Sunday, 31 March 2013

Britsploitation from A to Z: Q is for Queen Kong (1977)

This is an odd one. Queen Kong fits somewhere in the Britsploitation spectrum thanks to its general air of tattiness and the starring presence of Robin Askwith.  But it’s not really sexploitation and it’s definitely not horror.  It’s more like a cross between aCarry On film and a spoof like Airplane!  In fact, it actually pre-empts the lampooning of theAirport films inAirplane! by a few years, including a singing nun (played in Queen Kong by Britsploitation regular Linda Hayden). Queen Kong was unavailable for yeard due to a successful lawsuit brought against it by Dino Laurentiis while making his infamously dreadful 70s King Kongremake.  Now it’s out on DVD for the world to see, but should it bother? Well, the jokes come thick and fast throughout, ranging from the pathetic to the downright bizarre.  The trouble is that none of them are at all funny.
Not surprisingly, the main thing that’s being spoofed in Queen Kong is King Kong.  It closely follows the older film’s storyline: Ruthless film director dupes impressionable blonde into travelling to a dangerous island to make a film.  Once there they encounter unfriendly natives and a giant gorilla who falls for the blonde.  The ape’s captured, taken back to civilisation and put on display but breaks free and goes on the rampage, clutching the helpless blonde.  But here the director is a booming Rula Lenska and the blonde is Askwith in a series of alarmingly feminine outfits: I’m not sure if his pink feathery waistcoat or white Grecian-style dress is the most eye-popping.  Rula’s character’s called Luce Habit (the sort of name you imagine would even be rejected by the writers of the later Carry Ons), while, even more groan-inducingly, Robin’s is called Ray Fay.  Luce is supposedly one of the world’s greatest directors but needs to put love interest in her films if they’re to do well at the box office.  She encounters Ray in Portobello Road, where he’s trying to escape after stealing a King Kong poster (it’s not a subtle film).  Her eye is immediately caught by his (ahem) beauty so she drugs him and takes him on board her ship, the Liberated Lady.  Luce and her crew are staunch feminists (but the pretty, make-up wearing kind – including Vicki Michelle from ‘Allo ‘Allo!), and set sail to a jaunty 1920s-style musical number extolling the joys of women’s lib.  Its excruciating lyrics include an invitation to ‘grab a Honda with Jane Fonda’ and inventively rhyme Munich with The Female Eunuch.
They’re off on the way to the isle of Lazanga-Where-They-Do-the-Konga (I think that’s meant to be funny, but I’ve no idea why), where Luce intends to film her latest epic.  En route there’s time for parodies of The Exorcist and Jaws (keeping to the film’s gender role-reversal concept with an appearance by lipstick-wearing Lady Jaws).  The film’s general goofiness, which seems quite endearing at first, is starting to wear painfully thin by this point.  When they eventually get to the island (some woods near Pinewood) it turns out to be littered with dreadful gags (e.g. a poster for Konga Kola), and inhabited by unfriendly natives led by former Hammer star Valerie Leon, giving a very enthusiastic performance and delivering fine dialogue such as ‘Unga bunga wanga danga’.  Like Rula, Valerie is bafflingly entranced by Robin’s looks and decides he’ll be the perfect birthday present for the islanders’ goddess, Queen Kong.  Kong, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a giant gorilla, or rather a startled-looking gorilla suit with breasts, which is at least inhabited by a female actor.   Kong instantly falls for Robin (he takes a shine to her too) and wanders off with him.  She defends him against a couple of very ropey looking dinosaurs, smashes up the village and is eventually caught by Rula and the gang and shipped back to London.  
The jamboree to unveil Kong to the public is a shabby affair that looks like a sparsely-attended village fete.  A band called the Orang-Utans (confusingly wearing gorilla masks) mime along to the title song initially heard at the beginning of the film, including such thought-provoking lyrics as ‘she’s the queenie queenie for my weenie’ and puzzlingly referring to the title character as a ‘hunky monkey’.  Also in attendance is popular Queen impersonator (the monarch, not the band) Jeannette Charles.   Queen Kong is outraged when she’s forced to wear a bra to preserve decency and runs amok.  The police and the military try to capture the angry ape, but the day is eventually saved by Ray, delivering a passionate (if nonsensical) monologue about how Kong is being unfairly persecuted because of her gender.  The women of London rise up as one in support of Kong and soon she and Ray are peaceably sent back to Lazanga leaving us all to speculate on what exactly they’re going to get up to together.
It’s strange to see an apparent feminist message (however silly) in a film like this (and even stranger to hear Robin Askwith giving a feminist speech), and it makes a refreshing change from the usual insulting 70s stereotypes of women’s libbers.  From the sounds of the commentary by director Frank Agrama on the film’s DVD release there was no real political agenda, though: Queen Kong was really just a group of people having fun.  It definitely looks like it was fun to make – a lot more fun than it is to watch, unfortunately.
This should give you a flavour of the strange world of Queen Kong:

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