January 15, 2013
So much has been written about the making of KING KONG that it wouldn’t surprise me to see a film someday about the making of the picture and how it all came together. RKO had gone into receivership, Selznick had stepped down to go to MGM being replaced by Merian C. Cooper, an adventuress soul who made this a special project (Carl Denham in the film mirrored his lifestyle). To further complicate matters the film went over budget by $300,000 (nearly double) making the cost $672,000. Once completed MGM (Selznick) offered to buy the film for $400,000 over the cost of making the film which was wisely rejected by Cooper. In the height of the depression it became wildly popular grossing nearly two million dollars. The Edgar Wallace story takes its place in Hollywood history as billed “The Eighth Wonder of the World.” The film was remade in 1976 by Dino De Laurentiis, a real dud of a remake, and by Peter Jackson in 2005 a much better effort with state of the art special effects but miscasting in my opinion. Both films did have very nice soundtracks from Barry and Howard. Richard B. Jewell, author of the RKO Story nicely summed up the score by saying “one must never forget Max Steiner’s musical score-it remains one of the most dynamic compositions in the history of film music.” This was a groundbreaking score that eliminated the sappy opening title and end theme with little or no music during the film!
Of all the recordings that I have I find the John Morgan reconstruction to be the most satisfying. It would have been easy to have reconstructed the material for a 100 piece orchestra making the sounder fuller and dynamic but John chose to stick to the size orchestra Max used making it realistic but having the advantage of a digital recording. Not only is the score complete but the Moscow Symphony Orchestra conducted by William Stromberg captures the essence of the Max Steiner score better than the others. The Russian ensemble has captured the feel of the score.
“Main Title” is included as an audio clip king kong main title preludes with the three note Kong motif, quite ominous in nature followed by the aboriginal dance (repeated in cue four and eight), the theme I associate most with King Kong. It rises in intensity from the brass, strings, and a native style pounding of the percussion. The “Main Title” also includes the “Kong” theme, a few bars of Ann’s “Stolen Love” and a reference to the “Jungle March.” Creepy and eerie are the best words to describe “A Boat in the Fog” with the andante theme with excellent counterpoint from the harp. This is the underscore created by Steiner as the boat is approaching Skull Island. “Sea at Night” is a romantic arrangement of “Stolen Love” which almost seems out of place and better suited to something we might hear in a soap opera film. Still is yet another wonderful theme from Steiner. The theme is repeated in other tracks and is an important part of the score. When you hear the version in “Sacrificial Dance” you’ll understand why. “Entrance of Kong-The Sailors-Stegosaurus” has some of the better underscore written with the woodwinds offering the music as the crew trudge through the forest attempting to rescue Ann, the fight music with the dinosaur, all with the Kong motif making its presence felt. “Finale,” which is the death of Kong, describes the sadness as Steiner mixes in the “Stolen Love” theme ending the film with heroic chords of hope.
Called by many to be the ‘father of film music’ Max Steiner has created a template that has been studied and analyzed by many. It is my opinion that could be the greatest score of all time. It is certainly in my top five favorites of all time. If you like the score seek out the original material on Rhino R2 75597, Southern Cross SCCD901 which features Fred Steiner, or United Artists LA-373-G which has Leroy Holmes conducting. You also can’t go wrong getting the fine John Barry and James Newton Howard scores to the remakes. There is even a rejected score from Howard Shore making it a long listening evening if you want to listen to them all.
Marco Polo 8.223763 or Naxos 8.557700
William Stromberg conducts the Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Total Duration: 01:12:05