King Kong (1933)


(director/producer: Merian Cooper/Ernest Schoedsack; screenwriters: James Ashmore Creelman/Ruth Rose/story by Mr. Cooper and Edgar Wallace; cinematographers: Eddie Linden/Vernon Walker/J.O. Taylor; editor: Ted Cheesman; music: Max Steiner; cast: Fay Wray (Ann Darrow), Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Bruse Cabot (Jack Driscoll), Frank Reicher (Capt. Englehorn), Sam Hardy (Charles Weston), Noble Johnson (Native Chief), James Flavin (Second Mate), Steve Clemento (Witch King), Victor Long (Lumpy); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; RKO; 1935)

Perhaps we have fallen in love with this movie because we distrust our civilization and feel betrayed that we have lost our sense of nature.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Merian Cooper and his longtime associate Ernest Schoedsack (both real-life adventurers and film documentarians) bring to the screen the story initiated by Mr. Cooper and Edgar Wallace (he died before the film was released). It’s a adventure-fantasy hokum tale about a 50-foot ape named King Kong who is removed from a jungle island and brought to NYC for exhibition. It’s a re-telling of the archetypal Beauty and the Beast fable.

The black-and-white low-budget monster film was released at the height of the Great Depression and grossed $1,761,000, and by itself saved RKO from bankruptcy. Willis O’Brien did the stop-action animation, which holds up so well that it is still looked at in awe despite all the modern day technological innovations. Max Steiner’s score goes well with the action.

Flamboyant documentary filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) sails to the remote Skull Island for his latest film with his leading lady Ann Darrow (Fay Wray, she dyed her hair blonde for the part). In the jungle, they come across a ceremonial rite in which the native dancers circle around a frightened young girl chanting “Kong! Kong!” When Denham is observed by the chief (Noble Johnson) and witch doctor (Steve Clemente), they are ordered to leave. But the chief gets excited when seeing the golden haired Ann and offers to buy her and make her the “bride of Kong.” Denham refuses, and makes a quick retreat back to the ship. That night some native warriors sneak on board the ship and kidnap Ann. At the same ceremonial site she’s strapped to a huge sacrificial altar and offered to Kong as a sacrifice, but he instead forgoes the ritual and winds up saving Ann.

Kong is eventually taken back to New York on the ship. Upon his Broadway premiere, he breaks loose thinking that his beloved Ann is being hurt by the reporters’ flash bulbs. On the loose in New York, Kong goes on a destructive rampage and eventually winds up at the top of the Empire State Building, facing off against a fleet of World War I fighter planes. He dies but not before he has Wray clutched in his paws as if she were a doll, and strips her and takes a few good sniffs — while all she can do is scream. The film seems to fit the public’s voyeuristic needs. Perhaps we have fallen in love with this movie because we distrust our civilization and feel betrayed that we have lost our sense of nature. We want the ape to love Fay; and, we are lulled into believing that beauty can kill the beast. Wray makes for the perfect vic, who excites the sometimes human gestures of the ape (gestures as thought up by the Hollywood magic makers as a symbol of the erotic, destructive, and pitiful impulses of civilized man).