The owner of the oil company Petrox Corporation, Fred Wilson, invests all his possessions searching oil in an unexplored island. The vessel leaves Surubaya, in Indonesia, with the stowaway Jack Prescott, who wants to protect an ape called Kong. While traveling, they find the castaway Dwan in the middle of nowhere in a rescue boat in the ocean and bring her on board. The group finds that the island is inhabited and the local natives worship a huge gorilla called Kong. They abduct Dwan to offer her in a sacrifice to Kong. The crew hikes into the jungle trying to rescue Dwan. King Kong falls in love with Dwan and protects her against a huge serpent. When Fred finds that the oil in the island is not ready for exploitation, he decides to capture Kong and bring him to New York for exhibition. In the middle of a show, King Kong escapes, bringing panic to the locals.
Directed by: John Guillermin
. Starring: Jeff Bridges
, Charles Grodin
, Jessica Lange
, John Randolph
, Rene Auberjonois
, Julius Harris
, Jack O'Halloran
, Dennis Fimple
, Ed Lauter
, Jorge Moreno
, Mario Gallo
, John Lone
, Garry Walberg
. Music by: John Barry
I'd heard nothing but abuse of this film, but in fact on watching it I loved it. I thought it was a brilliant updating of the original scenario into the then-contemporary world (when you change plans from oil discovery to ape-capture, you simply call for an airdrop; the island is discovered via illicit satellite pictures, not a hearsay map drawn by a dying man), and for me it has the emotional punch that the original just doesn't have.
I was terribly disappointed when I finally saw the CooperSchoedsack version after enjoying this so much, since I'd heard for so long how much better it was: I was really enjoying the start, but then about halfway through it suddenly lost interest in all the characters and turned into an SFX orgy. The "Beauty and the Beast" phrase is constantly overworked, so that by the time you get to the famous last line you've heard it so often you're just tired of it; it could have been effective if they'd done it just once or twice. Fay Wray (who was a fine actress in the couple of other films of hers I've seen) is just wasted, spending more time showing her legs than showing her talent, and Bruce Cabot is simply not romantic-lead material. The one character I still liked by the end was Denham himself, and I was glad to see him show up in the sequel -- which I liked much better, being as it had far more human story and far fewer monster-fights!
(It was interesting seeing the 1933 "King Kong" again after the Merian C. Cooper documentary, though, and spotting the autobiographical in-jokes!)
I don't 'get' the critique that the film's politics are outdated, unless the suggestion is that oil companies don't have their share of ambitious underlings: the girl Dwan could have passed for a satire on today's I'm a CelebrityReality TV culture, and I'm told that primate protection is a hotter issue than ever... Actually, I liked Dwan (as a character, not as a person! Although she does come across as more sympathetic when she's interacting with the ape.) The whole astrology obsessionpretentious namegratuitous body-flashing thing was a pretty accurate -- and hence funny -- take-off of Females I Have Known, and yet she is a recognisably real human being underneath all the man-catching trappings, with enough imagination to suffer.
Most of the attacks on the film I've seen, when you get down to it, are along the lines of "how dare they? they changed the plot!" Which seems to me to be missing the whole point of a re-make, or of the only kind that's worth doing, anyhow: to take the heart of the story and retell it in a way that's new and yet the same. In remaking "King Kong", they took a plot that didn't work for me, cut out almost all the bits that didn't work -- no random dinosaurs as Kong fails his wandering monsters roll, no single convenient escape-vine dangling over the edge of his clifftop hideaway, no ape close-ups with rolling eye-whites, no endless 'beauty and the beast' -- cleverly updated the scenario to make the myth of the thing amazingly plausible in a modern world, and above all managed to retain the character interest all the way through. Not to mention making Kong a genuinely sympathetic creature as well as a terrifying one, and creating a biting and tragic finale.
Where I thought it failed, ironically enough, was in two scenes that were a direct homage to the original. The scene where Kong rolls the log looked much more fake than all the surrounding footage, and it seemed very cursorily done: this was one of the few scenes I found effective in the original 'chase' sequence, and here it seemed very two-dimensional. And the single monster-fight that they did retain, with the inexplicable weird-headed snake, was not only unconvincing but felt as gratuitous as its predecessor (which was at least better choreographed!) It must surely have been apparent during filming that this wasn't working -- couldn't they have come up with some more imaginative way of distracting Kong at the vital moment?
Review by Igenlode Wordsmith from the Internet Movie Database.