Directed by JOHN GUILLERMIN Screenplay by LORENZO SEMPLE JR.
This is the year's inescapable movie. Nothing anyone says about it is going to quell the curiosity of the multitudes regarding this, the biggest comeback of them all. Nor should it. The special effects are marvelous, the good-humored script is comic-bookish without being excessively campy, and there are two excellent performances. One is by Charles Grodin as the leader of the expedition that starts out looking for oil and ends up with this large, furry problem on its hands. Grodin plays the honcho as a hard-bailer of the sort that used to hang around the Nixon White House and creates a vicious, accurate parody of one of our more distressing contemporary types. The other is, of course, by that combination of men and machinery that create the Mighty Kong. The expressive range they have provided for him is far wider than that of any previous movie monster. Damned if one doesn't begin to feel for and with him, as his wicked capitalist captors exploit him in order to sell gasoline.
King Cupcake. It is a great technical achievement (TIME, Oct. 25). It is also an aesthetic mistake, particularly disappointing to those who had seen the movie's highly promising first half at press screenings earlier this year. It was Aristotle's prescription that tragedy should evoke a blend of pity and terror. In Kong the balance is tipped too far toward pity. He's such a nice guy, such a cupcake really, that one never feels that Jessica Lange, playing the light of his life, is in any true danger.
There was something darkly enigmatic about the original Kong. Fay Wray had stirred the softer side of his nature and forced him, as it were, to re-examine some of his premises. But no matter how tenderly he picked her up, one never knew whether he would lose control of his enormous strength and destroy what he seemed to love. The very blankness of his expression reinforced the anxiety. When the old Kong breaks loose in New York, he is angryno question about it. He will have his vengeance on his captors and on those who come to gawk at his pain. The new Kong does accidentally mangle a few people, but there's no real rage in him.
It is technology that betrays the new Kong. He smiles, he frowns, he looks sad. He is, in short, capable of subtle responses, and so, one is neither puzzled by him nor genuinely frightened. In particular, this vitiates the movie's climax. When the first Kong got his lady friend up on top of the Empire State Building, it was a matter of some suspense as to whether his rage might extend to her. When he saw her to safe ty before turning to make his last stand against the biplanes, it was a definitive revelation of character, a supremely touching act. In the new film it has been established that he is one of na ture's noblemen, and will certainly save her. The movie's end has nothing like the power of the first version's climax, with its sudden resolution of conflicting emotions about him.