Film Review: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Release Date: June 29th, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Paul Dehn
Based on: characters by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Tom Scott
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Don Murray, Ricardo Montalbán, Natalie Trundy, Hari Rhodes, Gordon Jump

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The King is dead. Long live the King! Tell me Breck, before you die – how do we differ from the dogs and cats that you and your kind used to love? Why did you turn us from pets into slaves?” – Caesar

As a kid, this was my favorite Planet of the Apes movie. While it isn’t the best from an artistic standpoint and I’d say that I now like the third one best, it is still a superb origin story of how the apes rose up and pushed back against mankind.

In 2011, when they rebooted the franchise for the second time, that film took most of its cues from this story. While that film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a better picture, overall, it kind of lacked the grit of this one. A lot of that could also be due to modern films relying so much on CGI effects and pristine post-production clean up.

Regardless of that, I still enjoy watching this version of the similar story more. There’s just something about the original Apes movies that is special and unique and none of the remakes have really been able to recapture their magic.

I think the thing that I really like about this film, apart from the premise, is the look of it. Most of the big scenes take place in the heart of a metropolis and you see these apes carrying guns and burning parts of the town, as large, monolithic (and somewhat generic) skyscrapers loom overhead. It’s modern yet it’s primitive and it creates an atmosphere that shows the animalistic nature of man and ape in a world that should seem civilized and advanced. There’s a duality that exists in several layers of this picture and I’m not trying to imply that this was even done intentionally but it just adds something really genuine to the overall picture.

Additionally, Roddy McDowall has never been better in this series than he is in this chapter. The guy probably spent more time in ape makeup than any other actor, as he’s played multiple characters in the franchise but man, it’s like the other films were just there to prepare him for this stellar performance.

I also liked that Ricardo Montalbán returned for this, as the same character he played in the previous movie. He was sweet, caring and this is honestly one of my favorite roles he’s ever played after Khan Noonien Singh from the Star Trek franchise and his roles in classic film-noir movies.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is still damn entertaining and it’s certainly fucking poignant. It knows what message it wants to send and it does it incredibly well. Leaving a real uneasiness in your gut, as the darkest days for humanity lie ahead while also knowing that humanity is very much at fault.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Also known as: Secret of the Planet of the Apes (working title)
Release Date: May 26th, 1971 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Don Taylor
Written by: Paul Dehn
Based on: characters by Peter Boulle
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman, Natalie Trundy, Eric Braeden, Sal Mineo, Ricardo Montalban, M. Emmet Walsh, Norman Burton, Charlton Heston (archive footage)

Twentieth Century Fox, APJAC Productions, 98 Minutes

Review:

“They became alert to the concept of slavery. And, as their numbers grew, to slavery’s antidote which, of course, is unity. At first, they began assembling in small groups. They learned the art of corporate and militant action. They learned to refuse. At first, they just grunted their refusal. But then, on an historic day, which is commemorated by my species and fully documented in the sacred scrolls, there came Aldo. He did not grunt. He articulated. He spoke a word which had been spoken to him time without number by humans. He said ‘No.’ So that’s how it all started.” – Cornelius

I guess I remembered the beginning of this film wrong, as I said in my review of the previous one that the ending kind of didn’t leave it open for the films after it. However, this one starts off in what was then modern times. From memory, I thought that the apes in the picture went back in time at some point midway through the story but they actually start off in 1970s America.

Anyway, it’s been a few decades since I’ve seen this one and memories can do weird things, especially when one has spent a lot of the time between the memory and now, experimenting with several vices. Don’t worry, I barely party anymore because getting old makes you more chill and because amateurs at the local bars and opium dens is a deterrent.

I really dug the hell out of this film though and revisiting it was certainly a worthwhile and entertaining experience. As of now, this is my favorite film of the lot. While I see the first chapter as a better motion picture, overall, I found this one to be more entertaining and more effective at making its point, using the bigotry between apes and humans as a metaphor for xenophobia.

I was also really glad to see Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter move into the main focus of the story, as their arrival on Earth sets in motion a hope for unity but ultimately leads to fear overcoming the masses and eventual tragedy.

