Time Out looks back at the best ape-based films of all time
King Kong (1933, M C Cooper and E B Schoedsack) Hairy hero: Mountainous, misunderstood mass of animatronic emotional contradiction, Kong. Sapien sidekick: Fay Wray’s chimp-teasing good-time girl Ann Darrow. Monkey business: Heroes don’t come much more tragic than poor old Kong. Once upon a time he was the undisputed king of his own island kingdom, the biggest fish in a small but cosy pond, whiling away the days fighting T-Rexes and giving the dubious Um Bongo native Johnnies a good scare. Now here he is, stuck on top of the Empire State Building being machine-gunned by biplanes and shouted at by a cheap showman in an even cheaper suit. And all for the love of a woman! There’s a lesson here, lads: if you can hold her entire body in the palm of your hand, it probably isn’t meant to be.
Planet of the Apes (1968, Franklin J Schaffner) Hairy hero: Herne Hill’s finest, Roddy MacDowall, as long-suffering anthropologist Dr Cornelius. Sapien sidekick: Charlton ‘cold dead hands’ Heston as time-lapsed man-of-the-past George Taylor. Monkey business: The primmest and politest of all the chimps in Ape-town, Cornelius is a kind of futuristic cross between Desmond Morris, Kenneth Williams and a shagpile carpet: he’s furry, he’s educated, he’s ever-so-slightly fey. Which is a problem when his opponents in the race for scientific truth and human liberation are hulking orang-utan ultra-conservative (oh-oh-oh) Dr Zaius and his army of damn dirty gun-toting gorilla muscle men, while his only allies are bronzed Oscar model Heston and simpering oversexed species traitor Zira. Chin up, Cornelius! They’ll never make a monkey out of you!
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968, Stanley Kubrick) Hairy hero: Daniel Richter as budding sci-fi nerd man-ape Moon-Watcher. Sapien sidekick: At this stage of evolution he’s basically his own human companion. Monkey business: For the ‘Dawn of Man’ sequence that opens his sprawling psychedelic space opera, Kubrick took a leaf out of Ken Loach’s book for an ultra-realist, pre-kitchen-sink look at human life back in the day, before all that fancy modern clothes and cooked food nonsense became fashionable. They had it tough in them days: nowt to eat but cold scrub grass, a leopard on every corner, roving gangs of delinquent simian hooligans and weird obelisks waking you up every night with their unearthly shrieking. Apes today, they don’t know they’re bloody born.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007, Seth Gordon) Hairy hero: Barrel-flinging 8-bit killer gorilla Donkey Kong. Sapien sidekick: Genial thirtysomething nerdlinger Steve Wiebe. Monkey business: Blue-collar concerns of a different hue in Seth ‘Horrible Bosses’ Gordon’s riveting documentary on hi-score videogaming in which Nintendo’s damsel-kidnapping, plumber-stomping simian takes centre stage. Out to smash the Big Ape’s top score is affable family-man gamer Steve Wiebe, who must contend not only with Kong himself but the machinations of console rival and all-round dark prince – not to mention hotshot condiment entrepreneur – Billy Mitchell in his world-record attempt. Kong is thus presented as an ingenious metaphor for the sentries of an impregnable old guard gaming elite that Wiebe must negotiate on his compelling underdog journey through the belly of the beast.
Every Which Way but Loose (1978, James Fargo) Hairy hero: Clyde the honky-tonk orangutan. Sapien sidekick: Clint Eastwood as two-fisted Zen hayseed Philo Beddoe. Monkey business: He’s hairy, long-limbed, bone-headed, tough, cool under pressure, likes the odd beer, loves country music, is handy in a dust-up, has an eye for the ladies and knows his way around a sly sight gag. And that’s just Clint! His coconut-crackin’ co-star Clyde, meanwhile, is all this and more in Eastwood’s dubious but enjoyable mix-up of country-fried cartoon mayhem, alarming bare-knuckle boxing and children’s hour monkeyshines. Quite the smoothest operator in a film full of gurning bikers, rootin’-tootin’ grannies and Sondra Locke, Clyde is quite simply a simian for all seasons.