Three astronauts awaken from hibernation after a long space voyage. They are Taylor (Charlton Heston), Landon (Robert Gunner), and Dodge (Jeff Burton). The lone female astronaut is dead of old age because of a sleep chamber malfunction. The spacecraft crashes into a lake on an unknown planet and sinks, leaving them stranded.

They travel through a desolate wasteland, where the only signs of civilization are scarecrow-like figures. They find a lake and go swimming, but primitive humans destroy their clothes. Then they are attacked by horse-riding gorillas, wearing clothing and carrying rifles. Dodge is killed, Landon is knocked unconscious, and Taylor is shot in the throat. Taylor is taken to Ape City, where two chimpanzees—animal psychologist Zira (Kim Hunter) and surgeon Galen (Wright King) save Taylor’s life. But he still can’t talk.

He is placed in a cage with a female captive he later calls Nova (Linda Harrison). He sees that gorillas are the military and workers, orangutans are the statesmen and priests, and chimpanzees are the doctors and scientists. Humans are ignorant vermin fit only to be hunted, enslaved, or experimented on. Taylor convinces Zira and her fiancé Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) that he is intelligent, though their superior Doctor Zaius (Maurice Evans) thinks he should be castrated. Taylor escapes and finds Dodge killed and Landon lobotomized. When he is recaptured, he speaks, astonishing everyone.

Zaius believes he comes from a distant tribe and wants him lobotomized too because he refuses to say where it is, saying something ridiculous about coming from another world. With help from Zira’s nephew Lucius (Lou Wagner), Zira and Cornelius free Taylor and Nova and take them to the Forbidden Zone. A year earlier, Cornelius discovered evidence there of a human civilization predating that of the apes and was accused of heresy. They hope that Taylor will prove their theory, even though he still insists he came from another planet.

The party is tracked by Zaius, and Taylor holds him hostage. Inside a cave, there is evidence of technological humans. Zaius admits he has always known of this but wanted it kept secret. Zaius seals the cave and charges Zira, Lucius, and Cornelius with heresy. Taylor and nova are allowed to leave on horseback, and in one of the most iconic scenes in movies, find the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, proving that this is really Earth after a nuclear war.

The film was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, the screenplay written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling, based on the 1963 French SF novel La Planete des Singes by Pierre Boulle. The script was rewritten many times and changed from the original story. It was a financial success and immediately became an SF classic praised by audiences and critics alike. The groundbreaking prosthetic makeup was by John Chambers. It inspired four sequels and a TV series, animation, comic books, and toys. It pretty much made Roddy McDowell’s career. In 2001, it was remade by Tim Burton, using the ending from the novel. And in 2011, there was a brilliant and popular trilogy starring Andy Serkis. The producer, Arthur P. Jacobs, had bought the rights to the book before it was even published and convinced Fox VP Richard Zanuck to greenlight the film.

The original Rod Serling script portrayed an advanced ape civilization that would have been extremely expensive, so the script was re-written by blacklisted scriptwriter Wilson. When Ursula Andress, Raquel Welch, and Angelique Pettijohn (the drill thrall in Star Trek’s Gamesters of Triskelion) were unable to play the barely-dressed mute human babe, the job was given to Linda Harrison, Darryl Zanuck’s girlfriend. Edward G. Robinson was to play Doctor Zaius but found the makeup too daunting. The actors playing apes did not hang out with the actors playing humans; what’s more, all the gorillas, the orangutans, and the chimpanzees sat at different tables for lunch. Roddy McDowell liked to drive home in his makeup, just to freak out the other drivers on the freeway. Of three possible endings, Charlton Heston’s favorite won out. Ingrid Bergman always regretted not taking the part of Zira.

The special Oscar for makeup was the second such award—the first given to George Pal’s Seven Faces of Doctor Lao. The award was presented by a chimpanzee in a tux. There were 80 makeup artists. Sometimes the makeup was worn for 12 hours straight, and Kim Hunter gave up eating all day. The sets were inspired by Bedrock on the Flintstones. The Statue of Liberty was Rod Serling’s idea. If you look closely at the map of the Forbidden Zone, it is clearly Long Island, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Michael Wilson, a victim of the Senator McCarthy witch-hunts, wrote the kangaroo court scene. I suspect the only female astronaut was killed off at the beginning because she would have made the skinny-dipping scene too problematic. In an early draft, all the primitive human females were supposed to be topless, but the studio nixed that quickly.

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