May 9, 2008
Last night I watched most of Planet of the Apes on The Movie Channel. I hadn't seen it since its original release, but I thought I remembered everything about it. The viewing showed me how memory can sometimes play tricks.
When Charlton Heston died, I was very shaken. That may sound strange, since I knew he was old and not well -- and his best work was long in the past. Yet there was something invincible about him in memory, and I vowed to keep him there, strong and virile, as long as I could. I didn't realize how many of his movies I'd seen, and that sense of being in good hands I got from his presence on the screen. He always delivered just what you wanted. Or, at least, just what I wanted.
Everybody who saw Planet of the Apes remembers that "Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!" scene. It is the apex of the movie; in fact, the picture is structured so that, with the restoration of his voice, Taylor is all of us, and at that moment he speaks for us at last. I couldn't help but reflect that, if the movie were to be remade, that line would have to be rewritten with more blasphemous words or phrases than "stinking" and "damned," but the scene still has full power in its original form, largely because of Heston's rendering of that line.
In the obituaries, it was remarked that this film featured his only onscreen nude scene. What flashed before my eyes was a long-tucked-away memory of Heston in the altogether, embracing a young beauty who has been provided him by his ape captors as a potential mate, and saying, "You're not as smart as Lt. Stewart, but you're the only girl in town." I wanted to see that scene to see if it actually happened that way.
As a matter of fact, it didn't. The nude scene is when he is before some kind of ape tribunal; and they are trying to humiliate him. The judge says, "Take those rags off him; they smell bad and are offensive," something like that, and his clothes are ripped off, leaving him naked before the court. The physique that is revealed is flawless and Greek god-like, but the man looks abashed and almost ashamed.
As for the "You're not as smart..." scene, it has already occured by this time. We have seen him embracing the primitive beauty, we feel there is a bond between them, and the heartless guards, planning to have him neutered, have run the firehose on them both to separate them into different cages. He is looking at her longingly from behind his bars, and is forced to reflect on his life before captivity. In his line, he is acknowledging that in some way he is coming to love her as he has never loved a woman before.
The movie was made 40 years ago. I was about the age of the young woman. Charlton Heston is saying to me, "You're the only girl in town," and I never forget the moment, although my mind reserves the right to shift the sequence a bit. I run the line over in my mind -- I'm not as smart as Lt. Stewart, but I'm the only girl in town.
Okay, I say. I can accept that.