Directed By: Don Taylor
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman
Tag line: "A New Generation Of Incredible Apes In The Most Exciting Suspense Film Of Them All"
Trivia: One of the earlier scripts has the three ape-o-nauts viewing the dying Earth from their space capsule before going back in time
After exploring the Simian home world in Planet of the Apes, then destroying it in the sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, the filmmakers had no choice but to switch things up a bit. So, for 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes, the setting is 20th century America, where the apes themselves are the outsiders, and man is the dominant species.
Moments before the earth was destroyed by a nuclear blast, ape scientists Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter), along with Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo), hop into the spaceship that Taylor arrived in and head out into space. During their journey, the three are inexplicably thrown back in time to 20th century America, when man can speak and apes cannot. Not knowing what to make of their new visitors, the military sends the three new arrivals to the Los Angeles Zoo, where Drs. Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy) conduct a series of experiments designed to test their intelligence. To the good Drs. surprise, the apes can speak, but before this information is released to the world, Dr. Milo is killed by a captive gorilla. Following a government hearing ordered by the President of the United States (William Windom), Cornelius and Zira become instant celebrities, and are treated as VIPs. But when Zira inadvertently reveals the truth about earth’s future, in which apes rule over man, Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) decides to take matters into his own hands, making it his personal mission to destroy the ape visitors and, in doing so, save mankind from its eventual demise.
Having taken the original story as far as they could in both Planet of the Apes and Beneath the Planet of the Apes, this 3rd entry provided the filmmakers with an opportunity to move things in a very different, yet altogether exciting, direction. For one, Escape has plenty of humor, most of which revolves around Cornelius and Zira as they attempt to “blend in”, trying on the latest in ‘70s fashion and watching TV for the first time (when a news anchor wraps up his telecast by wishing everyone a good night, Zira, who’s watching on the television in her cage, responds by wishing him one as well). These early scenes of levity soon give way to something much more serious, pitting the two apes against a government that fears the unusual. In the first two entries, mankind was the victim. This time around, they’re the aggressors, and thus the film’s villains.
Tackling such hot-button topics as animal testing and government interference, Escape from the Planet of the Apes has plenty to say about the state of things in the 20th century, showing us our world through the eyes of two outsiders. And what we see is none too flattering.