“You maniacs! You blew it up! God, damn you, god damn you all to hell!”
shouts Charlton Heston’s George Taylor as he pounds the sand at the end of ‘Planet of the Apes’. After spending two hours trying to convince the apes that man is an intelligent species, Taylor comes across the Statue of Liberty half buried in a beach and he realises the horrifying truth: after drifting through space for hundreds of years he’d crash landed back on Earth.
There is a profound power to this sequence: I’ve seen the film tens of times, for years the picture on the front of the DVD was of Heston slumped on the beach with the Statue of Liberty towering over him and all the way through the film there are clues that Taylor is on Earth – yet when we see Taylor and Nova on horseback travelling along the beach and the camera pulls back to reveal those long spikes on Lady Liberty’s crown, I still feel a shiver. What must it have felt like to be an innocent audience member back in 1968 – someone who’d managed to miss all the teasers and spoilers – to be confronted with that final image?
Stories with a truly satisfying twist are few and far between (the twist at the end of Tim Burton’s 2001 ‘Planet of the Apes’ remake was just baffling and the current Apes sequence starts from the very beginning with Caesar as a child). But occasionally it does happen: I must confess I was completely clueless when I went in to see ‘The Matrix’ for the first time and I was as shocked as Neo to discover that the entire world was not what it seemed; I really had no idea what ‘The Usual Suspects’ was about nor any inclining as to who Keyser Soze was when I first saw Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie’s film; and I sat through the whole of Lionel Shriver’s ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ wondering where the hell Franklin was.
But for me the film that really gave me a sense of what those audience members must have felt back in 1968 is the Joe Eszterhas penned ‘Jagged Edge’. In it Glenn Close plays Teddy Barnes, a lawyer who hasn’t handled a criminal case for years, but is thrust into the limelight when she has to defend Jeff Bridges’ Jack Forrester who is accused of murdering his beautiful heiress wife. The brilliant and under-appreciated Peter Coyote is Thomas Krasny, the prosecutor who is convinced of Jack’s guilt. If you’re as obsessed with crime stories as I am the film has no real surprises: Jack and Teddy inevitably end up in bed together; Thomas doggedly pursues his version of the truth; and all the evidence seems to point to Jack as the culprit.
What you’re waiting for is that crucial piece of evidence that will turn the whole case on its head: the telephone records that show Jack was somewhere else; the surprise witness who saw Jack at such-and-such a place; the secret lover no one knew about.
That’s what you’re waiting for - even after Jack is found not guilty in a court of law you still want that piece of evidence that will put his innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt. And you wait. And you wait.
Until you get to the final sequence where Teddy is in bed with a gun in her hand and a masked intruder enters the room. He stands in front of her, calmly preparing to murder her. She shoots. The intruder collapses. Robert Loggia’s Sam Ransom runs into the room, takes in the scene and pulls off the intruder’s mask.
The script is so brilliantly constructed that I thought it could be anyone under that mask - even Peter Coyote.
But it isn’t. It’s exactly who it should be. And I sat there speechless, not quite knowing what to think.