Movie Memory: The Planet of the Apes

These apes strike terror into the heart of a little girl.

These military apes strike terror and fascination into the heart of a little girl.

When we were in our pre-adolescent years, our interests were girlish and simple: flowered dresses, Barbie dolls, Nancy Drew mysteries, and repeated viewings of The Planet of the Apes.

Yup, The Planet of the Apes. We saw all five of the original movies made between 1968 and 1973, and we watched each one between eight and twenty-five times.

We know you’re dying to ask, so here’s the story.

When we were little, we lived in a rural area without cable or satellite. (Ask your grandparents what this was like.) There were only two channels we could receive, one of which was a public broadcaster – and you know how that is when you’re a kid.

The other channel, though, had more interesting fare. It aired popular sitcoms, exciting game shows, and lots and lots of movies.

Our parents, however, didn’t really like television. They believed it to be a waste of time. Therefore, television was strictly rationed; each of us were allowed one favourite show to watch during the week, and we were never, never allowed to watch television on a sunny day.

Except, strangely, our mother allowed us to watch The Planet of the Apes movies every time they aired on television. We couldn’t get enough of these movies. Dystopian themes? Who cares! Tyrannical horseback-riding military apes? Bring ‘em on! Creepy uber-white people who worship the atom bomb? Fantastic!

Our mother let us watch these movies every time, tsk-ing only at the use of the word “damn” when Charlton Heston ordered the apes to unhand him. (Like television, swear words were frowned upon in our house.)

Watching The Planet of the Apes movies as a kid made us feel a little more grown up. We were sophisticated because we felt we were watching Important Truths About Humanity, even though most of it went over our heads.

We admit these movies practically give us nightmares when we watch them now. But in our youth, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the television, we devoured each one repeatedly as though we were seeing it for the first time.

The Planet of the Apes, to us, represent a time when nothing beat an angry, gun-toting ape on horseback.

Bonus Feature! The five original Planet of the Apes trailers:

This post is part of the Movie Memories series hosted by Brandie at True Classics. For more fab movie memories, click here.

37 comments

  1. Great post! Thank you for sharing. I had a similar experience with TV (rural area, no cable) as a kid but my approved viewing material was a combination of Cary Grant, Errol Flynn and Star Trek. Sounds like you had a ton of fun with those, um, DARN dirty apes.

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  2. I was a city boy and we didn’t have cable. We had 4 channels (one Canadian!) until UHF came into being. That meant getting a new TV, though, and ours was “perfectly good” without them. :) I do remember this series very well and my favorite was the first film in the series. Though obviously dated now, the make-up and effects were quite good for that time. It’s a great image you described of you kids sitting cross-legged in front of the set, a scene that was common wherever kids and a TV shared a room. :)

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    1. Some of these movies border on the ultra-cheesy now, although the messages are as relevant as ever. You’re right – the makeup and effects were really good.

      How exciting was that, to get UHF!

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  3. Great post, Ruth! Fascinating to hear a little about your upbringing…I can definitely relate to the limited TV channels thing (although we had a good four or five in my neck o’ the woods), though my parents were far more lenient on me when it came to watching stuff (back in those days of halcyon youth, it seemed like we had sooo many more hours in the day to both play outside AND watch tons of movies and TV). Most of my APES memories revolve around the first (and by far the best) film…though I retain a few hazy mental images of the TV series version also.

    Watching these films now, they are chock full of some pretty brutal, downbeat stuff…hard to imagine them being proper kiddie fare, though they were treated as such at the time.

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    1. I agree that the first movie was the best, and each successive film was a little less great. By the time the 5th one came around, it was time to put the series out of its misery.

      I laughed at your observation about having so many more hours in the day as a kid. So true!

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  4. Angry, gun-toting apes are hard to beat to this day! I remember watching the original movie for the first time and the utter shock at seeing the Statue of Liberty at the end. MY GOD that’s hard to replicate.

    Great memories, R.A. – I find it interesting that you were allowed to watch these given your television watching was monitored. Love reading this.

    Aurora

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    1. Years later, when I saw these movies again as an adult, I was mildly horrified. I asked my mother why she allowed us to watch these and she said she knew the darker stuff would just go over our heads. She was right. Also, I think because there were five of us kids, she just needed a break now and then.

      You’re right about the ending of the first movie. It’s an image that gets burned in your brain, doesn’t it?

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  5. Loved your post-did you ever ask your mom why she allowed you all to view TPOTA movies as much as she did? I can also relate to growing up in a rural area, and wound up watching a lot of good old movies on the PBS station, thank goodness for their showing those films!

