"You'd tell me if this hat
makes me look stupid, wouldn't you?"
Following the surprising success of the original Planet of the Apes, it is not surprising that 20th Century Fox would want to produce a sequel to that film. That sequel is named Beneath the Planet of the Apes, and it is a rather interesting misfire.
The movie opens promisingly and somewhat surrealistically with Taylor (our hero from the first film, played by Charlton Heston) and Nova (Taylor's cavegirl companion) wandering around the Forbidden Zone on a horse with no name, which is pretty much where we left them at the end of Planet of the Apes. They avoid animated lightning that comes out of nowhere, and then Taylor disappears into thin air after investigating the remains of a building.
Cut to a different part of the Forbidden Zone. Another spaceship has crashed, and the only survivor is Brent, played by James Franciscus. Brent's mission is to find out what happened to Taylor's ship. Brent meets up with Nova, who takes him to Ape City. There Brent realizes that he is a long way from Longstreet, and on Nova's mute direction, he contacts Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (this time played by David Watson, not Roddy McDowall), Taylor's ape confidants during his first days on the Planet of the Apes. Zira and Cornelius help Brent find his way back to the Forbidden Zone where he will hopefully find Taylor.
This is one of the main problems with the movie, however. The first hour is spent retreading the material from the original movie, only with James Franciscus instead of Charlton Heston. Franciscus is not an improvement over Heston by any stretch of the imagination, and this replay of the events of the previous movie is not really needed. Now if only Franciscus had brought along Longstreet guest star Bruce Lee, then we would have seen something. "Movement number four: Dragon seeks path! Dragon whips... monkey's red butt!"
Kenneth Starr on his days off.
After the preliminaries are over, the movie finally hits high gear. Brent finds Taylor, who was captured by mutants who live in the ruins of New York City. These mutants are a very strange bunch indeed, even more bizarre than today's inhabitants of the Big Apple. They all have pale skin and rather extensive mental powers including mental projection and mind control. The mutants also worship an atomic bomb. They keep it in St. Patrick's Cathedral, and sing hymns to it. One of the most effective scenes in the film involves a mass congregation of the mutants.
Apparently Heston didn't want to star in this sequel, because he didn't feel it would be a good idea to repeat himself. He agreed to appear in the sequel as a personal favor to Fox chief Zanuck, on the understanding that he would only appear at the beginning of the film. This seems to have changed as they filmed the movie, because Heston appears quite prominently at the end of the film. As a matter of fact, it is Taylor and not Brent who does everything important after all heck breaks loose because the local ape army attacks the mutants. It is almost as if the real hero of the movie takes an hour break, and James Franciscus is standing in for him during the boring parts of the film.
"No, really, can you get me
Bruce Lee's autograph?"
What probably most killed our enjoyment of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (spoilers and bad jokes ahead!) is that the social commentary this time around is so unfocussed that it's incomprehensible. True, a group of post-apocalyptic mutants worshipping an atom bomb has possibilities, but the end of Beneath realizes none of them. Worst of all is the evolution of Taylor's personality. When we first met him, he was a misanthrope. During the course of Planet of the Apes, he learned the value of humanity, wherever it may be found. Yet at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Taylor decides to set off the mutants' doomsday bomb, destroying Earth. So what did Taylor learn? OK, he's a little pissed because Nova and Brent were killed by gorilla warfare (we warned you), but how do you go from that to "I'm going to destroy the world because I'm not happy"? Fortunately, the Planet of the Apes movies to follow were much more entertaining and more socially relevant.