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King Kong: Fool For Love

" my surprise there is a certain charm and modesty about a $26-million spectacle so sure of its identity as popular art and able to treat its mass audience with a certain amount of respect. "
America magazine

This review is from America magazine, January 29, 1977
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"A Variety of Monsters"

"Frankenstein, written over a century and a half ago by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, provides an interesting perspective for reflecting on three current films: King Kong, Rocky and A Star is Born. In the emotional and aesthetic fallout from the Age of Reason and the Industrial Revolution, the monster had his day. Readers were eager to explore in poetry and in popular fiction the misty, irrational side of human nature, so threatened, it seemed, by the force of natural science and mass production. The grotesque became both fascinating and attractive.

Dr. Frankenstein, scientist and industrial technician, creates a monster who refuses to be a machine. His need to love and be loved leads to misunderstanding, terror and his eventual banishment. By paradox, the monster is the human who will not conform to the dictates of inhuman society.

King Kong, as he appears in the remake of the 1933 classic, is, by a strange process of reverse evolution, a lineal descendant of Frankenstein's monster. The publicity surrounding King Kong easily leads to the impression that producer Dino De Laurentiis and director John Guillermin were attempting to create a fur-covered Jaws, all trash and terror for the unwashed. That is not quite true. It is, in fact, fine, slick, popular entertainment, executed and promoted for the mass audience, to be sure, but with enough ideas to make it a new staple of undergraduate film clubs. It does not have the complexities of La Grande Illusion, but it is an acceptable adventure story that spoofs itself without condescension.

The mechanical Kong is not designed for terror. The thrill-and-chill seekers will be disappointed. He is, like Shelley's monster, a brute who tries to love in a world of brutal exploitation. Jessica Lange, Fay Wray's braless counterpart, is not the terrorized innocent, but a cold businesswoman, who wants her slice of the royalities and is willing to risk her life and to exploit Kong to get it. The archvillains are the oil companies. They represent the conventional world of profit and loss, the logical aftermath of the Industrial Revolution, who are willing to destroy a tribal culture for drilling rights or endanger Kong to sell gasoline. With no small salting of irony, Kong makes one last assertion of man's downtrodden romantic spirit by breaking his chains, wrecking a city to find his lost love and then taking her to the World Trade Center, where automated machine guns from military helicopters finally destroy him. Symbolically, he falls to his death, a victim of the military-industrial complex, at the base of the high altar of trade.

Because of the publicity, I fully expected to write a review of King Kong with the dyspeptic overkill of a John Simon, but, to my surprise there is a certain charm and modesty about a $26-million spectacle so sure of its identity as popular art and able to treat its mass audience with a certain amount of respect. In making its comment on the tragedy of the human spirit in an industrial age, it speaks directly to and about its audience.