It with great sadness that I am typing up my last film review in the John Lone film series. I saved his first film debut for my last of his on this blog, King Kong.
This is the 1976 version of this classic starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. The Director was John Guillermin. I was interested to see that this London-born Director was also responsible for 70’s classics Death on the Nile (1978) and The Towering Inferno. His film work dried up in the 80’s and I can’t but help wonder why, after such huge box-office hits.
King Kong has held a fascination with me for so long, its tragedy is most compelling. I have seen quite a few versions of the story but always been left feeling sad (animal stories always make me weep). The story itself represents so much more for me though, man’s destruction of the planet and reckless abuse of animals for cash.
My shackles already raised while scrolling the IMDb film listing against John’s character ‘Chinese Cook’, I pressed play fearing that I would be overwhelmed with anger as I was watching Americathon but this was a needless worry, the film held its own and Johns character wasn’t a stereotype, or I didn’t perceive it to be.
John Barry composed the soundtrack and you can tell his mark of excellence as its haunting music accompanies the ship as its set off with a young, incredibly handsome and bearded Jeff Bridges as a stowaway on board. His character, paleontologist Jack Prescott, is our hero and as Jessica Lange (Dwan) floats in so gracefully on a lifeboat, we know that this impossibly beautiful pair will be headed for more.
The ship is headed into the fog and once they hit land find an ancient wall, a tribe performing a mysterious sacrifice chanting ‘Kong’, but most importantly the crew spot oil and the dollar signs seem more important than anything else. They scarper back to the ship after the tribe want to exchange Dwan for some of the local ladies but later her and Jack conspire to head back onto land in search of Kong. As Jack steps away she is kidnapped, drugged and sacrificed to the beast behind the wall. Enter the mighty KONG.
Here the crew pursue Kong (more dollar signs) and Jack for Dwan (our romance sub-story). In the meantime we see a compassionate side of Kong as he takes care of Dwan, and gives us more of an emotional connection to the great ape as we know what will happen to him. He looks after her, and it doesn’t seem to be a cat ‘playing with its prey’ type of situation.
Watching the updated King Kong films, the older versions seem to me to focus more on the characters rather than the special effects (although this films’ effects have a charm of their own) and I truly think this film chose the right actors to bring out the best in these characters.
Dwan’s turn from fear to love for Kong was so well portrayed by Lange, her character developed and changed most of all and was certainly the most rewarding to watch. Its not long before Kong is captured, and Dwan ‘saved’. Knowing that the island oil was worthless the crew decide touring with Kong is their new money earner, and I watched on knowing waa fate held for our ape.
True to form I watched the rest of the film through my fingers, I cowardly skipped over where Kong meets the helicopters and takes his fall – I can never, ever watch that bit, no matter what version!
However I did switch on again though to hear his last heartbeat and loving look at inconsolable Dwan. As the crowds mobbed her, this fun attention seeker, felt trapped, exposed and alone and her new boyf chose to ignore her calls for help too. Proving once again, animals are more compassionate than humans.
As for the ‘Chinese Cook’ what happened to him? Well 11 years later he would be gracing the screen as Pu Yi in one of the most iconic films of our time, not mentioning the other brilliant characters he brought to life. So, he didn’t do so badly, from the earlier experiences of typecasting in Hollywood to being one of the most widely respected, versatile actors of our generation. Not just my opinion of course, but of many other writers and filmmakers I have spoken to on this Mighty Dragon journey I have been on.
As with every story there has to be an ending, but I am not prepared to close the chapter quite yet. Would he ever play Bertie I wonder?
May be all I will do is wonder, but Bertie, the character, was written for him you see and I know deep down he’s the right person to breathe life into him.