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King Kong 1976

King Kong (1976) starring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange

King Kong 1976 the first remake of the original King Kong — and probably the worst of them. That’s not to say there isn’t anything positive to say about it. There is. The makeup by Rick Baker won an Oscar, and deservedly so. The sets, cinematography, music, and acting are all good. But none of that can overcome an essential weakness.

The Good

  • The acting is good, with a fine cast that does their best. Some of the characters that they portray are two-dimensional, but that’s not the actor’s fault.
  • The music’s actually quite nice.
  • Close up of Rick Baker's King Kong faceRick Baker’s King Kong makeup, especially the face, is very good.
  • The various sets actually look right — the oil freighter looks like an oil freighter, etc.

The Bad

  • Rick Baker’s King Kong costume/makeup is good. But he walks like a man in a suit. He doesn’t even crouch. The costume’s fine, but the acting isn’t.
  • Several of the characters are stupid, annoying, or both. More about that in the cast of characters below.
  • The idea that a multi-million dollar oil company would even want to take a gargantuan ape into a heavily populated city and display it is … so stupid it makes the head hurt. It’s totally unrealistic. It takes the audience out of the movie.

The Ugly

No amount of good acting, etc. can overcome some truly terrible writing. And Charles Grodin’s character isn’t just the villain of the movie. He’s an insanely stupid villain. He consistently does remarkably stupid things, that has the audience ask: How in God’s green Earth is that man a high-ranking member of the company?

  • He allows Dwan, the actress/model to come along on the initial recon of the unknown island. With unknown dangers. Why? Because she says “pretty please”.
  • He sends a message to the board that they’ve found the mother lode of oil. Even after being warned that it’s not tested yet. And when it is tested, it’s not viable.
  • When Dwan is kidnapped by Kong, his priority is … setting seismic charges.
  • He decides, instead of returning with the oil, that he’ll return with a gargantuan ape. Because that’ll clearly be marketing wizardry, that’ll totally make up for the huge amount of money lost on the expedition.
  • When he decides to display Kong, the cage and shackles are totally inadequate. And, for some reason, they put a gargantuan, tacky crown on the creature’s head. Which simply looks silly.

Cast of characters

Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange in King Kong 1976
  • Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges, Iron Man). Jack is the protagonist of the movie. He risks his life to rescue Dwan, from both the natives and King Kong. He’s a paleontologist who’s stowed away on board, after somehow hearing of the secret trip to Skull Island. Jack’s a former Navy sailor with medical background. He’s also arrogant, condescending, and morally superior to everyone else.
  • Dwan (Jessica Lange, Tootsie). Dwan is a shipwreck survivor, rescued by the expedition. She’s pretty, nice … and pretty stupid as well. She insists on going ashore on the unknown island … Because the photos of her will help her acting career. She runs on ahead, ignorant of danger, drinks water that could be poisonous, etc. She’s willing to sell out her principles for fame, time and again. She becomes Jack’s love interest.
  • Fred S. Wilson (Charles Grodin, Heaven Can Wait, The Great Muppet Caper). The incredibly stupid corporate executive that’s been detailed above.
  • Captain Ross (John Randolph, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Serpico). The captain of the ship. He’s a competent officer, who loses several of his men in the attempt to rescue Dwan from Kong.
  • Roy Bagley (René Auberjonois, Benson, Deep Space 9). The scientist who first warns Wilson that he actually has to test the oil deposits before Wilson sends his report. And, is totally ignored. And after testing it and finds it worthless, has the pleasure of telling Wilson so.

Editorial review of King Kong 1976 courtesy of Amazon.com

Before John Hughes claimed the mantle of Hollywood’s antichrist, that title was firmly held by producer Dino De Laurentiis, whose middle name may have been “hubris.” He vowed that this remake of the 1933 horror classic would be a bigger hit than Jaws and that his Kong would be more sympathetic than the shark. But for all the money he spent on trying to make this monkey look real, the biggest special effect was making Jeff Bridges look like a monkey–and nearly destroying Jessica Lange’s acting career before it started. The film was noteworthy mostly for how cheesy the ape looks, though this was one of the first films to be shot at the then-new World Trade Center. Even Charles Grodin, as the villainous promoter, can’t get laughs in this idiotic film. –Marshall Fine


The owner of the oil company Petrox Corporation, Fred Wilson, invests all his possessions searching oil in an unexplored island. The vessel leaves Surubaya, in Indonesia, with the stowaway Jack Prescott, who wants to protect an ape called Kong. While traveling, they find the castaway Dwan in the middle of nowhere in a rescue boat in the ocean and bring her on board. The group finds that the island is inhabited and the local natives worship a huge gorilla called Kong. They abduct Dwan to offer her in a sacrifice to Kong.

The crew hikes into the jungle trying to rescue Dwan. King Kong falls in love with Dwan and protects her against a huge serpent. When Fred finds that the oil in the island is not ready for exploitation, he decides to capture Kong and bring him to New York for exhibition. In the middle of a show, King Kong escapes, bringing panic to the locals. …King Kong (1976)

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