1976 - 134m.
The release of Peter Jackson's King Kong in 2005 brought some new interest to an old friend including a re-release of the 1933 original on DVD. With all of the Kongmania surrounding Jackson 's take on the tale, I noticed that the 1976 remake was barely mentioned in all the press. Now, although I firmly believe that the original is the superior of the three, the 70's version was my first exposure to the giant ape and should have produced fond memories. Strangely, all that I retained from this movie was the ape's goofy smile and his inappropriate sexual advances towards then-newcomer Jessica Lange including a bizarre scene where Lange looks like she is having an orgasm while Kong blows on her. Maybe it was his breath.
You all know the story: a shipload of men are going to Skull Island and along the way they pick up an attractive young woman who was "saved by Deep Throat". Once they arrive, they discover a giant wall, a tribe of natives, and soon realize that the tribe is involved in sacrificing women to a giant ape. The natives eventually kidnap the aspiring actress and offer her to the huge primate named Kong. He takes her, and the adventure begins. The basic plot structure is almost identical to the original with a few minor differences such as the fact that the ship is going to look for oil rather than make a movie, Kong fights a snake rather than a dinosaur, and he climbs the World Trade Centre rather than the Empire State Building . The most glaring difference, however, is the blatant lewdness of Kong who is constantly ogling Lange and at one point fondles her body and slips her top off. I found this to be a ridiculous way to handle the relationship between woman and ape because it ended up making Kong look like an aloof pervert rather than a threatening force. The result was that the intended emotional connection was lost as was any sympathy towards the ape making the film feel somewhat empty.
John Guillermin's previous credit was the epic disaster film, The Towering Inferno, so he seemed like the proper man for the job. The production also employed Carlo Rambaldi, Rick Baker, and Rob Bottin in the effects department. On paper this seemed like a winner but the problems began, as usual, with a script that wanted to be an action movie, a faithful remake, a sex comedy, and have social commentary about the environment all at the same time. This lack of focus hurt the film tremendously and when you add in a miscast Jessica Lange (as a dumb blonde with the stupid name Dwan), Jeff Bridges trying to play the hero but having nothing heroic to do, and a number of special effects such as a giant snake that look plain silly and you have a big-budget disaster. Rambaldi made a valiant effort to create a life-size mechanical ape and Baker was the master of the monkey suit but the problems were more in the visual effects department as the practical effects had difficulty blending into the rest of the picture. There was really no excuse for this movie to be as lame as it was and especially in the mighty 70's, I was expecting something really cool.
The only saving grace of this film is a great performance by Charles Grodin in the role of the evil entrepreneur as well as some familiar faces in supporting roles including blaxploitation staple Julius Harris (Hell Up In Harlem), Jack O'Halloran (one of the villains from Superman II), Rene Auberjonois ("Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"), and Ed Lauter (Cujo). This version of Kong has nothing on the original but I have to say that when I compare it to Jackson's version, I prefer this one. It is possible that it is simple nostalgia from my childhood or maybe the fact that it is so campy but I did not find it to be a chore to sit through. It is like the weird uncle who you don't want to invite to the family reunion but will quietly acknowledge when asked if he is related and who keeps the family entertained for better or worse when he makes an appearance. Guillerman went on to direct Sheena and then proceeded to really muck up the Kong franchise with King Kong Lives. (Josh Pasnak, 5/23/10)
Directed By: John Guillermin.
Written By: Lorenzo Semple Jr..
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph.