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The Summer of Kong: Part 3
JULY 4th WEEKEND
ODDS & ENDS
This is an off week. July 4th was on Saturday this year, which meant I needed to keep the day open just in case family or friends made plans for the day. And although it was still up in the air if I would even get a three day weekend from my work, I decided it would be a good time to plan a marathon for a lot of movies that ( for various reasons ) did not quite count as giant ape cannon, but were never the less connected to the films of Summer of Kong. I began on Friday by watching The Most Dangerous Game ( 1933 ) which has nothing to do with apes or dinosaurs. But it was the movie being filmed on the RKO lot at the same time as King Kong, produced and directed by the same men who produced and directed King Kong, used the same jungle sets from King Kong, and even had King Kong cast members Fay Wrey and Robert Armstrong. For devoted fans of the original King Kong, this movie was the companion piece. It was also one of those enduring classics that has been remade several times since. I myself have already seen two of those remakes, John Woo's Hard Target ( 1993 ), and Bloodlust ( 1961 ) on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I had also seen it's basic plot on many television shows, including Gilligan's Island, Get Smart, Son of the Beach, The Incredible Hulk and Fantasy Island. And that plot: a rich hunter gets bored with hunting animals, and discovers it is more thrilling to hunt the humans he has lured to his island.
There was some debate as to if I should include Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer ( 1964 ) as part of the Summer of Kong. After all, it does have a giant ape called Bumble, but eventually decided it's classification was television special and not television movie. I got to admit though, it was a bit fun watching a Christmas special in July. Yellow Submarine ( 1968 ) was another that came close to being included as a Summer of Kong movie, due to a brief cameo. While searching their vast mansion for Paul, the other Beatles open a door to see Kong snatching a girl from a bed ( reenacting a scene from King Kong ). But in this cartoon, Kong is only on screen for less than 15 seconds.
Up to this point the films in my mini-marathon were classics. But the next film is merely notorious. An Italian exploitation film originally titled Eve, The Wild Woman ( 1968 ), but was released in America under the misleading title Kong Island. The American distributor even went above and beyond the film's title, as promoted it as "King of Kong Island". Now, with a title like that, you would expect the film to have a few giant apes. And you would be mistaken. The film has no King Kong, no giant apes, and it is even debatable if the story takes place on an island as characters are able to come and go by jeep. A mercenary turned robber turned murderer turned mad scientist has invented an electronic chip, that when implanted in a gorilla's brain, turns it into his slave. Mad doctor has made himself an entire army of gorillas. But he is eager to proceed to the next step where he can implant the same chip into humans, and once he has implanted the entire human race, can rule the world. But this is only a small part of the movie, the bulk of which is a padded out story of another mercenary, who the mad doctor had shot and left for dead years earlier, and is now seeking revenge. There is also a wild jungle girl known as "The Sacred Ape", who the mercenary meets and names Eve. But even though the movie was originally named after her character, she is barely in the film, and has very little to do with the story. Kong Island is pretty much forgettable garbage. But thanks to it's misleading title, has since become a minor cult classic.
Mad Mad Mad Monsters ( 1972 ) is the official prequel to Mad Monster Party?, which in turn was a pilot for a possible Saturday morning cartoon series. And, it was rumored to have a giant ape. The large creature in this film is named Modzoola. It could possibly be a gorilla, but I could not tell, because it is completely covered in purple fur. My guess was that Rankin/Bass did not want to take any risks of R.K.O. suing for copyright infringement. Much like most 70s cartoons, it was not very good.
I thought King Kung Fu was released in 1976, but at one point a character says "Go ahead! Make my day!" which everyone knows is a line from a 1983 Dirty Harry film. Made to capitalize off of both King Kong and the Kung Fu movie craze of the 70s, King Kung Fu is another film with a misleading movie poster. It shows a giant ape, but the ape in this movie is normal sized. It is a comedy, but while I did not laugh at any of the gags, at the least they were not terrible. In fact, almost all the comedy here was taken from other classic comedy films. The only problem being that there were no skilled screen comedians cast who could pull these gags off. Perhaps the most talented actor in the movie plays the chief of police who happens to look, dress and even sound just like John Wayne. It is an outstanding impression of the Duke, but does not have any strong material to back it up. King Kung Fu is a normal gorilla who was a student at a Shaolin type temple. But after he beats up his sifu, is sent to America to live at the Wichita Zoo. A local news reporter who is looking for a promotion is assigned to cover King Kung Fu's arrival at the zoo. He comes up with a scheme to turn the event into a major news story by allowing the gorilla to escape from it's cage, and arrange for it to kidnap a local girl who's name happens to be Rae Fay. King Kung Fu fails to kidnap Rae Fay, and instead runs off and roams the streets of Wichita, scaring the locals. The police, headed by a chief who resembles John Wayne, set out to capture the ape, but are no match for it's martial arts. King Kung Fu finally does kidnap Rae Fay, and both end up on the roof of Wichita's tallest building, the downtown Holiday Inn. An aerial assault from a helicopter is fended off, and the movie ends with King Kung Fu capturing the chopper and flying off in it. Aside from failing as a comedy, King Kung Fu also fails as a martial arts film. There are very few scenes where the ape gets to fight, and most of them are poorly staged. I did eventually do some research on the film to find it's real release date, and was able to come up with a lone article explaining that principal photography was completed in 1973, but due to a lack of funds, post production dragged on until 1984. This would explain the "Go ahead! Make my day!" voice over. The movie was not distributed until 1987, and then apparently as a single print that circulated through Wichita theaters.
