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Thursday, October 24, 2013

"MY VERY FIRST VIEWING OF 'KING KONG' (1933)" -- by Tony Crnkovich

(Tony Crnkovich is an illustrator, film historian and author. Two books he co-authored are "The Flash Gordon Serials, 1936-1940: A Heavily Illustrated Guide" and "The Films of Fay Wray", for which he also painted the cover.)

My very first viewing of KING KONG (1933) was in 1973 when I was on spring vacation and Monster Week was the theme on "The Morning Movie with Ione."

This was a daily fitness program, Monday - Friday on Chicago's WLS station, hosted by Ione Citrin. The 90 minute show had Ione doing exercises and answering phone-ins during commercial breaks, which of course meant you got a little over an hour of movie.

Anyway, this particular week they ran KING KONG along with Hammer's THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN, CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, BRIDES OF DRACULA, and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. That was the most blissful spring break I ever had being the huge 11-year-old monster fan that I was.

The best word to describe KONG's effect on me then is "exhilarating". I remember the log sequence had me transfixed with its boldness; the sailors were getting KILLED and yet the scene had a sense of fun as Kong seemed to be playing a game of "let's roll the log", and where other movies would cut away, here I'm being shown bodies bouncing as they hit bottom.

The entire experience was euphoric and practically left me breathless by the end. I remembered thinking, "I gotta see this movie again."

That came a few months later when I could only catch pieces of KONG because I had to help my dad in the yard with something. I left the TV on and stole chances to run into the house and watch it, then go back outside.

At that viewing, the scene that fascinated me was when Kong is pushing against the gate with the sailors and natives pushing back, trying to keep him from busting through.

Again, it was the boldness of the action and the way it was all set up that sparked a response in me - it seemed like I was watching a "realistic" fantasy, something that in a weird way looked like a documentary. That feeling became even more pronounced for me during the Empire State Building sequence.

I was also intrigued by the mysterious way Kong moved; it was like he belonged to another dimension of reality that only existed on that prehistoric island. The film disturbed me in some profound way that I wanted to understand.

The viewing that finally REALLY took me over the edge was on Christmas Eve in 1974. KONG was being shown on the 3:30 movie and I was looking forward to it with a joyous excitement.

My younger sister and I were watching TV all day, building up to KONG's arrival. Again, it was a heavily edited broadcast - I still hadn't seen the full-length movie - but it worked its permanent magic on me nonetheless.

This was the viewing where I fell in love with Fay Wray and Max Steiner's music score. After the movie was
done I remembered I had the latest issue of Famous Monsters which featured MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, and the article had pics of Fay Wray and a list of her other horror films.

I spent that whole Christmas break digging up every little morsel I could find on KONG in my budding collection of books and magazines, abandoning whatever interests I may have had before that fateful viewing.

Little did I know that I was being plunged headlong into a love affair with classic movies that has lasted to this day. I was growing up, and at the same time KING KONG was changing my life.

Buy it at
"King Kong" on DVD
"The Films of Fay Wray"
"The Flash Gordon Serials, 1936-1940: A Heavily Illustrated Guide"


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