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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Footnotes To Kong

Compulsive further digging into King Kong reissues revealed common threads I’d not noticed while focused on the 1952 engagements. Seems Kong played heaviest in the summer. This was true in 1938, 1942, 1952, and 1956. Reasons went beyond the fact that schools were out. More important was summer doldrums brought on by lack of air conditioning in many theatres. Some closed during July and August rather than face heat waves and patron complaints. Show season proper began for most majors in September. The best of a year’s offerings would open through the Fall and play into winter and Spring months following. By summer, bolts were shot and companies went into vaults for product to ride out dog days. Exhibitors were free to fill shortage by requesting oldies from local exchanges, and if prints were available, they could be had at reasonable terms. Unprecedented was the demand for revivals and reissues by 1938, when The Motion Picture Herald devoted part of a June issue to coverage of library product available again. Warners disdained reissues and announced schedules excluding them. Warner Brothers will not flood the market with reissues of old feature pictures, said that company. Our men feel that a blanket policy of reissues by all the companies may have a negative effect in that it may serve to keep the movie-going public away from the theatres. WB’s counteraction included summer release dates for The Adventures Of Robin Hood, Crime School, and Gold Diggers In Paris, among other first-runs. Competing distributors were less resistant to vault pillage. Even silents returned in 1938. Paramount offered a new campaign for The Sheik, and repeats going back to Birth Of A Nation were filling houses. A growing backlog of talkies meant more of them could be exploited anew. There were actually forty reissues out of major distributors in 1938, with a total of 245 more titles booked on individual exhibitor request. Reissues required application for a Code seal and often new prints and accessories. Certain revivals played heavily in territories particularly receptive to them. Will Rogers was a hit in rural markets for several years past his death, and some theatres toted up eight runs on It Happened One Night. Revival Of The Fittest was a catchphrase showmen introduced to sell oldies. The greatest popularity and profit for revival titles would be enjoyed by neighborhood and small town houses.

He’s Loose Again! was the slogan RKO pushed for its 1938 dates on King Kong. Both trade ads shown here, from 1938 (top) and 1942 (above), promise new prints and art. A so-called thirty-foot cutout used in 1933 was again offered to 1938 showmen. Note the one shown here. It’s imposing enough, but doesn’t look to be thirty feet high. Twenty perhaps? I’m basing that on estimated height of the exhibitors standing alongside. This display adorned the Capitol Theatre in Dallas, Texas. It seems bigger was always better when selling King Kong. Ken Collins of Indianapolis customized a thirty-six foot papier-mâché gorilla for his playdate. Local girls working in shifts from 10 AM to 10PM took turns sitting in Kong’s giant paw. Oversized gorilla heads adorned ushers promoting 1938 engagements as this photo shows. One Canadian promoter went so far as to arrange a mock lynching for the Kong double in which he was dragged out on Main Street and hung prominently from a lamppost (!). Like those "Darkest Africa" warriors pressed into service for 1952 dates, this is a stunt unlikely to be repeated in future ballys for King Kong.


Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Again, very nice:

In Argentina, there were reissues way up to the mid eighties. From 1967 to 1984 there was a lot of domestic censorship and audiences were finally able to see many films, including THE GREAT DICTATOR (which was never exhibited in Buenos Aires) complete and intact.

I have fond memories of the second run theaters. You could go in a Saturday around noon and would leave it around six or seven pm. The prints were normally quite worn and featuring obvious cuts, that were never present in the first run theaters.

Along with some American films, there were also a lot of movies from Italy, France and Spain that have always been extremely popular.

The Argentine season is just the opposite of the one we have in America. Attendance, would normally drop between December to March. The important films would arrive around April, except for the Oscar nominated films that would be rushed shortly before the awards.

The important movie theaters in the city were located downtown. The ones located in the main commercial area of the different neighborhood offered second run exhibitions. Some were big palaces (later shrinked into multiplexes)while others smaller.

I don't remember air conditioning. Instead, there were big and noisier fans just like the ones used in the subways! Everybody would buy the traditional ice cream bar (as I said before, there was still no popcorn at the time). I did that too since, fortunately, you can still get that ice cream... I don't stand the smell of burnt butter in the theaters. When they introduced popcorn around the 90s (when American companies took over exhibition) I began to go less and less.

Of those films, the ones I fondly remember were the Louis De Funes comedies that, for the most part, I have not seen again

8:57 PM  
Anonymous Griff said...

Bruce Cabot top-billed in KONG?


Did most of the '38 RKO reissue material give Cabot top-billing?

5:38 PM  
Blogger Scott MacGillivray said...

None of the RKO accessories gave Bruce Cabot top billing. John is showing a standee that was customized by that particular exhibitor, who apparently thought the Cabot name was a bigger draw for his local audience.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Griff said...

Thanks, Scott. That's strangely comforting. I have nothing against Cabot, but Wray and Armstrong are the real (human, anyway) stars of KONG.

1:35 PM  

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