Planet of the Apes, and six more movies

Planet of the Apes

This movie was a staple on TV when I was growing up, so I saw it several times when I was a kid and teenager. I snickered at the silliness of its concept, and laughed at some of Charlton Heston's overwrought line readings. "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!"



Jan. 30, 2023

Tonight's the first time I've seen it since the 1970s, though, and what an idiot I was.

Planet of the Apes is truly good, as science fiction, as action, as drama, and as an allegory for all things human. It's a big-money movie with a message.

Heston plays an astronaut on an extended tour of outer space at nearly the speed of sound, so by the crew's calculations eons have passed on Earth, and getting home is out of the question.

They crash land on an unknown planet that seems livable, until they meet the natives — civilized simians who speak, and think of men the way we think of apes, as savages.

And they're right. On this world, mankind roams the jungle, killing and foraging, unable to speak, while the apes have cities and universities, science and religion.

Same as everything he was ever in, Heston plays it too macho, but he's not awful and everyone else is great. The monkey masks are convincing, and Jerry Goldsmith's score is perfectly weird, adding greatly to the mood.

"I'm a seeker too, but my dreams aren't like yours. I can't help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be."

The film was co-written by Rod Serling, who added the (now famous) surprise at the end, which wasn't in the novel but brings a big wallop to the proceedings.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Electra Glide in Blue (1973)

Robert Blake plays 'Big John', a motorcycle cop in Arizona. The nickname is a joke, because he's short.

He's also about as close to being a good cop as any cop can be. He's not mean or brutal, and there's no sweet-talking him out of giving you a ticket.

Of course, he's buddies with another motorcycle cop, who's more ordinary — willing to spend an hour and a half tearing apart a hippie's van, looking for anything to arrest him for, and planting drugs when nothing real can be found. Big John sees it and doesn't like it, but doesn't say or do anything.

He wants a promotion, and gets temporarily assigned to shadow a veteran detective, who's much more thuggish, beating people up when they don't answer his questions quick enough. Again, Big John sees it but says nothing.

That's an eternal problem with cops — any officer who isn't breaking the law while wearing the badge certainly know cops who are, yet they remain silent, because speaking up would cost them their workplace friendships, their hopes of promotion, and probably their jobs.

The story gets unlikely toward the end, and I must've missed the part where the title was explained, but Electra Glide in Blue is quite good. There's a great motorcycle chase sequence, some good countryesque songs, and under it all a slow-paced mystery unfolds.

A few years after this, Blake played a cop again on TV's Baretta, a show I watched once and hated, and specifically hated Blake. Here, though, he does some genuine acting, as a relatable, flawed character, and does it quite well. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Lady Eve (1941)

Barbara Stawyck plays a con-lady card-shark, and Henry Fonda is a wealthy brewery heir who doesn't like beer. They meet on a cross-Atlantic cruise, with Stanwyck at first trying to swindle Fonda but eventually feeling something akin to love.

Written and directed by Preston Sturges, it's funny in the old-fashioned way, until Fonda finds out he's been hoodwinked. That's when it should've ended, but instead the swindle with Stawyck and Fonda repeats, only she claims not to be the same person who'd defrauded him on the ship, and Fonda believes her, which is so stupid it's frankly too stupid to laugh at.

Sturges made some great movies, and this isn't one of them, but the first half is so good I'll recommend it despite the second half.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

This is the first and best of several film adaptations of Richard Connell's famous short story, about an aristocratic madman who hunts humans the way safari hunters go for gazelles or giraffes.

We're on a ship at sea, sailing through shark-infested waters. There's a conversation inside the ship's lounge, and it goes without saying that movies like this were filmed on sets, not on a ship at sea, but they've gone to the trouble of having the camera slightly sway, giving the impression that we're sailing. Nice touch.

Soon we're shipwrecked, and sharks attack (again, impressive effects), and the sole survivor is Joel McCrea. Washed up on a nearby island, once past the mute and malicious butler, he's welcomed to a reclusive millionaire's castle. The host speaks of the excellent game hunting on the island, and says it's the most dangerous game, which turns out to be Joel McCrea.

Playing the hunter, Leslie Banks should've cranked the ham factor down about 50%. It's too obvious that he's nuts, from the first moment he's on screen.

Other than that, no major complaints. The hunting sequences are thrilling, the jungles are lush even in black and white, and the fight scenes don't look ordinary — instead of stunt men, it looks like Joel McCrea getting into a fight.

