If you go see Rise of the Planet of the Apes (and you should, it’s great) you’ll see that the film is credited to writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver*, suggested by Pierre Boulle’s novel Les Planete des Singes. And that’s it. You would think that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was based on the characters and situations from that novel, which spawned the original Planet of the Apes movie. And it very much wasn’t.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a reboot of the fourth film in the original Apes franchise, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. That film, which saw a chimp named Caesar bring masses of downtrodden apes to rebellion against mankind, is the complete blueprint for the new movie. And it was all Dehn.
While people talk about Rod Serling’s script for the original Apes, Dehn is to me the man who made the series really sing with his sequels. Dehn was brought in for the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, because producer Arthur P. Jacobs had liked his poetry. Really! Dehn had an interesting life before he came to the Apes films, including a time as a film critic, a time as a spy, a time as a poet and writing movies like Goldfinger and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. He had always wanted to try his hand at science fiction, and when Jacobs came to him, Dehn jumped at the chance.
Beneath ended up being a massive success and, despite having blown up the entire Earth at the end, Dehn was asked to write a third film. “Apes exist, sequel required,” was the telegram Dehn got from Fox. And so he came up with an idea that would pave the way for the Apes series to be the most complex, interesting and weird in science fiction history, and would allow the existence of Rise of the Planet of the Apes: he would send three chimps back in time to 1973. Cornelius and Zira, chimp heroes from the first film, came to the then-present day Earth and found first celebrity and then danger. They were killed by the end of the film, but they left behind a baby, a chimp who would grow up to talk, and whose name was Milo.
But when Milo grew up in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes he had a new name, Caesar, and he was to be the fire that lit the ape rebellion which would lead to the events of the first Apes film. Dehn told Cinefantastique in 1972:
The whole thing has become a very logical development in the form of a circle. I have a complete chronology of the time circle mapped out, and when I start a new script, I check every supposition I make against the chart to see if it is correct to use it…While I was out there [in California], Arthur Jacobs said he thought this would be the last so I fitted it together so that it fitted in with the beginning of Apes One, so that the wheel had come full circle and one could stop there quite happily, I think.
It’s important to note that while Arthur Jacobs and Fox produced the films, the events of Escape and Conquest are quite specifically Dehn’s vision. He invented Caesar. He created the backstory of the rise of the apes. These are very much his own original science fiction concepts, which have been adapted into Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Maybe Fox can include Dehn in a thank you in the final credits for the film when it’s released on home video. That probably won’t happen, due to issues of ownership - they won’t want Dehn’s heirs showing up looking for money - but I think it’s important for fans to recall that this film wouldn’t have been possible without the ideas that sprang from this man’s head.
* a note: another name that may be missing from the credits is Scott Frank, who had been developing the film under the title Caesar years ago. I have to do some more research to figure out just what the history of the film’s concepts and characters are, but the film that was released bears a striking resemblance to the movie that Frank told me about way back in 2008 - you can read about that here.