Friday, February 08, 2013

Animal Kingdom

When I was growing up, there was only one single–screen theater in my central Arkansas hometown.

New releases came to my town when the distributors decided they had gotten all they could from larger markets. It could take a year or two for a movie to come to my hometown — if it ever did.

I suppose it goes without saying that the original "Planet of the Apes," which premiered on this day in 1968, wasn't showing at my hometown theater 45 years ago. It may have been showing somewhere in Little Rock. First–run movies usually did.

In fact, I'm inclined to think it may have been two years or more before it came to my hometown because, when I saw it, my hometown theater showed it as the first part of a double feature in which the movie's sequel was the second feature.

And the sequel came out two years after the original.

Logically, then, the original must have been at least 2 years old at that time. But that, of course, assumes that the sequel would have been showing in my hometown when it was first released — and, frankly, that defies logic. First–run movies hardly ever played in my hometown.

So I think it must have been a year, if not two, after the sequel was released when that double feature played in my hometown theater.

Oh, well ...

Whenever that double feature came to my hometown, I remember pleading with my parents to let me see it — and, to my great surprise, they did even though I was quite young (and my memory is that they usually weren't inclined to allow me to see anything they thought was beyond my years).

Anyway, after an unexpectedly easy time convincing my parents to let me see it, I spent one rainy Saturday afternoon at my hometown movie theater, watching the first two "Planet of the Apes" movies.

Those movies had a profound influence on me. They opened my mind to thoughts I had never had before.

I guess everyone remembers the iconic final scene in which Charlton Heston and Linda Harrison (his human companion, the alluring but mute Nova) learn the truth about the ape planet.

Likewise, I suppose everyone remembers when Heston, upon being captured by the apes, instructed them to "get your stinkin' paws off me."

Oddly, I suppose, those scenes and the dialogue really didn't register with me as much at the time as the general theme of the movie and its sequel, that the roles of the animals and the humans had been reversed.

That theme, as I understand it, was warmly received by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

As it should be, perhaps — and also, I suspect, as many, if not most, would expect it to be.

Even those who were not connected to the SPCA found that "Planet of the Apes" was a thought–provoking tale. Every time I have seen or thought of that movie since the first time I saw it, though, it has evoked thoughts of Heston.

I'm not entirely sure of this, but I really think that rainy Saturday afternoon was the first time I saw Heston in a movie (well, two movies, actually — Heston was in both of the movies I saw that day, but he was more prominently featured in the first).

Most people's first thoughts may be of "The Ten Commandments" or "Ben–Hur" when they think of Heston. I think of those performances, too, but the first thing I think of is the "Planet of the Apes" movies.

Like one domino falling into another, that initial thought will remind me of something or someone else. Inevitably, I am reminded of the rather obvious role reversals in that movie. For example, when Heston was being chased through Ape City, he interrupted a funeral service for an ape who was being lauded as the "font of simian kindness."

The ape who was presiding over the service said that the departed had once confided in him, "I never met an ape I didn't like."

Some of the more adult references went over my head. But I wasn't completely immune to some adult aspects of the movie.

Perhaps because I was young and drawn to beautiful women even then, I tend to think of Harrison as well when I think of those movies, although the first two "Planet of the Apes" were probably the high points of her fairly brief show business career.

She never spoke in the first one and only a few times in the second. I don't remember much about her voice.

The voices of the apes — most notably, Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans — do evoke associative memories, I suppose. I've seen them all in other things — I had probably seen some, if not all, before I saw "Planet of the Apes" — but their voices always make me think of that movie.

I've seen Evans, for example, on Bewitched — many times — in the role of Samantha's father. But when I hear his voice, I still think of Dr. Zaius.

Likewise, I have seen Hunter (who had been in movies for a quarter of a century when she played Zira) and McDowall in many things. I may even have seen them in things before I saw "Planet of the Apes."

But their voices always take me back to that afternoon when I saw that movie and its sequel for the first time.