As a money-saving measure, this was shot on the same sets as King Kong, concurrently. Any day King Kong wasn't filming on the jungle sets, The Most Dangerous Game was, and it also borrowed Fay Wray.

It's a noteworthy film, both for being very good, and also for being one of the pre-code films that motivated American puritans to demand rules for cinematic 'decency'. 

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Nobody Waved Good-Bye (1964)

Peter is a brash teenage boy who's in trouble at school, and then arrested for a traffic violation while 'borrowing' his father's car. He's rebellious, loves arguing with people, and hates his parents' bourgeois lifestyle.

The story is both dated and eternal. Peter's family is white and middle-class, so he's really only rebelling against boredom, but it's a realistic look at late adolescence. 

In an argument with his mother, he announces that he's not going back to school, and as soon as he gets a job he's going to move out, find a place of his own, and be self-sufficient. His mother says, "Don't wait until you get a job. Go now. If you feel so responsible for yourself, go now, try it. You'll find out what it's like."

All this is very earnest, with no big dramatic moments but ample small ones that add up. No clear resolution is offered, because really, what resolution is available for a young buck in a hurry to make as many mistakes as he can squeeze into his young life?

Peter might have made himself into a hippie for a happy ending, but rock'n'roll hadn't made its way onto the film's landscape, so San Francisco and LSD weren't really an option. 

Watch for a very young John Vernon, as the boy's somewhat shady boss.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Rubin & Ed (1991)

Rubin is Crispin Glover in stripped polyester pants, a reclusive young gent who never wants to leave his house, and he has a beloved but dead cat that's frozen and needs burial.

Ed is Howard Hesseman in a bad toupee, a positive-thinking real estate salesman who only wants to bring Rubin to a seminar.

Of course they become buddies, and trek into the desert to find a place to bury the cat in the Cave of the Echo People. And Karen Black keeps popping up as Ed's ex. 

"I can't believe it. It just keeps getting worse."

No, actually, it keeps getting better. 

Rubin & Ed is droll when it's not weird, and by the normal definition of 'joke' there aren't many in the script. And yet, watching Glover and Hessman interact as the absurdities accumulate, it gets funnier and funnier as it rolls along.

Crispin Glover wearing a hubcap as a hat. Their arguments. Those shoes. A dead water-skiing cat. The motivational seminar scenes. It took twenty minutes for me to slip into the right mindset and start chuckling, and once started I couldn't stop.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Thing (2011)

I didn't even know there'd been a third film of The Thing. From the marvelous long short story or short novel by John W Campbell, Who Goes There?, we've seen The Thing from Another World in 1951, and John Carpenter's bloody The Thing in 1982, so I guess we get a remake every thirty years or so. This one's the best yet.

Something very hush-hush has been discovered by a Norwegian scientific crew in Antarctica, so they're gonna dig deep to figure it out. And they gotta do it fast, because there's a major storm closing in. An American paleontologist is drafted to be part of the team, and of course, by movie law she's young and gorgeous. 

What they've found is a circa 100,000-year old spacecraft, deep under the ice, and a frozen-solid member of the alien crew. Do you think it's a good idea to start thawing it out? If you answered yes, you haven't read the book or seen the movies.

It's set in 1982, no doubt a nod to Carpenter, and it's an amiable mix of tension and worry and special effects. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an improvement on Kurt Russell, and the monsters are better than Carpenter's. Resistance is futile, and The latest Thing is a blast, right up to and through the ending credits.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Seven films watched, and seven films recommended. Can this winning streak continue?

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Coming attractions:

• Catch Me If You Can (2002)
• Empire of the Sun (1987)
• Gone in 60 Seconds (1974)
• Island of Lost Souls
• Kenny & Company (1976)
• Monkey Business (1931)
• Payday (1973)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

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Illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. Reviews are spoiler-free. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   

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  1. Claude Reigns (Or Am I?)January 31, 2023 at 1:48 PM

    "I didn't even know there'd been a third film of The Thing [...] so I guess we get a remake every thirty years or so. This one's the best yet."

    Well, this is the most shocking thing I've read on this entire blog in the last 18 months.

    1. What's the shock, that a newish THING exists, or that it's good?

    2. Not good! Oh my god, it's terrible... CGI instead of practical effects, "babe" unnecessarily inserted for demographics, a cast of nobodies, completely humorless, etc.

