Video Kong the Second [The Ballad of Kong Pt. 6]

[Did you know this is part of a series? Read Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4 and Pt. 5 first!]

About a year after I finally acquired a prerecorded version of the 1933 King Kong on videotape, I ran into a second version, this time from a company called Nostalgia Merchant. As far as I can tell, a lot of Republic and RKO films came out under this label, and through the 1980s, I ended up with many of their tapes, including the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Plan 9 from Outer Space, the 1939 version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Thing From Another World, Mighty Joe Young, Son of Kong, the Randolph Scott version of The Last of the Mohicans, Invaders from Mars, and my very first copy of Citizen Kane.

It certainly wasn't the cover of this second copy that sold it to me. The cover was far more garishly colored than my RKO Classics tape; in fact, the cover beheld a colorization of the classic image of Kong's feet gripping the top of the Empire State Building, biplane in hand as he makes his last stand against any human that doesn't look and smell like the beauteous Fay Wray. I believe it was the muddy colors of the cover that provided the chief warning to me of how the proposed colorized Ted Turner version of King Kong would most likely look once it was threatened to be unleashed upon mankind.

That much-discussed issue of the day was looming in the near future, but for the moment I had a decision to make regarding a second edition of Kong. It was actually a no-brainer, and the decision was made for me by one simple declaration on the video's cover: "THE ORIGINAL UNCUT VERSION." My RKO tape only said "ORIGINAL STUDIO EDITION," and if you know me at all, you would realize that there is a world of difference in those statements, even if the running time has remained the same on every edition of Kong that I have ever owned (100 minutes). No, I had to make sure that there wasn't a single scene that I was missing, and thus I purchased a second edition of the movie.

Talking about picture quality differences on separate editions of videotapes is something that I am not going to get into, as I was always at the mercy in those days of whatever televisions and decks that I could either cheaply afford or that were given to me. To elaborate on it would be fruitless, as I would always run this VCR or that into the ground at a fantastically high rate due to my huge consumption of film viewings. I went through VCRs like candy, if indeed I had ever gone through candy like that. I cannot recall if I ever found a difference between the two tapes, because both had the restored scenes that I was not privy to when I viewed the film as a youth: mainly many of the more supposedly "racist" or "shocking" shots from when Kong goes apeshit on the native village, along with a handful of other minor scene outtakes.

What this led me to discover was that I wasn't so much interested in finding the best quality Kong cut, but rather had turned into a minor Kong collector. So, it was also a no-brainer when the frightening Ted Turner brought out his first Kong edition in 1988. Luckily for me, it was not the much-feared colorized version, but a tape which declared boldly on the cover: "NEW ARCHIVAL VERSION. PRODUCED FROM A ONE-OF-A-KIND MASTER PRINT. IMPROVED FOOTAGE! HI-FI-STEREO! STATE-OF-THE-ART AUDIO!" Roll out the hyperbole carpet, why don't ya, Teddy Boy! Sheesh!

I said that I wouldn't discuss individual tape differences, and I will continue to hold to that statement. But this tape did somehow look better than the previous ones, though that could have been due to my switch to a much larger and better television, VCR, and stereo system at the exact same time that the Turner tape was released. As a matter of fact, this edition of Kong was the inaugural tape for my new system, "Hi-Fi-Stereo" and "State-of-the-Art Audio" included. My memory of this tape is tainted by that experience, and while I still possess both it and the RKO Classics version, my Nostalgia Merchant copy somehow has gotten misplaced over the years, so I am unable to run a comparison (not that I would now that I finally have the DVD release). [Note: The Nostalgia Merchant image of King Kong at the top of this page was found on Ebay; the other NM covers are my actual copies.]

By the time I had three separate copies of Kong, I had to make a decision. My collection was already taking up so much room I had little space left for new titles. It was either continue on collecting new editions, or call it quits. Calling it "good" was exactly what I did: even when Turner came out with a 60th Anniversary Edition in 1993, I resisted temptation (though it was really, really hard). No matter how much you love a movie, you have to draw a line. Three copies of any movie is more than enough for me.

As for that apocalypse-bringing colorized version? I saw it one afternoon on WTBS, Turner's famous Atlanta station, and it was OK. It was strange seeing it all dressed up in oddball shades, but the argument that is often used against colorization, that of interference with the filmmakers' decision to film it in either black-and-white or color, never seemed to be an issue with Kong. Merian C. Cooper was one of the earliest proponents of the Technicolor process, and it was his interest in its development that convinced Selznick to film Gone With the Wind in color. So, certainly Cooper would have relished the chance to film Kong in full color if it were a viable option at the time, which it really wasn't in 1933. Color films were relatively rare at that time. (As opposed to Casablanca, which it would have been a crime to colorize though Turner kept threatening to do so, as it was made in 1942, had a director -- Michael Curtiz -- who had already made a few color films, and was clearly designed to be filmed in black-and-white).

(I still believe Turner should do time for even considering colorizing Casablanca. Or at least for owning the Atlanta Braves...)

[To be continued in Part 7...]


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