Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Queerty Rockin’ Roddy Double Feature Part II: Planet of the Apes
Now, wait a second, dear reader.
Before you freak out about actor Charlton Heston’s homophobia, lust for firearms, or otherwise nutty right-wing views, consider: what would piss off the man more than making him into the object of queer fetishism?
Besides, love or hate his politics, Heston had remarkable acting chops. For proof of his ability and to see him looking like something that stumbled out of a fetish night at a leather bar, look no further than the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes. The sci-fi adventure stars Heston as Taylor, an astronaut who crash lands on an alien planet. Taylor, along with his other surviving crew make their way across the desolate landscape and quickly discover it enhabited by primitive humans…and a sophisticated society of intelligent apes.
We don’t feel too much of a need to regurgitate the plot details here since A) most of the plot details of Planet of the Apes have already entered the zeitgeist, and B) if you, dear reader, have somehow escaped reveals of the movie’s plot–including its climactic twist–you’re better off experiencing it with as little foreknowledge as possible. Suffice it to say, the movie works as much of a satire of 1960s American society as much as speculative fiction.
Beyond the teeth-gnashing performance, Planet of the Apes benefits from groundbreaking makeup, and an outstanding supporting cast. That includes Roddy McDowall–the real reason we’re recommending the movie–as the thoughtful ape Dr. Cornelius, who comes to befriend Taylor. Cornelius and his wife Dr. Zira (Oscar-winner Kim Hunter) just about steal the movie with their mix of pacifistic proselytizing and domesticity.
Considering the number of actors in head-to-toe ape make-up and the plethora of extras wearing almost nothing at all, that’s an achievement. That nudity extends to Heston as well, who does his first full-nude scene here. The actor would recall years later that a female stagehand complimented him on his behind while shooting the scene. We think she had a point too; love him or hate him, the performer did boast a sinewy posterior in the film.
But the movie belongs to Hunter and McDowall. The latter gives one of his best performances here, and probably his most iconic. McDowall would go on to star in a series of Apes sequels and a TV series as the undisputed lead. He’d also turn up on various TV talk shows in full ape make-up to do interviews and pull pranks on unsuspecting viewers.
Thanks to its mix of action, adventure, social commentary and spot-on performances, Planet of the Apes still ranks as one of the Best Sci-Fi Movies ever made. It also further confirms Roddy McDowall as one of the great, gay actors in modern history. He deserves mention alongside Angela Lansbury, Ian McKellen, Anthony Hopkins, and Apes successor Andy Serkis as one of the best British character actors ever to conquer Hollywood. Come to Planet of the Apes for the fetishistic costumes. Stay for an actor at the height of his power.
Streams on Amazon, Tubi, YouTube & VUDU.