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    1. I did ask my mother and she said she somehow knew the darker themes would go over our heads, and she was right. Plus, she had five children and I think sometimes she just needed a break.

      It’s surprising how many people didn’t have a lot of television choice growing up…and that wasn’t too long ago. How things have changed in a short period of time!

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  6. I have a fantastic thing to admit… I have never seen a “Planet of the Apes” movie! I know, it’s crazy, and please don’t call the movie police. It’s not that I wouldn’t watch these films (because at this minute they sound quite fun), it’s just that I never made it a priority.

    I also grew up without any cable and only had three channels that came in with my giant antennas, but I wish one of those few channels that I had, would have shown these films. Perhaps it is time to hunt these classics down!

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    1. Paul, I am astonished that you’ve never seen any of these movies. The first is the best, and the second is pretty good too. However, you wouldn’t be missing much if you didn’t see the last three.

      I laughed at your mention of giant antennas! I’d forgotten about that!

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  7. What a fun post…it was a trip down memory lane for me, as I didn’t have cable growing up either. In fact, in the late 60′s/early 70′s, I’m not at all sure, it even existed! We got the 3 networks and a PBS station.

    We often went to the drive-in as a family, and Planet of the Apes (part 1) was one of the films I remember seeing. For some reason, it terrified me, and I haven’t gotten near it since. Maybe I’m old enough to give it another chance!

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    1. What?! You had FOUR channels? I’m feeling a little ripped off here…

      That would be a neat experience, to see The Planet of the Apes at a drive in. I think the experience would be all the more creepy for it. No wonder you were terrified!

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  8. I loved Planet Of The Apes. I even heard EG Robinson did a screen test for the part of Dr. Zaius. I think you could even find his screen test in a documentary somewhere on the web. I think Robinson pulled out because of the heavy make-up involved.

    As a kid I had the little Planet Of The Apes action figures and even the plastic tree house. That stuff would have be worth alotta money today. Unfortunately my mom threw it all out (: .

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    1. You’re right – nobody had cable where I grew up either. Now, my grandparents, who lived in a city about 3 hours away, THEY had cable. What a treat. Happily, my grandparents weren’t so strict about television watching – you know how grandparents are.

      Thanks for dropping by, Karen. :)

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  9. When, I was growing up we had a black and white television, until I was in high school. I have no clue how many channels we had. I just remember my mom watching her stories…

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    1. How did your television-viewing experience change once you got a colour TV?

      Ha ha – the “stories”. My mother always watched Another World, which was her one-hour escape from all of us. I’m glad you mentioned it. I’d completely forgotten about that!

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      1. I could not wait to watch the classic film, The Wizard of OZ in color..

        During that time.. I was busy going to high school and getting ready for collage and did not watch much TV. Until, I had my son and started watching children programs.. If I see another Mr. Rodgers, tv show… it will be too soon.. :)

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  10. What a terrific post. I loved! Buuuuut, once again, I have not seen any of these movies. I guess I better hop to it!

    My mother still doesn’t have cable or satellite, but she lives on the local HD channel that plays all the vintage TV shows. There’s something about that I kind of like….

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    1. “The Planet of the Apes” is one of those memorable movies. When you see it, you’ll never ask yourself, “How did that one go, again?”

      I love vintage TV! I love watching TV shows where you don’t have to see gore or comedies that aren’t clever. That’s why I love TCM.

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  11. I well remember the first time I saw the first one on television and didn’t know the ending. I thought it was the spaceship coming into view. It was a massive shock, one I still remember to this day.

    My dad was going to take me to see Beneath at the local theater, but we got in a car accident and had no car for that week. To make up, we went the next week, and I saw “Marooned” instead, which was no substitute. M

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    1. That ending is a shock, isn’t it? It’s one you don’t forget.

      Oh dear, “Marooned” really is no substitute for “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”.

      Wow – that is a really crazy story about the car accident. Yikes! But everyone was OK, right?

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      1. Yes, no one hurt but the car. We didn’t get a color tv until I was in high school, circa 1976-1977. I remember that weekend, because the first thing I watched on the new color set was…”Come Live with Me” with Jimmy Stewart and Hedy Lamarr….in black and white.

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      2. I loved the story about the first thing you watch on your new colour TV was a black & white movie. That is classic!

        My husband is a real techie. I told him that if it weren’t for him, I’d still be using a rotary phone and watching black & white TV. He replied, “But you only watch black & white TV.” (TCM)

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  12. Great look back Ruth. Thanks for sharing. I love the gun toting apes line. I too am from a time before cable but there was nothing else and in those days TV stations (I grew up in NYC and we had about six stations) showed movies all the time.

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