      But, I like the Ferrara remake of Body Snatchers, so I guess we're even.

    3. You might be right that I was wrong about "This one's the best yet." I liked THE THING 2011, but to earn "best" I should've rewatched the other two, and maybe I will.

      Usually I only notice *bad* CGI, and I didn't, but I wasn't looking that closely. I was in a silly mood, and it worked for me, is all. And Ms Winstead is my favorite B-movie babe of her generationl, so she's a plus, never a minus.

      You can't possibly be right about Ferrara's BODY SNATCHERS though, and that's one I'll never rewatch.

    4. Winstead was good in Smashed (also starring Jesse Pinkman, hahaha) and The Spectacular Now.

      As for The Thing and the Body Snatchers films, I rank them as follows:

      1. (tied) The Thing (1982) & Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

      Perfect 10/10s, the two greatest genre remakes of all time, each in the top ten films of their decade

      2. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955)

      Solid 8/10 maybe 9/10

      3. Body Snatchers (1993)

      Underrated, 6/10 or 7/10

      4. The Thing (1956)

      Overrated, give it a 6/10

      5. The Thing (2011)

      Suffers so much in comparison to Carpenter's film, I don't think I can even see it clearly, and as a prequel its attempts to fill in the story are completely unnecessary

      2/10 (but I'm sure Carpenter loves to cash the checks while smoking pot and playing video games)

      6. The Invasion (2007)

      0/10 Excrement from a pretentious Euro "arthouse" director who obviously hates genre

      And we haven't even mentioned Cronenberg's The Fly, or the 1988 remake of The Blob, the former of which is superb (but not in Cronenberg's top five) and the latter of which is surprisingly great

    5. Winstead is good in everything she's in. Probably she's good in movies she's not in.

      The earlier versions of THE THING are on my watchlist, and it's been a long time since I've seen either, but my recollection of Carpenter's version is that it was somewhere between good and great.

      I'm a huge fan of both the '55 and '78 INVASIONS OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and usually watch them as a double feature.

      The '93 version I only saw once, and remember nothing except wondering how such a good moviemaker could make such a marvelous story into what I was watching.

      The 2007 version was so obviously dreck that I've never even briefly considered seeing it.

      Cronenberg's THE FLY was a yes, but if THE BLOB remake is the movie I'm think of, with a Dillon even worse than Matt, oh my, really?

  2. The Thing I noticed is that the last 747 just rolled out of the Everett production facility. The first 747 was delivered just before the first moon landing, and became the largest, longest route flying beast in the air. Which program or programs did your Dad work on?


    1. For five years I had a work route that took me past that building, late at night and lit up like a space age ziggurat, bay doors wide open and big enough for The Hindenburg, massive half-built fuselages glowing as little ant men swarmed over their surface.

      Even after a 16-hour shift, seeing that from my truck window as I headed home was always thrilling.

    2. In his long career at Boeing (he never worked anywhere else) my dad worked on the original 747, the Saturn 5, the SST, the Stealth bomber, and the 757. Maybe other planes and projects. I'll ask next time I see him.

      To me, the 747 seemed eternal. It's been out there flying since I was a kid, it's the only make and model of plane I recognize, and I don't really understand why it's not selling enough to keep making them.

      I never got to go inside the 747 factory in Everett. Dad took the rest of the family on a tour of the place, but they had an age minimum and whatever it was, I was under it. I sat in the car and listened to the radio and sulked in sadness, much as I'm doing right now remembering it.

    3. Thanks. Sounds like your Dad was bright and talented, as were many Boeing engineers and assembly workers back in the day.

      Passenger airplanes that require four big engines to generate lift are getting too expensive to fly. Looks like the future of commercial aviation is single aisle two engine planes with relatively low air MPG and relatively low emissions.


    4. In many ways, my pop was the smartest guy I've ever known. His advise was always sound, and just as always unwanted by me.

      I do wonder about him and Jesus. He was Vulcanny logical about everything, and never much talked about religion, but he dragged all of us to church every Sunday morning and every Sunday and Wednesday night, and woe be to any of us who tried not to attend.

  3. Looking forward, of course, to Monkey Business . . .

    Groucho: I know - I know. You're a woman who's been getting nothing but dirty breaks. Well, we can clean and tighten your brakes, but you'll have to stay in the garage all night.


    1. Groucho was the King of Puns, and puns are supposed to be lowbrow but most of them are frickin' brilliant.


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