When director John Guillermin died a few weeks ago, I missed this news. He directed two films that I enjoyed as a child. I will forever remember the moment, age eleven, when I left the cinema after seeing King Kong die on the New York streets. I was devastated. Yet I wanted to go straight into the dark again to re-watch the movie. I loved it.[box type=”alert” size=”large” style=”rounded” border=”full”]Spoilers Ahead[/box]
Later I saw Peter Jackson’s version, and it didn’t affect me remotely as much. So I re-watched Jessica Lange (Dwan) and Jeff Bridges (Jack), and I was reassured that the seventies will forever be the best movie decade of my life. That was then.
The Big Pictures
Guillermin also directed The Towering Inferno, which I loved almost as much as King Kong. He worked in the kind of Hollywood as Bill Goldman describes it in Adventures In The Screen Trade. An industry full of big ideas, big people, and big money; everything was possible. And legendary producers like Dino De Laurentiis made it possible.
De Laurentiis was right when he said “Intellectuals gonna love Kong. Even film buffs who love the first Kong gonna love ours. Why? Because I no give them crap.”
Although ignorant of Guillermin’s passing, coincidentally in the same week I watched King Kong with my son Baxter (10). The film has a PG rating, and he loves adventure stories with a few scares, so it seemed a perfect fit to me.
We only made it until just before the Mid Point, when it was bedtime for Baxter. He had loved the first part, and we both looked forward to the next evening.
“Intellectuals gonna love Kong. Even film buffs who love the first Kong gonna love ours. Why? Because I no give them crap.”
In fairness, I found the film entertaining, but ultimately dated. Guillermin didn’t always maximise on the cinematic opportunities, in particular in terms of suspense. My ideal of the perfect movie had started to crumple.
Worse was yet to come.
The Curse Of The Mega Monkey
The next evening, King Kong appears before my son’s eyes. Under a loud action score, the monkey storms out of the jungle, towards the wall behind which Jessica Lange is tied up. Hmmm… Why not use silence as a tool of suspense, instead of the barely dramatic score? Spielberg – who had been considered as a director for King Kong – did this so perfectly with the goat scene in Jurassic Park.
Even worse was to come.
Dwan is taken by the ape, and after some carnal cat-and-mouse, she rolls into a mud puddle. Next, my worst fears come true: Kong tries to take her top off. Yep. That’s exactly what happens: the giant ape makes several attempts – the last one temporarily successful – to expose Jessica’s breasts.
How could I have possibly forgotten this scene??
I’m sitting here, with my 10-year-old, contemplating the meaning of “PG”.
Thank God For The Snake
I’m also contemplating how Lange is struggling to deliver anything resembling a performance. Given the caliber of the script, she did a pretty stellar job, though. And Jeff Bridges? The Dude is the acting Messiah.
The scene seems to go on for an eternity, until – thank God – out of nowhere slithers Giant Snake, towards Dwan. Frankly, at this point I would have been happy even if the filmmakers had sent in Godzilla.
King Kong Dies
The remainder of the film is okay, though bloody at times. We enjoy the New York sequence, in which my son asked me a few times if we were looking at miniatures. We laugh when Kong picks Dwan from the basement where she’s having drinks with Jack
We are silent when King Kong dies.
(I might quickly check The Towering Inferno before our next family viewing gets a little too hot.)