Sam Strange Remembers: KING KONG

The Hollywood legend recalls the time his midget pictures gave him the clout to make a movie about a skull shaped island.

Since as far back as I remember, I have always wanted to make King Kong. It's been my muse, my drive, my passion. I mean, it's why I invented this business in the first place.

I would have made it long ago, but no one would fund it. Time and again, studios read to the script only to pass it over as too unlikely to recoup its production costs. It wasn't until I became really popular with a few films about midgets that they let me finally move forward on King Kong. It felt like my life was finally gaining purpose.

King Kong takes place during the Depression, which was a time when a bunch of really rich people played Monopoly with poor people's money and lost. As a result, everyone was really poor.

And by "everyone" I mean Ann Darrow, an actress trained for silent film trying to survive in a new "talkie" world that thinks her over-exaggarated mugging and flopping around is now just annoying. They say entertainment is a safe bet during a Depression, but that only really counts for blockbusters and porn.

So Ann is starving. Meanwhile, this guy named Carl Denham wants to make a movie about a giant monkey on an island shaped like a skull. To do this, he and his assistant have to steal their equipment and con everyone personally involved with the project. That's okay because they're practiced sociopaths.

Denham finds Darrow as she's about to have her hands cut off Bible-Style for stealing an apple. Sensing her desperation, he offers her a job she simply can't refuse: money, a majestic ocean journey, and a chance to prove herself in a talkie. She's worried at first that Denham is actually going to make her have sex with him and film it, but he's not interested in that at all. He makes her have sex with his assistant instead (Chet Haze).

Once all that monkey business is over, they can board their ship. Everyone on the vessel has been duped by a separate lie from Denham, so there's always someone on his ass trying to get what he promised. This allows Ann to go around meeting people.

First she meets the Captain, Bravey. Bravey, along with all the other sailors, is an honest man doing dishonest work because he has no other choice. He feels personally responsible for every one of his men, and would gladly sacrifice himself in their place. As a result, he tastes all the crew's food before they eat it to make sure it's not poisoned. Later in the film, he dies from poison overdose.

Next she meets Lumpy, the ship's cook. For obvious reasons, we couldn't call him Popeye, but we really wanted to. Lumpy is pure sailor. You never see him without a home-rolled cigarette in his mouth, the smoke from which goes directly into his eye making it squinty all the time. He's drunk and curses a lot, but you can't understand what he says anyway, which is part of why he couldn't warn Bravey about the poison he intended for Denham. Later, when Bravey dies of poison overdose, Lumpy dies of jumping off the boat overdose.

After that, she meets Kiddo, a young thief caught stowing away on the boat only to be taken under the paternal wing of Blackie, another guys she meets. These two are always together. Kiddo will ask Blackie a question about the world and listen intently as Blackie lays some serious philosophy on him, all of which he's making up as he goes.

Example: Kiddo will ask, "Blackie, why does the sun go up and down everyday?"

To which, Blackie will respond, "Kiddo, that's God's way of telling us it's time to put the sails down and drift through the nothingness of our hearts for a bit. Don't you know? The beating hearts of humans are the gasoline that make that there sun keep a-moving. And at some time of the day, we t'all get t'ired and slow down a bit. 'Tis natural. T'wen that happens, it's time to take a breather and ponder your place in the world. Nocturnal creatures don't contribute because they have no souls. Now go do your sums!"

Anyway, at one point, the boat goes by a tree branch that knocks Blackie off the boat Looney Tunes style. Kiddo tries to save him by throwing some of their caged apes in the drink after him. Sadly, it turns out that when Blackie told Kiddo that orangutans were Mother Nature's floatation devices, he wasn't speaking as an authority on the matter.

Next Ann meets Jack Driscoll, played by Adrienne Barbreaudy. Many people wonder why I cast someone like Barbreaudy as a hero. If you must know, I have friends who draw for Mad Magazine, and I thought I'd shoot them a favor by giving them a pre-caricaturized actor for their inevitable parody. It's not like he's a bad actor or anything.

Driscoll isn't a pirate like the others. He's actually the screenwriter for Denham's giant monkey film. Like everyone else, he was conned into boarding the boat. But when he meets Ann they fall in love at first sight, and he no longer cares about all the native ladies on King Kong island that Denham promised him.

When the captain dies and Lumpy and Blackie follow him soon after, there aren't many pirates left to guide the ship. Basically it's just Kiddo, but his basic understanding of even things so simple as North, South, East, and West have been totally ruined by Blackie's teachings ("every direction is North because it is not you who turns but the world itself").

With no one able to get them to King Kong island or even back home, Driscoll takes over control of the ship. At one point, his shirt gets ripped and we can see that his chest is actually the beginning of his back. Before anyone knows it, they come across King Kong island, an uncharted place identifiable by the fact that it looks like a skull if you fly over it in a helicopter. Also, Chet Haze takes a native arrow to the head as soon as the place comes into view.

Driscoll didn't mean to get there, but he certainly knows how to turn away from it and head in the opposite direction. This causes Denham to freak out and pull a gun on Driscoll and Ann, demanding that they turn back. Kiddo tries to confront him, but Denham fires and takes him down.

Driscoll uses this moment to his advantage and slams on the boats brakes, causing Denham to fall over backwards into the ship's zoo. They lock the door above him as freed gorillas surround him, snarling. That's the last we see of that guy.

So Ann and Driscoll have the ship all to themselves for the rest of their lives. Driscoll informs Ann that he's sterile, so she'll never have to go through the horrors of childbirth and child raising. He really is a hero for the new millennium.

Sadly, they wash ashore a strange island filled with Japanese people. It may even be Japan. Behind them, a giant lizard with radioactive breath rises from the ocean and kills everyone. (Ending mandated by the studio)

So that's it. I always wanted to make a film where people hang out on a boat. I'm so glad I finally got it out of my system.

(three stars)