, warrior, defender of the faith, cherished husband, beloved father, generous master. Yes, he was a font of simian kindness. The dear departed once said to me: 'I never met an ape I didn't like'..."

Before the congregation where an altar would normally be located, a statue of the Lawgiver - a Great Ape (An Orangutan - the ape's version of the Biblical Moses) was displayed holding a scroll on a table in front of him. A young child gorilla spotted the human creature, and alerted the congregation. Taylor raced outside into the street, fought off gorilla police on horseback with a net, frantically ran through an open-air market, and fought with some gorilla-guards at the top of a round amphitheatre. He fled into a simian natural history museum with posed tableaux of stuffed humans. There in one of the cases, he was stunned to see the body of Dodge, taxidermed and mounted with glazed eyes, in one of the displays.

He was eventually intercepted, surrounded, cornered, pelted with fruit, and recaptured in an entangling net thrown from above. Zira approached her charge but was told that Taylor was now officially in the custody of the Ministry of Science. With his first words, now that his throat had healed, Taylor turned toward one of the gorillas and defiantly screamed with hoarse words - shocking everyone:

"Take your stinkin' paws off me, you damn dirty ape!"

After a number of weeks, Taylor had been recaged with Nova and was under observation. He told her: "No one will listen to me. Only you." He briefly re-enacted the famed Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) naming scene ("Jane, Tarzan, Jane, Tarzan...") with her, but became so frustrated by her blankness and lack of cooperation that he gave up and made a defeatist comment: "You. Nova. No- Yeah. Me Tarzan, you Jane."

After the gorilla prison officials separated the two of them into different cages (Julius sprayed him with a high-powered water hose to keep him at bay), he wildly screamed out:

"Damn you, you hairy scum!...It's a madhouse. A madhouse!"

Now in a distant cage opposite from him, Taylor sadly noted: "Now I don't even have you." He spoke to her about how he had left Earth because he hadn't found a loving woman to hold him, but now he had developed feelings for her that she couldn't reciprocate:

"Imagine me needing someone. Back on Earth I never did. Oh, there were women. Lots of women. Lots of lovemaking, but no love. That was the kind of world we'd made. So I left, because there was no one to hold me there. Did I tell you about Stewart? Now there was a lovely girl. The most precious cargo we'd brought along. She was to be the new Eve. With our hot and eager help, of course. Probably just as well she didn't make it this far. Do you love me, I wonder? Can you love, I wonder. Well, you're not as smart as Stewart, but you're the only girl in town."

He brought a smile to her face when she imitated his smile: "Look at that. I-I taught you to smile."

A group of gorilla-guards entered the prison compound, strapped a leather collar (with leash) around Taylor's neck, and bound his wrists behind his back. He was led to a chamber inquiry room to be investigated by an ad-hoc tribunal hearing of the National Academy. In the front of the square-shaped room were three high-backed chairs before a long table or dias, with side tables (and three chairs) on the other sides. A gorilla served as the Bailiff. The three main presiding officials entered, mounted the dias and took their seats:

  • Academy President (James Whitmore) - presiding in the center seat
  • Commissioner for Animal Affairs Dr. Maximus - on the President's right
  • Minister of Science (and Chief Defender of the Faith) Dr. Zaius - on the President's left

Dr. Honorious (James Daly), Deputy Minister of Justice, appeared for the state as its prosecutor. Cornelius and Dr. Zira sat at one of the side-tables. (When he first entered, Cornelius advised Taylor: "Be clever, be quiet.") Taylor was forced to stand in the middle of the room. In the kangaroo court, Taylor was stripped of the rags he was wearing because they were considered offensive.

[Note: The scene was inspired by the 1925 Scopes Trial court case when a Tennessee schoolteacher was arrested for teaching Darwin's theory of evolution.]

The tribunal had been called because Cornelius and Dr. Zira had requested their case to be considered - and Zira stressed that the human "had the right to know whether there's a charge against him." Dr. Honorious' first statement was that the human (or non-ape) had no rights under ape law, although Dr. Zira countered aptly: "He is unlike any man you have ever seen as we hope to prove." Cornelius decided to rephrase the question more precisely for the tribunal: "Is he a man, is he a deviate, or a freak of nature?" And Zira even wondered why the word "accused" was being used since it implied guilt.

Dr. Zaius clarified his real purpose for convening the tribunal - to indict Zira and Cornelius for heresy:

"The creature is not being tried. He's being disposed of. It is scientific heresy that is being tried here."

Dr. Maximum backed up Dr. Zaius' assertion, and specifically warned Zira and Cornelius: "Let us warn our friends that they endanger their own careers by defending this animal." Taylor - the "accused," spoke up and volunteered to defend himself. Upon hearing Taylor's own voice, the tribunal members were stunned, and The President reacted with a gaping, open mouth. The Bailiff was commanded to forcibly silence Taylor whenever he tried to speak - to forbid him from defending himself.

Dr. Honorious took the floor and reaffirmed the Ape's Articles of Faith, while denouncing evolution (being promulgated by Cornelius and Dr. Zira):

"Learned Judges: My case is simple. It is based on our first Article of Faith: that the Almighty created the ape in his own image; that he gave him a soul and a mind; that he set him apart from the beasts of the jungle and made him the lord of the planet. These sacred truths are self-evident. The proper study of apes is apes. But certain young cynics have chosen to study man. Yes, perverted scientists who advance an insidious theory called evolution."

Dr. Honorious claimed that the state was charging Dr. Zira and a "corrupt surgeon" named Galen who had experimentally operated on the ape, and thus tampered with his brain and throat tissues to produce "a speaking monster." Zira rose to defend herself and object: "That's a lie!...Did we create his mind as well? Not only can this man speak, he can think. He can reason." To demonstrate that the speaking wounded animal was simply a hoax, Honorious proposed direct examination of Taylor (or "Bright Eyes") by asking questions about Ape history and culture that he simply could not answer, such as:

Prosecutor's Questions
Taylor's Responses
"What is the second Article of Faith?" "I know nothing of your culture. I-I admit that."
"Why are all apes created equal?" "Some apes, it seems, are more equal than others."

[Note: This response referenced the theme of George Orwell's Animal Farm.]
"Why do men have no souls?" No answer
"What is the proof that a divine spark exists in the simian brain, huh?" No answer

Instead of speaking, Taylor suggested that Cornelius read his written statement, about his arrival from a planet in a different solar system as a space explorer. His spacecraft had sunk in the inland sea of the Eastern desert, and he had two "intelligent companions" with him at the time of his capture. In the outdoor amphitheatre, Dr. Zaius displayed a group of "all the surviving humans that were captured in the hunt." The group of seven primitives or "creatures" included Nova, and in addition Landon - who Taylor acknowledged as possessing "kinship" with him, but Landon could not speak for himself. He had been lobotomized (a fresh, large scar was prominent on his forehead) and was severely catatonic. Taylor was incensed and rushed at Dr. Zaius:

"You cut up his brain, you bloody baboon!"

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