Due to the time travel element, this sets the stage for its sequels and it also makes the whole series a time loop. Honestly, after this sets in motion the events that cause the creation of the ape world from the first film, you can watch the five movies in a constant loop or start with whichever chapter you want and then loop back around to it. It’s a pretty unique thing and it’s one of the many factors that make the original Planet of the Apes franchise really damn cool.

The acting in this is also really good and it’s certainly a step up from the second, fairly mundane movie. I’d say the acting is on the same level as the original but with McDowall and Hunter doing most of the heavy lifting, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: Border Incident (1949)

Also known as: Border Patrol, Wetbacks (working titles)
Release Date: October 28th, 1949
Directed by: Anthony Mann
Written by: John C. Higgins, George Zuckerman
Music by: Andre Previn
Cast: Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, Howard Da Silva, James Mitchell, Charles McGraw

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“What is cheaper than time, señor? Everybody has the same amount.” – Zopilote

This isn’t my favorite film-noir by Anthony Mann but it is still a quality film that rivals his other ones.

A very young Ricardo Montalban is the star here, and man, he shines like a supernova and really carries this badass movie on his shoulders.

What’s unique about this, is that it takes place on the Mexican border and was mostly filmed in the wilderness in the desert areas of Southern California and the northern portion of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. The location shooting made this majestic and added some gravitas to the already heavy and serious proceedings.

The plot is about a gang that smuggles Mexican farm workers across the border into California. The gang ends up killing the immigrants, which leads to federal investigators going undercover to destroy the gang. With typical noir twists, the agents end up having to fight the gang leader for their own survival.

Montalban and George Murphy were both superb as the agents seeking justice, while Howard Da Silva was a perfect, sinister heavy, out for their blood.

The film is certainly intense and it has a gritty realism to it, even for its time, where many big studio motion pictures had a lot of visual luster and prestige. But Mann was perfect at achieving his vision in a time where his stylistic choices weren’t common.

Border Incident has stupendous cinematography and lighting. Mann was a master of mise-en-scène and this motion picture is just further proof of that. The use of natural lighting was especially impressive in the outdoor scenes. Mann knew how to manufacture doom and gloom, visually.

I really liked this film and I believe that is the last of Mann’s noir pictures for me to review. That’s kind of sad and I put this one off for awhile because of that.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Anthony Mann film-noir pictures: T-Men, Desperate, He Walked by Night, Raw Deal and Side Street.

Film Review: Mystery Street (1950)

Also known as: Murder at Harvard (working title)
Release Date: June 23rd, 1950 (Denver & Detroit premieres)
Directed by: John Sturges
Written by: Sydney Boehm, Richard Brooks, Leonard Spigelgass
Music by: Rudolph G. Kopp
Cast: Ricardo Montalban, Sally Forrest, Bruce Bennett, Elsa Lanchester

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Know her? Sure, I knew her. I was never close enough to smell her perfume, but I knew her!” – Jim Black, tattooist

If you’re a classic Star Trek fan, it’s hard not to have a love for Ricardo Montalban. So since I also have a love of old school film-noir, I’d definitely want to check one out that starred the man who would later become the most famous Trek villain of all-time, Khan Noonien Singh.

Also, this film features one of my favorite ladies of her day, Elsa Lanchester. She will always be most known for playing the Bride in The Bride of Frankenstein. Here she plays a sort of kooky but fun character.

While this picture is considered film-noir and very much is, it is more of a police procedural in a time when the genre was really in its infancy. Procedurals were born out of film-noir and this isn’t the first but it helped to popularize the style.

Like other early procedurals, this was filmed in a semi-documentary style. It had some good location shooting throughout Boston that added a strong sense of realism to a film that was made when Hollywood still preferred shooting in their studios and on lots.

The film boasts striking cinematography that adds to the sense of realism and enhances the picture’s organic grittiness. John Alton handled the cinematography work, which was fitting as he also worked on T-Men, a similar film in style, as well as other noirs Raw DealBorder Incident and The Crooked Way.

