Back in 1976, shortly after Dino de Laurentiis announced his plans to remake “King Kong,” a group of enterprising British filmmakers rushed a low-budget, high-camp version called “Queen Kong” through production. The unamused de Laurentiis, however, filed an injunction to halt the release of “Queen Kong” and the film remained virtually unseen worldwide, enjoying only a few British screenings.
Fast forward to 2003: the de Laurentiis version of “King Kong” was universally scorned upon release and is barely remembered today, while “Queen Kong” has finally found her away out of legal oblivion and across the Atlantic. And, in a nice surprise, “Queen Kong” emerges as a genuinely amusing bit of fun, which recalls the antics of Britain’s classic “Carry On” films with a richness of wonderfully (and intentionally) bad jokes and the old Benny Hill TV programs with jolly shenanigans and lethal double entendres.
“Queen Kong” is literally a gender-switcheroo on the 1933 classic, this time with female filmmaker/adventurer Luce Habit (played by a cigar-smoking Rula Lenska) spiriting away the miscreant hippie Ray Fay (a raffish Robin Askwith) on her yacht “The Liberated Lady” (complete with an all-girl crew) to darkest Africa. Luce informs Ray they are heading to a location where “no Englishman has ever set foot.” And why has no Englishman ever set foot there? Because, explains Luce: “The place is crawling with Australians.” (Yes, that is the kind of humor that reigns here.)
Actually, they wind up in “Lazanga Where They Do the Konga” and encounter a multi-culti tribe where women wear the pants and men are domestic servants (and where, according to billboards, American Express and Diner’s Club are accepted). The local lady natives like Ray and decide to serve him as a sacrifice to the local simian goddess, Queen Kong. Ray is initially unhappy with this arrangement and vainly attempts to convince the natives that “these sacrifices only work with virgins.” To enable the sacrifice, the natives erect a giant chair with Queen Kong’s name printed on its back and a huge table complete with checkered tablecloth, and Ray is stuck in a big cake, which the 64-foot-tall gorilla finds. However, true love takes precedent and Queen Kong is so smitten with Ray that she carries him off into her jungle lair.
Queen Kong later saves Ray from a fierce tyrannosaur, of which Ray exclaims: “It’s all teeth–it’s just like Jimmy Carter!” But Luce and her crew rescue Ray, subdue Queen Kong and return with the gorilla to London. And, of course, the gorilla escapes and destroys the city before climbing Big Ben. But unlike the 1933 original, Queen Kong is saved when Ray rallies the oppressed women of London to unite in a sisterhood of support behind the oversized ape. Queen Kong is not being attacked because she is a 64-foot-tall monster, Ray explains, but because she is a woman! The argument saves the day and the gorilla, which is sent back to Africa with her new boy toy Ray while Luce looks on glumly and wonders if the new couple would consider a threesome.
“Queen Kong” seems to have been made on a budget equivalent to dinner for four at McDonald’s. The ape, complete with breasts and a hairdo, is clearly a person in a shabby costume clomping around the least believable miniature sets ever constructed. The lack of money did not seem to hamper the sense of merriment in the creation of this film, however, as everyone present (including the extras) often have trouble keeping straight faces. Indeed, the only one with a totally straight face is the actress playing Queen Elizabeth II, who responds to the rampage of the big gorilla by stoically and majestically planting a knee in the groin of the man who put the ape on display.
Throughout its running time, “Queen Kong” plays as a parody-rich time capsule of 1976. References to women’s liberation and male chauvinist pigs clog up the soundtrack, and Queen Kong herself is forced to wear a bra before being exhibited in London. The film also spoofs “Jaws” and “Airport 1975” and even throws in some hokey musical numbers with references to then-topical feminist icons Germaine Greer and Jane Fonda. Queen Kong herself clearly shows her displeasure with the era’s rise of right-wing Republican politics from across the Atlantic: while rampaging through London, she spies a theater marquee promoting the “Ronald Reagan Film Festival” and quickly kicks it away with her long toenails.
Truth be told, “Queen Kong” is often more silly than funny and a lot of the wisecracks inspire laughs for the wrong reason (case in point–when Luce captures the simian and plans to transport her to London, she exclaims: “She might have been the queen of this island, but in London half the guys you meet are queens”). But there are still moments of great inspiration, and how can you not appreciate the ultimate case of pure and zany love when Queen Kong (with Ray firmly in one hand) breaks through the walls of the Tower of London to bedeck Ray with the Crown Jewels?
Looking back, Dino de Laurentiis himself should have been sued, since “Queen Kong” was far more entertaining and charming than the tired and tacky extravaganza he dumped on moviegoers. Hopefully, it is not too late for people to discover this long-lost wacky gem.