Jessica Lange’s ‘King Kong’ Turns 42 And We’re Celebrating With A Look Back At All Things Kong

These days, every time you turn around there’s another version of King Kong, but back in 1976, the idea of doing a remake of the 1933 original was pretty much considered movie blasphemy. After all, would you do a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (oh, wait, there have been three, a remake and a TV series… bad example), recast Sean Connery as James Bond (hmm, so far five actors have), or try and compete with the memory of The Wizard of Oz (alright, we’re not getting anywhere with these comparisons)? But 42 years ago, the arrival of producer Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong was a media event.

For starters, though no one recognized the significance of it at the time, it introduced the world to actual actress Jessica Lange who plays aspiring actress Dwan (Fay Wray played Ann Darrow in the original). Jessica, of course, would go on to win two Academy Awards, a Tony Award, three Emmy Awards, and five Golden Globe Awards, among others. Not bad for someone who got her start sitting in the paw of a giant monkey.

At the time of the film’s release, she expressed her feelings about the relationship between Kong and Dwan to journalist Roger Ebert: “He doesn’t go around stomping on natives. It’s not a terribly violent film. It’s more like a romantic adventure. At the beginning, I feel absolute terror, of course, but then I begin to realize that Kong has affection for me. He listens to my voice, and maybe he understands something. I feel a rapport with him, a certain empathy… he tries in his own way to be amorous and playful.”

Maybe on camera, but she related that the animatronic Kong they used (which was really during the infancy of using actual robotic creatures or parts of them) wasn’t quite as cooperative. Explained Jessica, “Once he was supposed to crush me, and he almost did. Once he was supposed to pat me on the head, and he almost knocked me out. I got bruises and pinches and pokes, and I looked scared to death half the time, which was fine because I was supposed to be projecting fear. What I was fearful of was that we’d have to shoot the scene again, and I’m afraid of heights, and I’d look down at that concrete floor.”

That version of King Kong was a modern day (at that time) take. Google describes it this way: “When a research ship is sent to explore an island thought to be rich in oil, paleontologist Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) sneaks aboard, having heard strange rumors about the island. En route, the crew rescues Dwan (Jessica Lange), the sole survivor of a shipwreck. When they arrive, they find native people living in fear of a monster called Kong. The natives kidnap Dwan and sacrifice her to what turns out to be an enormous ape. Dwan is eventually rescued, and the ape captured for a gala exhibit.” 

As in the original, that gala exhibit goes wrong and it leads to Kong’s eventual death from the top of a New York skyscraper, with bi-planes replaced by machine-gun laden helicopters, and the Empire State Building (which he famously fell off of in 1933) switched out for the Twin Towers. While it’s painful to watch the former, it can’t compare to the loss of the latter.

To celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the film’s release — as well as the 85th anniversary of the original’s — we’re presenting a look at every version of King Kong that there’s been. Just scroll down to check them out.

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