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by Max Steiner

"It's Kong, Kong's Coming!"
Well, now he's here, and in his original tracks to boot.  Everybody's favorite stuffed monkey has finally emerged from the 1933 void of lost master tapes.  As you might expect, the 65-year-old recordings really show their age.  In fact, much of the original score suite is nearly unlistenable, sounding like it was recorded with a Fisher-Price kiddie tape recorder 10 miles away (which is probably better than the actual equipment they had.)  You might ask where the recording came from and why it took so long to surface.  According to the extensive 40-page liner booklet, these were from 1933 promo LPs, in horrible condition (some cut off in mid-cue.)  To remedy this, Ray Fiola, a noted Kong historian, went back to the deluxe Kong laser disc and reduced the actual soundtrack (dialog included) to a 50-minute "radio play" version, which keeps almost every scene and line.  That's great if you want to relive the movie, but score fans are presented with a dilemma - either buy this and live with the horrible sound quality or never hear the original tracks.  You might argue that the third alternative is to never hear it at all, but in that case you'd be missing out not only on an entertaining lesson in film music history, you'd also be overlooking one of the absolute best, most complex, and exciting scores ever written - the first REAL action score.  Fortunately for people brought up on digital recordings, John Morgan has gone back with Marco Polo and reconstructed the entire 72 minute score and recorded it with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under William Stromberg.  Not only is the sound quality clear and pristine, but the arrangement is superior to the original - orchestra members originally had to double up on parts, losing a good section of the texture.  Here, each part gets played in its entirety, making for a fuller, more complex listening experience (not to mention a much more difficult score to play.)  I'll be reviewing that seperately for a more complete analysis of Kong's score.  But enough about that - I'm reviewing Rhino's version now.  As with all the entries in the Turner Classic Movies series, there is an awesome liner booklet.  There's a major qualm with it though - for some reason they pasted it into the cardboard slipcase, making it nearly impossible to hold and read.  However, I don't really see the point of buying this disc anyway - most of it is just a replaying of the movie, and the 20 minute score-only suite is almost unlistenable in its incomplete, horrible-sounding form.  My recommendation - go with the Marco Polo reconstruction - you'll be happy you did.

Track by Track Analysis:

I. The Story of King Kong
1. The Adventure Begins (4:53)
2. Aboard Ship (4:28)
3. Arrival At Skull Island (8:49)
4. The Ship At Night (4:03)
5. A Bride For Kong (6:41)
6. The Log Sequence (2:12)
7. Denham's Escape (1:39)
8. Kong Attacks The Village (7:06)
9. Kong In New York (2:41)
10. Kong Escapes (2:19)
11. Death Of King Kong (3:42)
As I said above, this is basically a condensed version of the original movie - dialog included.  Since it takes up the bulk of the album, there's no real reason to buy this - you can probably get the video for a lot cheaper.  I'm not going to try to analyze the music because it's almost impossible with the plot of the film being played out over it.

II. King Kong Music Suite - From here on out, I won't make any more comments about the horrible sound quality; instead I'll concentrate on the actual music (still one of the greatest scores of all time.)
12. Main Title (1:38)
Probably one of the most famous (and best) main titles in film music history, this introduces about five major leitmotives that will form the framework of the score.  Predictably, the motif for Kong opens it - it's a three-note tutti statement for the combined forces of the entire orchestra.  A short burst of the Stolen Love theme serves as a bridge, mutating into a supremely satisfying rendition of the ferocious jungle dance, used to personify the pagan natives of Kong's island.  After this quiets, Steiner introduces us to the Boat in the Fog material with a quieter string rendition of Kong's theme and a solo violin (barely audible here).  Apparently the last 20 seconds are missing, because it now directly segues into...

13. A Boat In The Fog (1:32)
This cue creates an appropriately dreary, murky soundscape by playing Kong's theme quietly, in an uncertain key, accompanied by gloomy strings and harp arpeggios.

14. The Forgotten Island I (2:01)
This cue is actually a subdued tribal dance, with the usual drums, as well as the introduction of two new themes, a four note theme with triplets to represent the island, accompanied by uncertain dissonant tone clusters used to represent the pagan natives.  On the Marco Polo reconstruction, this is entitled "Jungle Dance," and about 30 seconds are missing here.

15. The Forgotten Island II (1:18)
This short cue is made up of mostly dark underscore - low brass eerily chants the native theme while tremolo low strings add dark orchestral color.  Hints of the island motif and Kong's motif appear too.  A short postlude is made up entirely of barely audible tribal drums, leading into one of the highlights of the score...

16. Jungle Dance (2:57)
This exciting track is definitely one of the highlights of the score - its theme was hinted at in the main titles, and here it's given a full development.  Unfortunately, the promo LP truncated it - there's over a minute missing.

17. The Sailors (4:22)
In the film this cue appeared directly after the Entrance of Kong.  It introduces a swaggering, syncopated theme for the sailors played in low woodwinds.  The rest of the cue plays as a dissonant action cue as they encounter the Beast.  Hints of other themes also appear, most notably the island theme and Kong's theme.

18. The Bronte (3:25)
Unfortunately, this is only the first half of the originally 6-minute action cue.  It underscores a scene where the sailors et al. run like mad from yet another dinosaur, accompanied by Steiner's usual dissonant brass fanfares and leitmotives.

19. Stolen Love/Humorous Ape (2:42)
This private scene between Kong and Fay Wray's character is originally scored with dissonant renditions of the natives theme, but it later introduces the sweeping "love theme" for Kong and the heroine.

20. The Aeroplane/Finale (4:55)
For once, both cues present are played in their entirety.  "The Aeroplane" molds Kong's theme into another brassy, exciting action cue with the trademark swirling strings.  Before the ape falls off the building, however, there's a quick restatement of the blossoming stolen love theme, which is overcome with tragic brass renditions of the monkey's theme as he plummets to his doom.  After a quiet, bittersweet finale, Steiner gives us a final victorious brass fanfare.

Like I said, I'd pass this disc up.  Although the score is one of the best of all time, the horrible sound quality, pitiful 20 minutes of music, and existence of a better recording far outweigh the small thrill of hearing the original.  That said, for fans of Steiner and Kong buffs, you may want to get it just for collectible value or to compare with the newer recording.  But, in summation, get the Marco Polo disc instead.

Rhino's King Kong - The Final Score
Music Rating 10/10
Packaging/Liner Notes 9/10
Sound Quality 2/10 (I know I usually don't take off for recordings over 30 years old, but in this case, Rhino probably shouldn't have released it in its present quality.)
Length 2/10 (Less than half of the score is present, with some cues truncated at weird places)
Orchestral Performance 5/10 (They had a tiny orchestra, and some people had to double up on parts.)

King Kong is Copyright 1999 by Rhino/TCM.  Review Copyright 1999 by Andrew Drannon.  All Rights Reserved.