Directed and Produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
March 2, 1933 (New York City) / March 24, 1933 (Los Angeles) / April 7, 1933 (United States)
This is a reappraisal/edit of my original review of the original King Kong. In light of the upcoming pairing of him with the only other truly legendary screen monster Godzilla I felt this was warranted.
A jungle film producer gets a map to a mysterious island where he discovers the eighth wonder of the world King Kong.
Few things are better from back in the day than this classic film. The plot is fanciful and while the leaps in logic are questionable, the movie is just so much fun. Interestingly what was once classified as horror is now family friendly action adventure. It appeals to the kid and the adult in us all. You do not even think too hard about the crappiness of the show that filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) comes up with.
This risk-taking entertainment genius’s idea for showing off Kong is to chain him up on a Broadway stage and charge a public that knows nothing about the creature $20 for a view. Really? I would think even the shittiest of film moguls could do better.
Do not expect too much in the way of characterization here. You will not get that much but then again who cares? You are here to watch King Kong stride about the movie screen as he fights giant snakes or a tyrannosaurus. You are here to see the mysteries of Skull Island or watch this lovestruck palooka capture Ann Darrow (Fay Ray) and climb a building. You could call it Beauty and the Beast but at least in that story something could happen between the two. Not sure what the lustful Kong expected. This is pretty much the size difference between Shaquille O’Neal and a hamster.
The weakest bit in this whole movie for me though is the romance between John “Jack” Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) and Ann Darrow. It comes completely out of nowhere. Somehow saving her along with the rest of the group equals romance. On the island they are just beginning their love story but a short time later during the exciting Broadway show of King Kong chained to a structure they are getting married. Huh? It is not like it occurred months later. And Ann while on the island says to Jack “I thought you didn’t like girls” or something to that effect. That always sounded like an implication of homosexuality to me. I am completely confused.
I was surprised to learn that Bruce Cabot was in this movie. First of all he looks so much younger in this film than in any of the stuff I also know him from. Bruce Cabot in my mind is also forever linked to John Wayne. Even though I have known it for a while I still cannot mentally connect him to this movie. This just seems so far from anything I am familiar of him doing even though I am way more familiar with this film than I am anything else that he did with Wayne. It is a very weird dichotomy for me.
King Kong for me has always been a thrilling ride. I have a soft spot for movie serials, and this feels just like one. From the music to the pacing to the dialogue it feels like it was ripped right from one. And that rapid patter dialogue was so common for so long. It was a way to get a lot of story into a short run time. You could not talk like that in a movie today.
Back in the day some of the things that made it to the screen in King Kong were not deemed offensive but modern audiences might wince at them a little…or a lot. What could be classified as casual sexism or casual racism does appear in the movie in a noticeable amount. From the natives of the island to the Chinese cook (Victor Wong in his most famous role) on the boat to the way every man on that boat treats Ann like a thing there is something that could offend any member of a modern audience, but we should not be so quick to flip out. Any film is a product of the attitudes and sensibilities of the time and should be taken as such. It is not a modern film. It was made in a different time and set in that time so it is going reflect that era’s attitudes for good or for bad. Keep that in mind when watching any film.
For the day the effects were groundbreaking, and I am still impressed by the look and what they managed to accomplish. You are pulled in to the story and wowed by the visuals. They manage to immerse you in their world. The film score and the effects were like nothing audiences had experienced before. King Kong became a monster hit (pun intended) and saved the studio Radio Pictures at the time from going bankrupt.
I mentioned “jungle film” earlier here. These were documentaries or dramas. In the dramas a scientist or explorer were go into the jungle to test a theory and discover an aberration. This helped give them a lasting presence in early films and was what gave birth to this movie.
The creatures were brought to life by Willis O’Brien and his assistant Buzz Gibson. Matte paintings, miniatures, and rear projection were combined in a groundbreaking fashion to bring this fantasy to life. The Williams process invented by cinematographer Frank D. Williams was used to allow Kong to shake off people from a log for example. They pulled out all the stops.
If you go into King Kong with an open mind you will be impressed by what you see. It is an inventive if by now copied repeatedly adventure film. This is a classic movie that does contain some stuff that may not sit well these days but view it in the context of its time and you will enjoy yourself. Watch it!