THE KING KONG COLLECTION / / Warner Home Video / $39.95
More than 70 years have passed since that big ape took a liking to that lissome blond, and still, monster movies don't come any better than the original King Kong -- heck, movies don't come any better than the original King Kong, but that's just this critic's opinion. Safe to say that few American films have gained such an iconic status, or influenced more future filmmakers (including Peter Jackson, whose own take on Kong opens Dec. 14), or withstood the test of time more triumphantly. And now, finally, it's available on DVD.
The beautiful Fay Wray, who died just two summers ago at 96, stars as Ann Darrow, a New York street waif plucked from obscurity by film director Carl Denham (a deliciously hammy Robert Armstrong) to star in his next big picture. Her co-star, she discovers after a trip to the mysterious Skull Island, is to be a 50-foot gorilla named Kong. It's a pairing of Beauty and the Beast that has been delighting moviegoers since the film opened in 1933, in the middle of the Great Depression, and earned more than a million dollars.
Truly, this is a time for movie lovers to rejoice. The movie looks great, brighter than many viewers might remember (it was literally darkened when first shown on TV, as a way to mask what some programmers saw as excessive gore). Discovered in a British archive, the print seen here contains all the footage removed by overeager censors in 1938, including a furious Kong chomping away on natives and a curious Kong peeling away Wray's clothes. Although those scenes have been available on earlier VHS and laser disc releases, they had been blown up from 16mm prints and were of noticeably lesser quality than the surrounding film -- a defect this marvelous DVD finally overcomes.
The three-disc set also includes the more comedic and less horrific sequel, Son of Kong, which was rushed into production and released later the same year, and 1949's Mighty Joe Young, which re-united much of Kong's creative team, including Armstrong, directors Merian C. Cooper (who produced Joe Young) and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and stop-motion animator Willis O'Brien, the genius who brought Kong to such vivid life in the first place.
Special features: The Kong commentary track, featuring legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen (who apprenticed under O'Brien) and visual effects artist Ken Ralston, is a disappointment, with both men displaying more enthusiasm for the film than expertise in analyzing it. Far better are two documentaries, one on Cooper, who conceived Kong, the other, a 150-minute documentary on the making of the film. Best of all is a re-creation, done in the style of the original film by Peter Jackson and his crew, of a sequence removed from Kong before its release, in which members of the expedition to Skull Island are attacked (and sometimes devoured) by creatures resembling giant spiders, crabs and octopi.
BARBRA STREISAND: THE TELEVISION SPECIALS / / Rhino / $59.95 Five of Streisand's landmark 1960s-era television specials are finally available on DVD. Included are My Name is Barbra (1965), Color Me Barbra (1966), The Belle of 14th Street (1967), A Happening in Central Park (1967) and Barbra Streisand ... and Other Musical Instruments (1973).