With the Planet of the Apes prequel nearly upon us, it takes me back to the first time I saw the 1967 original.
It was still pretty expensive to own a movie on VHS, but we had a copy of it from Magnetic Video, one of the first home video companies that licensed a number of titles from 20th Century Fox.
One afternoon, a friend and I watched it together for the first time.
I was somewhere in the 10-12 age range, and since we didn’t have spoiler alerts in those days, and I didn’t know there was a surprise at the end, I had no idea it was coming, and thought the ending was brilliant.
No matter how many times Apes will be remade or rebooted, the original ending will never be topped. Considering the turmoil at the end of the ’60s, the ending sent a powerful message, and instantly put the film in a much different context.
Much like today, there was an effort to keep the ending top secret. It was code named “Rosebud,” obviously referring to the great reveal at the end of Citizen Kane.
In the book Planet of the Apes Revisted, penned by Joe Russo, Larry Landsman, and Edward Gross, producer Arthur Jacobs wrote in a memo: “I feel the last three pages must be kept a total secret, and would like to explore some sort of phony final three pages that we could put in the script for the purpose of everyone except those directly concerned, that would not reveal Earth and the Statue of Liberty.”
Doing a little research, I also learned the ending had tipped up before. In a Time magazine article, Richard Corliss points out the “we were on earth the whole time” twist was actually done in EC’s Weird Fantasy story, “The Exile.” There was also an episode of The Twilight Zone, “I Shot An Arrow Into the Sky,” with a similar ending. Rod Serling co-wrote the Planet of the Apes script, and many believe the ending was his idea.
Whoever ultimately came up with the idea, it’s still one of the best twist endings in history. There may be more Apes movies to come, but I put it succinctly to any screenwriter who wants to try and blow away the original ending in terms of the shock and the message it delivered: you just can’t top it.