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Queen Kong
(1976)

Director: Frank Agrama       
Cast:
Rula Lenska, Suzy Arthur, Robin Askwith


When producer Dino De Laurentiis' decided to remake King Kong, his decision to do so influenced the film world in two ways. The main and more lasting was that it, along with other movies of the period like Jaws and Star Wars, assisted in the evolution of the modern-day Hollywood blockbuster. The second way was that even before it was made, De Laurentiis' large-scale publicity campaign (in ways also very similar to modern-day Hollywood blockbusters) sparked filmmakers from other countries to make homegrown versions of King Kong. Probably the most well-known of them is Mighty Peking Man from Hong Kong. Some of you no doubt know of South Korea's A*P*E, which I reviewed earlier. In recent months, the Italian Yeti: Giant Of The 20th Century has started to make the bootlegger circuit. The most obscure Kong clone of them all, however, seems to be Queen Kong, from England. (Technically, it was a co-production with Italy and a few other countries.) Never heard of it? Well, if you haven't, there's a good reason for that, and that's because it never got a theatrical release in England or North America, or just about anywhere else. And the reason for that was that De Laurentiis himself got wind of this movie just before its theatrical release, and he immediately sent in his pack of lawyers to threaten a hefty lawsuit should the movie be released. The Queen Kong producers caved into De Laurentiis' demands, though it seems they did so more because De Laurentiis could afford the time and expense of a lawsuit than any possible realization they might have done wrong.

So why did De Laurentiis pick on the producers of this movie, yet leave those three other movies alone? Well, in the cases of Mighty My frame of mind after watching this movie was quite similarPeking Man and Yeti, they were released the subsequent year, long after King Kong had finished in theaters; in other words, he probably didn't consider them real competition under these circumstances. And as for A*P*E, I seriously doubt that anyone at the time (even those involved in the production) would have considered it any serious threat, given that it's an incredibly bad movie no matter how you look at it. Then what was it about Queen Kong? I'm not sure, but I came up with several likely theories upon watching the movie, which is now available on DVD (probably because these days De Laurentiis is lucky to get even one movie a year made.) The less obvious theory is that Queen Kong was made in a more "western" way than those other movies - not just shot in the English language like A*P*E, not just set in an English-speaking country like Yeti, but having more of a western attitude that's not too far removed from that found in Hollywood movies - and even back then, a movie that was from Hollywood or resembling such was far easier to sell around the world than other kinds. De Laurentiis may have felt a financial threat. Another theory is that Queen Kong was made to be an (intentional) comedy; De Laurentiis, who was fiercely proud of his version of the tale, may not have taken kindly to what may have seemed to be a mockery of his efforts.

Actually, it's the third theory that seems to be the most likely explanation as to why Queen Kong's theatrical release was stopped. Queen Kong, despite its comic perspective, happens to echo the original movie much more closely than those other big ape movies, not just with its (possibly) copyright-infringing title. The storyline pretty much is that of King Kong, though of course with various changes made to it in an attempt to make it a vehicle for non-stop humor rather than how the original was made to thrill and invoke wonder in audiences. (Smart readers will have noticed I used the word "attempt" in the previous sentence, and I'm pretty sure they also won't be thinking of the likelihood that the movie became thrilling and filled with wonder despite the filmmakers' comic intentions.)

The most obvious of the changes is with the genders of all the characters, not just Kong. For example, the filmmaker in this version is Luce Habit (English TV commercial actress Lenska), a feminist director who at the beginning of the movie is having problems filming her jungle epic. Her leading man is proving not to be macho enough, and a particularly uncomfortable scene soon has him shrieking for his agent, and for his tailor - 'cause he's gay, ho ho (I can only imagine the hilarity on the sets of Rock Hudson westerns.)  "I should have known a man couldn't take it - they're all the same," Luce sighs after he calls a "female chauvinist cow" right before storming off the set. So she goes on a one-woman talent search, and finds it when she spots petty thief Ray Fay (Askwith, of the Confessions Of... series) stealing a King Kong movie poster at a local marketplace. She drugs Ray and has him shanghaied aboard her all-female manned (uh, better make that, "womaned") ship The Liberated Lady, where they set sail for the African island of Lazanga. "Where they do the conga," she and everyone else says each and every time they mention out loud this island's name, even though it proves not to be funny even the first time it's done.

Once they get to the island, they encounter a female-dominated tribe that on first sight decides Ray would be a great sacrifice for something they keep calling "Kong", kidnap him off the ship that night, and present him to Kong - who of course turns out to be a giant ape, though this one has sizable breasts and has (unlike the original Kong) a legitimate reason for not having a penis. Kong takes him away and becomes smitten with him, the terrified Ray soon finds himself falling under the charms of this big ape, and... well, as I said earlier, the story here is more or less just a gender reversal of the original King Kong. And that's happens to be one of the biggest problems to be found in Queen Kong. For much of the running time, the movie thinks that simply switching the genders of the characters in King Kong is hilarious by itself, and nothing else needs to be done. While this kind of thing may be funny as a solitary gag in a movie (as it can show us how silly sexual stereotypes can be), you simply can't stay at this level again and again throughout the movie. You have to work harder than that, creating some amusing twists as a result of the gender bender that take the movie to a higher level.