Bye Bye Monkey ( 1978 ) is an unofficial follow up to the 1976 remake of King Kong. When the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were built, they needed to be anchored in bedrock. This meant digging down several stories below street level, an impossibility because the pit would allow water from the nearby Hudson River to seep in and flood the construction site. The solution was to build a cofferdam surrounding the entire World Trade Center site and build a waterproof concrete "tub" which was basically a vast empty pit that went down to the bedrock and would allow as many tall towers to be built as the developers wanted. This meant removing many blocks worth of dirt and sand with nowhere to dump it. The solution to that was to build more cofferdams extending a block into the Hudson river. The dirt and sand would be dumped into those sections as landfill, creating new land, and expanding the shoreline out a block. Well, you can't just create more land without plans to build on it. And soon there were plans to build the World Financial Center as well as entire neighborhoods for the rich. Suddenly the neighborhood of Tribeca, which was composed of warehouses, slaughterhouses and slums, was seen as an eyesore. So came the decision to encourage the destruction and redevelopment of Tribeca between the then abandoned West Side Highway and West Broadway.
Bye Bye Monkey was filmed in the years just following the completion of the World Trade Center, and just as vast areas of Tribeca were being torn down. A group of bohemians still living in the neighborhood are playing on the landfill where they find the remains of a giant ape. ( It is not clear if the giant ape is meant to have been the discarded body of the real King Kong, or meant to have been the discarded prop for the 1976 King Kong film. But since the Twin Towers are always visible in the background, there is no doubt the giant ape is connected to the 1976 remake. ) There they find a baby chimpanzee clinging to the giant apes body, possibly it's offspring, and decided to raise it themselves. It is amazing how many reviews thought this movie portrayed a post-apocalyptic world. But everything here actually happened. Even the men in hazmat suits spraying for rats, a failed attempt to rid that neighborhood of the pests. Bye Bye Monkey is one of those arthouse films that makes that is designed to make the viewer think rather than entertain. But being able to see Tribeca in that time period is fascinating enough.
Two made for home video movies I did not include as part of the main marathon were Kong: King of Atlantis ( 2005 ) and Kong: Return to the Jungle ( 2007 ), both of which were technically expanded episodes of Kong: The Animated Series. As far as expanded episodes go, they were both decent. Although the animators of the first movie insisted on including song segments. The regular series does not have its characters breaking out in song, so turning the first film into a musical was a bit awkward. Fortunately the songs are few.
I was able to get to the last two films on my odds and ends list. Date Movie ( 2006 ) was just what the title suggests. Another one of those parody movies that came out in the wake of the success of 2000's Scary Movie. You know a parody of rom-coms is in trouble when most of the movie parodies the Meet the Parents franchise. Perhaps the makers of this movie should have known that it is almost futile to parody comedies, since the subject you are making fun of already used up the comedic material. Date Movie was pretty much an all around failed attempt at the Airplane! ( 1980 ) formula. So why was it on my list? One of the movies they parodied was King Kong. The movie ends with the happy couple spending their honeymoon on Kong Island, where we see Carmen Electra tied up to posts like Ann Darrow. For legal reasons you only see the hand of the ape that is reaching for her, and eventually removes her outer clothing. This isolates scene where Carmen goes from screaming at to becoming aroused by the molesting ape is apparently very popular on YouTube. But since we never see the rest of the creature with the giant hand, and it is neither identified as Kong nor as even an ape, it does not qualify for the regular marathon. Even on the audio commentary track, it is referred to as "the parody of the giant monkey film", and whenever an actor mentions that film by it's proper name, the audio is bleeped. 20th Century Fox must have been really worried about violating Universal's copyright for the character.
One movie that did not give a crap about crossing Universal was the small independent documentary King of Kong: A Fist Full of Quarters ( 2007 ). It followed an attempt made by a school teacher to break the record of most points on a Donkey Kong arcade game. And there is a reason why breaking that record is so hard. Early video games did not have the memory to continue after a set number of screens, simply because the programmers never expected anyone to bother mastering the game to the point where they would spend the tens of hours it would take to run out of memory. On Donkey Kong it is the 22 level, or 85th screen. The timer suddenly runs out and the game shuts down. This means that you can't acquire points through continuous game play, but to collect as many points as possible before the kill screen occurs. This means taking so many risks that champion players usually don't even get near the kill screen before their last Mario is defeated. King of Kong gives you the history of the game, as well as the history and politics behind the people who keep the official scores, including verifying video tapes of home owned arcade games purported to have videotaped a record breaking game. A very interesting documentary, and a nice way to end the odds and ends weekend.
At this point I should point out a few movies that will not be part of this year's marathon. Cartoon shorts like Pooch the Pup's King Klunk ( 1933 ) and Mickey Mouse's The Pet Store ( 1933 ) as well as the cartoon series featuring King Kong and Grape Ape are not included. A film with the tempting title Tarzan and King Kong ( 1965 ) which is an unauthorized Indian Tarzan film featuring a wrestler who goes by the nickname "King Kong" was skipped, and is probably not even available if I wanted to see it. There was also an Indian musical version of King Kong using clips from the 1976 movie which was never made available in the United States. And a couple of lost Japanese films did not make the marathon because both films are currently lost. Japanese King Kong ( 1933 ) was a silent comedy featuring an actor in a normal sized ape costume who is mistaken for a real ape when he leaves the theater he was performing in. And King Kong Appears in Edo ( 1938 ) which was broken up into two chapters; "The Episode of the Monster" and "The Episode of Gold". It is unknown if the Kong in this film is normal sized or a giant, but surviving publicity photos show that this Kong was a Yeti. Next week I get back to watching the regular giant ape movies, which will finally include A*P*E.