Film Review: ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’

Year:  1970

Starring:  James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, David Watson, James Gregory, Linda Harrison and Charlton Heston

Director:  Ted Post / Written by:  Paul Dehn (story by Paul Dehn and Mort Abrahams)

What’s it about?

The sole survivor of a doomed expedition, astronaut Brent finds himself thrust into a world ruled by intelligent apes.  But nothing will prepare him for the revelations that lie beneath the surface…

In review

With 1968’s Planet of the Apes proving a hit for studio 20th Century Fox, a sequel was inevitably commissioned leading to the release of Beneath the Planet of the Apes in 1970.  Clearly weaker than its predecessor, Beneath is still a highly entertaining follow up with plenty to enjoy, retaining much of what made the original Apes a success.

With Charlton Heston only agreeing to return in a reduced role as the human astronaut Taylor, the lead position is filled by James Franciscus playing the part of Brent, the sole survivor of another space expedition to find himself in a world ruled by intelligent apes.  Whilst it’s a shame that Heston didn’t agree to a larger role in the film, Franciscus carries the lead ably and provides a suitably intense performance as the bewildered astronaut struggles to comprehend the reality of his situation and the revelations of the apes’ world.

Brent is joined by the mute human, Nova (with Linda Harrison reprising her Planet of the Apes role) as the pair search for the vanished Taylor leading to a reunion with chimps Zira (Hunter) and Cornelius (with David Watson taking the place of Roddy McDowall who was unavailable at the time).  Maurice Evans returns as Dr. Zaius, this time debating the war plans of James Gregory’s Gorilla General, Ursus (a role turned down by Orson Welles) – pressing for the elimination of humankind and the conquest of the mysterious ‘Forbidden Zone’.

Although the script does at times lean towards illogic and convenience (audiences in 1970 were less prone to nitpicking and more open to simply being entertained), like its predecessor, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is laced with social commentary featuring clear protests against issues such as the conflict in Vietnam and Nuclear warfare.  There are also some neat science fiction ideas as Brent ventures beneath the surface and discovers a colony of telepathic humans, it’s perhaps a little comic book in execution but all part of the charm.  Roddy McDowall is also sorely missed, David Watson isn’t a bad substitute but it was the delightful subtleties of McDowall’s performance that made Cornelius such a standout character in the original Apes.

Director Ted Post keeps things moving along at a decent pace, making the action sequences suitably exciting and tense and allowing ample time for viewers to appreciate the creative set design, which is once again laudable (the underground ruins are particularly effective) given the relatively low budget.

What’s notable about Beneath is that it’s somewhat darker and more adult than the previous Apes film, although a scene involving a half-ape/half-human child was deemed too controversial and eventually dropped, there is a higher level of violence on display particularly in the action-packed, blood (well, the customary red paint which was commonplace in film and television of the sixties and seventies) spattered finale and an overall sense of doom and finality to proceedings.

The bottom line:  Whilst nowhere near as good as Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes is still an entertaining and action-packed sequel that’s worth a look.

Brent (James Franciscus) and Nova (Linda Harrison) venture below the surface in 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes'.

Brent (James Franciscus) and Nova (Linda Harrison) venture below the surface in ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’.

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4 thoughts on “Film Review: ‘Beneath the Planet of the Apes’

  1. Excellent review! I must say, I’m intrigued by the 70’s ‘Apes’ follow-ups. I’m only familiar with the original, and this sounds like it might be well worth the effort.

    • Definitely Gareth, production wise they’re very much of their time with a level of low budget ‘creakiness’ (and some entries are stronger than others), but I’ve loved them for many years and always enjoy revisiting them.

  2. Man, Welles would have been awesome. I wonder if him being on board might have lured Heston into a more involved status.

    • Wouldn’t it just? I certainly think Heston would’ve been more involved if Welles had signed up, in fact it may have shaped the film differently as I’m sure Heston would’ve wanted the opportunity to play opposite Welles as much as possible.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

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