Sunday, August 12, 2012

Planet of the Abs

shirtless james franciscus displays abs

Beneath the Planet of the Apes marked the first time a Hollywood studio attempted a relatively big budget sequel (studio execs were desperate for a hit after a series of expensive flops), and the producers and writers believed they needed the movie’s climax to feature a stunning revelation to equal that of the famous buried Statue of Liberty scene in the original Planet of the Apes. So, in true Hollywood fashion, unsure of how to top that image of Lady Liberty buried like a prehistoric Colossus, the movie’s writers threw any number of “stunning” revelations at the audience. An underground metropolis based on the remains of a buried New York City. Peopled by ugly mutants who looked like they’d been flayed alive, all exposed blood vessels and nerves. Who are telepathic. And have a Doomsday Bomb that can wipe out the planet. That they pray to like a god. And which they intend to use if the apes invade. Which they do use when the apes invade – thereby destroying the world (again). Just after they brutally kill all our heroes - James Franciscus, Linda Harrison, and Charlton Heston - in what is possibly the most nihilistic movie ending ever.

In fact, after a point, the movie is nothing but a series of “shocking” revelations - and our heroic trio’s reactions to them. Which makes it a great comic book movie, and the best of the Apes movies after the first. It also turned out to be the most profitable. But for me the best revelation came when James Franciscus’s character, John Brent, swapped his astronaut togs for a buckskin diaper. Holy physique, Batman! Not only did Franciscus have the looks of a comic book hero came to life but... The man had abs! And pecs! They looked like they’d been painted on by Frank Frazetta or Alex Ross. Franciscus pulling off his shirt to reveal rippling torso muscles that looked copied from the first overlay of an anatomy textbook illustration was a much more interesting revelation to me than a mutant pulling off a humanoid mask to display a monster face from the subcutaneous layer beneath.

Stills from Beneath the Planet of the Apes:

Caps from Beneath the Planet of the Apes:

shirtless james franciscus pecs abs

james franciscus abs

Franciscus came to prominence in the early Sixties, when Hollywood seemed determined to find and exploit perfectly handsome – manly and pretty - male faces. Guy Madison, Ray Danton, Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Robert Fuller, Chad Everett, Alain Delon, Van Williams, John Gavin, Gardner McKay - the list of incredibly handsome men from that period goes on for miles. Franciscus was among the hottest of these hotties, and the only blond among them. And he had abs! Sure, he wasn't as perfectly built as Robert Conrad - but who was? (Who is, even today?) As a package, Franciscus was stunning. With his honey hair and caramel complexion, that creamy white smile and those berry-blue eyes, that torso boasting two rounded scoops of mammary man-muscle topped by nipples that looked like Hershey's kisses licked down to nibble-tempting nubs, that rippling breadbasket all glazed over with sweet shiny sweat - Franciscus was a steamy, dreamy hot stud sundae.

And the hotness didn't stop with Franciscus. His co-star, Linda Harrison, who played Planet of the Apes native human Nova, was his physical equal in female form - gorgeous face, stunning body. Tall, tanned, and toned, she was, like Franciscus, lean, well-proportioned, and athletic without seeming artificially enhanced in any way. She rocked the cavegirl bikini even better than Racquel Welch in 1,000,000 Years B.C. - and that's saying something! Given the nature of the film, there wasn't time for a romantic subplot (besides, Nova and Charlton Heston kind of had a thing in the first Planet of the Apes, making for kind of an awkward threesome), so the film cuts to the chase and keeps the involvement purely sexual. In one of the few lighter moments in a dark film, Nova ogles Brent as he strips down (see the animation below), and the bad guy mutants use the couple's mutual attraction to coerce Brent's cooperation, making Brent force on Nova the most rapacious French kiss I'd ever seen in a movie. It was pretty obvious this kiss was a metaphor for something else altogether (this illustrator at Hentai Foundry clearly got the message - NSFW).

Brent eventually meets up with Taylor (Charlton Heston's character) and the two men hug, fight (under the mental command of the aforementioned evil mutants), make up, and run off with Nova to kill Apes and Mutants.

An aside: There is a meme among Planet of the Apes fans that Franciscus was chosen for the role because of his physical resemblance to Charlton Heston. I don’t know how this got started, but it makes no sense to me. First of all, the lead was originally meant to go to Burt Reynolds – who bears no resemblance to Heston at all. Second, Franciscus was always director Ted Post’s choice for the role, because Post thought of Franciscus as a rising star. But finally – the two men look nothing alike. Heston looks Scotch-Irish, brown hair with a ruddy complexion; Franciscus looks Nordic, blond and tan. Heston was 6’3” and built like a linebacker; Franciscus was under 6’ and built like a triathlete. And most obviously, Heston was hairy-chested while Franciscus was smooth. (Although a hairy-chested Franciscus is sure worth thinking about.) It's one thing for talking apes to get the two confused; of course all humans look alike to them. But humans should be able to see the difference.

Franciscus and Heston: I don't see the supposed resemblance.
I watched Beneath every time it came on TV, and when VCRs came out during my horndog preteen years it became the first VHS tape I owned. Not long after that, I discovered Wild Wild West reruns and Captain Picard in Star Trek TNG and moved on to other obsessions, but Beneath still has a special place in my erotic memory.

As far as I know, Franciscus never appeared shirtless (or better) in his television shows like Mr. Novak and Longstreet, but he was often shirtless or in a swim suit in his movies, although nothing on the order of Beneath. Following is a gallery of some beefcake shots from his some of his other movies.

From Hell Boats

From Concorde Affair (Franciscus was 45 when it was shot - still looking great)