Mystery Street is a motion picture that showcases real cinematic craftsmanship in the way that it was directed, shot and in how well the performers handled the material. While not Montalban’s greatest role, it did show that he was a star in the making, on the verge of greater heights. It’s also nice to travel back this far in time and see him as a more capable actor than a stereotypical Latin heartthrob or as a blockbuster villain.

This is a solid picture, through and through. It’s far from the best noir I’ve ever seen but it is much better than average and helped pave the way for a new form of storytelling on the big and small screens.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Other film-noir police procedurals: The Naked CityT-Men and He Walked by Night.

Film Review: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Release Date: June 4th, 1982
Directed by: Nicholas Meyer
Written by: Jack B. Sowards, Harve Bennett, Nicholas Meyer (uncredited), Samuel A. Peeples (uncredited)
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: James Horner
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Bibi Besch, Paul Winfield, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalbán, Merritt Butrick

Paramount Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“[quoting from Melville’s Moby Dick] To the last, I will grapple with thee… from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee! For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!” – Khan Noonien Singh

This is many people’s favorite Star Trek film of all-time and for very good reason. I like The Voyage Home (Part IV) a wee bit more and The Undiscovered Country (Part VI) is also pretty damn high up on my list. However, even though this isn’t my favorite, it is pretty damn perfect if you are a Trek fan and you can suspend some disbelief and get lost in this rich universe.

Are there flaws? A few. But the positives outweigh the negatives by such a wide margin that I’m not going to nitpick about small things that don’t matter much in the grand scheme of how great and how fun this movie is.

Ricardo Montalbán as Khan Noonien Singh is one of the greatest villains that ever graced the silver screen. Other than Darth Vader, who really made a bigger impact in the 1980s? Sure, we could argue a few villains, maybe a handful, but Khan is the main reason why people love this picture.

Montalbán gave the performance of a lifetime and even though he played this character once before, in the Star Trek TV episode Space Seed, he upped the ante so much that he really made this his film. This is one man, overshadowing a magnificent cast who had worked together for two decades and who had unbelievable chemistry with one another. There was a certain chemistry between Khan and Kirk though, even if you never actually saw them together in the same room. Their hatred reached through the physical barriers that separated them and made everyone else in the story, a pawn in the grandest chess game ever played in the galaxy. Everything between Khan and Kirk felt so organic and so real and it was only accented by Khan’s unrelenting quest for revenge and his Shakespearean dialogue.

The film is also littered with incredible special effects, which have actually held up really well, 35 years later. The ship models are fantastic, the look of space, especially the sequence within the Mutara Nebula is breathtaking. The effects used for the birth of the Genesis Planet were impressive as well.

One thing that really brings all of this to the next level is the score by James Horner. While I loved Jerry Goldsmith’s music in the first Star Trek film, Horner made the best score in the entire film series with what he did here. This is such a musical movie but that was pretty common with big blockbuster type films back then; unlike nowadays where the music in massive summer films isn’t as memorable as the cinematic tunes of yesteryear.

Plus, you have the heart wrenching scene between Kirk and Spock at the end that still makes me weep like a little bitch every time I see it, even with the knowledge that the tragedy will be erased in the next movie.

The Wrath of Khan is spectacular in every way. Seriously, how can you not be pulled into this adventure and just sit there for two hours, grinning ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat after raiding the cupboard for Colorado edibles?

I mean sure, I could point out that Khan and his people were marooned on Ceti Alpha V for fifteen years and before that, they tried to overtake the USS Enterprise but failed miserably. And then before that, the Enterprise crew found Khan cryogenically frozen in a pod in a ship that disappeared in the 1990s. Yet they were able to steal the USS Reliant in the 2200s, a star ship that was 300 years more advanced than any technology they had ever seen. And then somehow they were able to take this ill equipped science research vessel and inflict crippling damage to the Enterprise, an explorer ship with superior defensive weaponry and a crew with two decades worth of experience. I mean, I could point all that out…

But I’m not going to nitpick because this film is literally friggin’ perfect.

Rating: 10/10