King Kong


Turner Classic Movies Music / Rhino Movie Music, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Question: When is a soundtrack not a soundtrack? Answer: When you add the dialog from the movie to the music.

Another question: What can happen when you remove the dialog from the music? Answer: You make the final product weaker.

I wouldn't have believed this was true until I heard the recently released soundtrack for King Kong, the 1933 picture that made Fay Wray a household name at the time. When the soundtrack switches gears to the "King Kong Music Suite," it's almost as if something is lost in the translation. And while the visual effects are still needed to capture the power of this film, the dialog-heavy first half of the soundtrack is incredible.

First, a bit of personal history. I used to be a big fan of old-time radio cassettes, and would borrow them from the library every chance I got. I loved "Lux Radio Theatre"'s take on "Pride Of The Yankees," starring Gary Cooper. These shows forced me to do something a 9-year-old raised on a healthy diet of television wasn't used to doing: I had to use my mind to fill in the missing pictures. The actors took care of all the rest.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So, while it was a bit startling to hear the actual movie dialog from King Kong on the first 45 minutes or so of this soundtrack, it was kind of like listening to "Lux Radio Theatre" again. The only difference is that some of the impact is lost in the audio-only translation, such as any scene featuring the giant ape himself. (Admission: believe it or not, I have never seen the film. If this isn't blasphemy enough, I've never seen The Wizard Of Oz, either... you can pray for my heathen soul at your discretion.) Without seeing the havoc Kong is wrecking on the village or in New York City, the soundtrack occasionally boils down to a lot of screaming over bass notes. (Good thing George Steinbrenner wasn't owner of the Yankees at that time; he'd have tried to sign Kong to the team.)

And while the "Story Of King Kong" portion of this soundtrack obviously doesn't try to cover every second of the film, you get a good idea of what is happening in the story line just by following both the music and the dialog. This is an interesting thing to experience, especially if you've never heard an old-time radio broadcast in your life. It is truly an experience to be had.

So why does the music-only portion of King Kong let me down a little bit? It just seems a little disjointed - and for good reason, as these selections were the only remaining isolated tracks that could be found. Sometimes, it's hard to believe that these selections were culled from old 78s; having owned a few of these in my lifetime, I know they're not the cleanest-sounding pieces of vinyl one could own. But the sound quality of these is to be applauded; the people responsible for cleaning up the sound are to be commended for their work.

Be all this as it may, it's more difficult to get into the flow of the music when it keeps getting interrupted - and the dialog guides helped to keep things moving, I will freely admit.

It may seem odd for a 66-year-old soundtrack to be re-issued, but King Kong was no ordinary movie - and this is indeed no ordinary soundtrack. Anyone who grew up with the film will obviously fall for this disc faster than the ape did a triple gainer off the Empire State Building. But this is a disc that everyone - young and old - should listen to, if only to gain an appreciation for an art form that is, sadly, almost extinct.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Turner Classic Movies Music / Rhino Movie Music, and is used for informational purposes only.