Queen Kong only attempts twice to put an extra spin on key scenes, and the results are mixed. The first time is a moderately amusing moment after Kong is captured and brought back to London, when a sleazy promoter insists that Kong be covered with a giant bra and panties so that nobody in the audience will be offended. Then when Kong escapes and goes on a rampage, Ray becomes her P.R. man and makes her into a symbol for the feminist movement, which results in the women of London (including Andy Capp's wife) taking to the streets in protest. While this had the promise to make for a zany climax, it instead falls flat. The women come out, and... protest. There's nothing funny about the protesting. You don't get anything like feminist leaders being interviewed on TV about Queen Kong, or women's groups doing crazy things to protect Kong. The sight of hundreds of women simply protesting isn't itself a particularly crazy twist. Instead, you can only see it as the filmmakers wasting an appalling amount of time and money, having rounded up all these extras to do nothing but shout. Such wasted opportunities didn't start here. Earlier in the movie, Queen Elizabeth (played by a look-alike) is seen arriving at the gala that's to unveil Queen Kong to the world. So what does the film use Her Majesty for? One subsequent ten-second scene where she knees the sleazy promoter in the groin.

And that's pretty much as funny as the movie gets. Even though Queen Kong is filled with various other kinds of humor, the movie is amazingly consistent in that almost none of the gags manage to even make you smile just a little. There are awful puns in the Carry On tradition, like when one of the natives answers a telephone and announces out loud, "Mr. Tarzan? Your wife is on the other vine!" There's topical humor that is seriously dated and won't make sense to many viewers, such as some moments that seem to be spoofs of British television commercials. Though even the references that viewers will understand aren't any funnier, like when Ray reacts to a dinosaur by saying, "It's all teeth! Just like Jimmy Carter!" There are gags that simply makes no sense, like the scene where Luce wounds a man-eating plant with her knife, and says about the still-active plant, "A rose, was a rose, was a rose." And there are plenty of gags that are just so unbelievably stupid that you have to wonder about the intelligence of the writers - though there's always the chance that maybe my sense of humor is flawed, and I can't understand the hilarity of Luce and her female expedition coming across a dangerous set of dinosaur-sized bagpipes. ("It'll take the high road, and we'll take the low road.") Though it may have been that the movie didn't seem to have the money to give the audience anything resembling a good look at these bagpipes.

On that note, this seems to be a good time to talk about the special effects as a whole. As you may have guessed, they are terrible. That's not to say that state-of-the-art effects should have been in the movie. No, for a movie that's meant to be a cheeky and goofy comedy, excellent effects would have been both distracting and out of place where everything else seems to be having fun with it all. This is one movie where the special effects need to be cheesy. However, expect for some fairly impressive (though carefully made to not be too impressive) modelwork displayed once Kong arrives in London, the effects in the movie are so unbelievably bad that they are not amusingly terrible or terribly amusing - they are just plain terrible. The Kong costume is made out of several pieces, the lines of each often being very visible. There's back projection that makes local weatherman segments look like they were done by ILM. The movie also has the habit of turning several shades darker in every shot where the effects team melded two separate shots into one, such as when the human characters are doing their best to not get crushed from the feet of Kong stomping inches away from them. I know these examples may sound funny and appear to be intentional efforts by the technical crew, so I feel I should also point out that many of the scenes not involving effects are filled with just as many technical foul-ups, particularly the daytime sequences aboard The Liberated Lady.

It's a testament to the cast of Queen Kong that they come across pretty well despite all these problems, certainly a lot more than Queen Kong herself, who's given no real personality at all by the screenplay. Sure, just about everything the actors are made to do or say is gravely unfunny, yet they go through it all with that British pluck and spirit. Watching them, you get the feeling that they are a bunch of nice (and even funny) people who got forced into a bad situation that they were powerless to do anything about. It's then kind of a shame that Queen Kong never got a theatrical release, since a probably inevitable foreign sale on this side of the Atlantic would probably have given people here more exposure to these actors, who manage to give the movie a kind of a charm despite itself. In fact, the movie may have been even more charming than that; ten years later, De Laurentiis brought onto the world King Kong Lives, which had its own giant female ape. In fact, De Laurentiis' movie has several other remarkable similarities - you have to wonder why the makers of Queen Kong didn't sue him.

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See also: A*P*E, King Kong Escapes, King Kung Fu

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