The CBC reports on the case of an animal rights group trying to get Austria’s Supreme Court to have Pan, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, legally declared a person. Pan currently lives in a shelter that may be closed, and the group wants to assume guardianship of the chimp in order to care for him.
“It is astounding how all the courts try to evade the question of personhood of a chimp as much as they can,” says a frustrated represent after a lower court threw out their appeal.
What, don’t they get American films in Austria? Given the history of chimps in our movies, I don’t see where you’d have much trouble at all convincing a judge to declare one a “person” in the eyes of the law.
Take the movies’ most famous chimpanzee, Tarzan’s faithful sidekick Cheeta, Surprisingly, the chimp who played Cheeta in most of the Johnny Weissmuller films is still alive at a primate sanctuary in California. At 75 officially the world’s oldest chimp, his hobbies include painting—you can even buy one at his website (proceeds go to help support the shelter).
Some other memorable movie monkeys:
Sunset Blvd (1950)—When Joe Gillis (William Holden) first arrives at the decaying mansion of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), he’s mistaken for the mortician who has been summoned to tend to Norma’s recently deceased chimp. Gillis observes of the funeral, “It was all done with great dignity. He must have been a very important chimp,” Just how much he comes to take that chimp’s place is something we might not want to know.
Bedtime for Bonzo (1951)—College professor Ronald Reagan tries to teach human morals to a chimpanzee in a comedy that isn’t as bad as you might have heard back in the 1980s. Reagan went on to other things, but Bonzo the chimp returned the following year in Bonzo Goes to College.
The Monkey’s Uncle (1965)—In this shoddy sequel to the Disney hit The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, boy genius Jones (Tommy Kirk in his last film for Disney before the studio fired him for being gay) goes to court to adopt a research chimpanzee as part of an experiment in raising it as a human being.
The Barefoot Executive (1971)—Kurt Russell was 20 when he starred in this not terribly subtle Disney comedy as a fledgling television executive who discovers the perfect way to predict which TV shows will be this—by showing them to his neighbor’s chimp, whose taste proves to be exactly that of the average American.
Bye Bye Monkey (1978)—Of all the movies about people raising chimps as humans, this French import filmed in Manhattan may be the weirdest. Directed by Marco Ferreri, it stars Gerard Depardieu, Marcello Mastroianni, Geraldine Fitzgerald and James Coco. I couldn’t even begin to synopsize the plot, so have a look at a clip instead:
Max Mon Amour (1986)—Another arthouse monkey movie, directed by Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses) from a script by Luis Bunuel’s frequent collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière. It’s an elegant satire starring Charlotte Rampling as the wife of a British diplomat who shocks her family by taking a chimpanzee as a lover.
Project X (1987)—Mathew Broderick was still young and adorable when he starred as a young Air Force recruit assigned to guard a secret project involving chimpanzee intelligence. It sounds like a great family movie—the chimps are delightful and funny—but be forewarned that the movie has a message about animal experimentation, and it’s not a pretty one.
Monkey Shines (1988)—The simian star of this George Romero thriller is actually a capuchin monkey, but she deserves to be remembered as one of the scarcest of movie apes. Trained to do chores for a paralyzed man (Jason Beghe), she cues into his violent fantasies and begins carrying them out.
Honorable mention also to “Clyde” the orangutan, Clint Eastwood’s partner in the two late 70s films that test the devotion of Eastwood aficionados, Every Which Way But Loose and Any Which Way You Can.Read More