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Original 'King Kong' returns to LI theaters

The 1933 "King Kong" movie will be playing

The 1933 "King Kong" movie will be playing on Long Island. Credit: Warner Bros.

If you've never seen the original "King Kong," from 1933, you're in for a treat. Next week, for the first time in more than 60 years, "King Kong" will return to theaters nationwide for a one-day-only engagement. It's your chance to see one of the original Hollywood blockbusters and some of the earliest special effects ever committed to celluloid.

The film will play two screenings on Sunday, March 15, at several Long Island venues, as part of TCM's yearlong Big Screen Classics series. The film will be accompanied by recorded remarks from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

A simian twist on "Beauty and the Beast" — with shades of Jules Verne and Joseph Conrad — "King Kong" tells the story of a swaggering film director, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), and his new starlet, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), who sail to the mysterious Skull Island. There they encounter Kong, an enormous gorilla worshipped as a god by local tribesman. Smitten by the diminutive Darrow, Kong is captured by Denham and shipped to New York City as a tourist attraction but — in the film's most iconic sequence — the ape breaks loose, carries Darrow to the top of the Empire State Building and swipes at hostile aircraft until ultimately falling to his death.

Even nearly 90 years after its initial release, "King Kong" remains absolutely riveting, partly for its primal themes — city vs. jungle, man vs.beast — and partly for its pioneering visuals, which include elaborate miniatures, matte paintings and Willis O'Brien's expressive stop-motion animation of Kong himself. (At the time, the Academy Awards did not yet have a category for special effects). "King Kong" also remains a shocker, with pre-Code scenes of brutal violence and suggestive sexuality that are far from quaint even today. The film's overarching racism is complicated and coded but impossible to ignore; it's the one area where "King Kong" shows its age.

"King Kong" was rereleased into theaters five times, in 1938, 1942, 1946, 1952 and 1956, earning impressive ticket sales each time. Sequels proliferated; Dino De Laurentiis produced a remake in 1976; Peter Jackson directed another in 2005; and Universal rebooted the franchise in 2017 with "Kong: Skull Island." (There was also the 2018-19  Broadway musical.) The first is still the best, though, a classic Hollywood spectacle that hasn't lost a bit of its power.

"King Kong" plays Mar. 15 at 1 and 4 p.m. at Regal Deer Park 16 & IMAX, Regal Westbury 12 and AMC Stony Brook 17. Tickets are $12.50-$16. Go to fathomevents.com.

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