We’re counting down to the big budget remake of and homage to 1933’s King Kong. Peter Jackson, of course, isn’t the first to remake the classic adventure film. In addition to numerous knock-offs, Dino De Laurentiis produced this notorious remake, released during America’s bicentennial year.

Directed by John Guillermin.
Written by Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace, James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose, Lorenzo Semple Jr.

Cast
Charles Grodin as Fred Wilson
Jeff Bridges as Jack Prescott
Jessica Lange as Dwan
John Randolph as Captain Ross
Rick Baker as King Kong

Premise:

Kong gets remade for the 70s. An ecologically-insensitive executive takes a ship out to a mysterious island in search of oil. The film even offers an explanation—albeit a stupid one—for how an island large enough to sustain a giant simian has gone unnoticed until the late twentieth century. En route to that island, the ship picks up a stowaway hippie primatologist and a castaway supermodel.

The island lacks dinosaurs, but it features Hollywood SavagesTM and a really big snake. Eventually, Kong is captured and taken to New York, where he escapes and climbs the old World Trade Center.

High Point:

Dwan’s character is entirely ridiculous—-she survives a shipwreck with a glass still in her hand and not one hair out of place—-and her apparent I.Q. makes her a suitable Bride for a gorilla. Jessica Lange, however, makes the most of the campy role. While her notorious debut doubtless embarrasses her now, she manages to make the part entertaining and managed to put together a distinguished career after putting King Kong behind her. She also provides a glimpse of her acting ability in the movie’s final sequence, when we see that she, you know, cares for the big guy.

Many cite Lange’s ludicrous dialogue as a low point, and it is pretty stupid. However, having dippy Dwan scream things like, “You goddamn chauvinist pig ape!” and ask Kong about his astrological sign is actually pretty funny, given that this film can really only be enjoyed as mediocre camp comedy.

Low Points

The film’s publicity devoted much press to the giant robotic Kong built by Carlo Rambaldi, which supposedly plays Kong in this movie. In fact, while robo-Kong toured to promote the film, it only appears briefly in the film. Rick Baker plays Kong, dressed in a gorilla suit. What is more, Kong is obviously a man in a gorilla suit. The MechaKong cameo doesn’t match the beast we see at other times in the movie, and the beast we see at other times looks like he’s wandered out of a Halloween party.

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6.

Effects: 4/6.

Story: 4/6

Acting: 4/6. Like the film itself, this is passable 70s cheese.

Production: 4/6

Emotional Response: 3/6

Overall: 3/6.

In total, King Kong (1976) receives 23/42

Ten years later the film received its sequel, the critically-reviled King Kong Lives.