I am really excited about today’s movie for a number of reasons. First among them is the fact that if it wasn’t for this movie, then the giant monster genre of films would probably not have as many entries in it as it does today. Today’s movie was not the first movie to feature a giant monster but it is arguably the most famous one to do so. I remember watching this when I was a little kid and, even though it was in black and white, I still loved every second of it. I mean, you have a giant gorilla fighting dinosaurs in the jungle and when it comes to the city, it is fighting airplanes. What kid wouldn’t love a movie like that. So allow me to present one of the true classics of the silver screen, King Kong (1933).
The plot: Carl Denham, a well known movie director, is making preparations to set sail to the location of his new movie but the talent agent he hired is unwilling to secure an actress for the film, due to the secretive nature of the project and Denham’s reputation for being reckless. Not wanting to delay their scheduled departure, Denham goes onto the New York streets to find a woman and comes across Ann Darrow, a down on her luck woman, and convinces her to join his picture. After several weeks at sea, Denham has Ann change into her one of her costumes so he can take some test shots but while she is gone, the first mate, Jack Driscoll, expresses his concerns about finding out where they are going and Denham’s bringing Ann on the voyage, as Driscoll has started to fall in love with Ann and is concerned for her safety. When they reach a set of coordinates that Denham had given, Denham reveals to Driscoll and the ship’s captain, Captain Englehorn, where they are headed, a legendary island called Skull Island, which is rumored to be the home of a legendary creature called Kong. Arriving at the island, they find a giant wall separating a small part of the island from the jungle interior and when Denham, Driscol, Ann, Captain Englehorn, and some of the crew go ashore, they find the natives performing some sort of ceremony. When Denham attempts to film the ceremony, the village chief notices him and calls a halt to the ceremony. Captain Englehorn speaks with the chief and learns that the ceremony involves them offering a young girl to their god, Kong. When the natives see Ann, they offer to exchange 6 of their women for the “golden woman”, as they feel sacrificing her will appease Kong, Denham refuses and Englehorn directs his men to head back to the ship. That night, Driscoll confesses his feelings to Ann and they two kiss, but when Driscoll is called up onto the bridge, a group of natives sneak onto the ship and kidnap Ann. When one of the crew finds a native bracelet on the deck, Driscoll has the crew search the ship for any sign of Ann and, realizing the natives have taken her, Driscoll leads a rescue mission onto the island. At the village, Ann is lead outside the massive wall and tied onto an altar, where the villagers use a gong to summon Kong, which turns out to be a giant gorilla, Intrigued by Ann’s appearance, Kong grabs her and takes her back into the jungle. Meanwhile, Driscoll, Denham, Englehorn, and the other members of the rescue party, make their way to the village and, leaving Englehorn with half the men to keep the gate open, Driscoll, Denham and the others head off to save Ann. Moving through the jungle, the group comes across a stegosaurus, which they are forced to kill when it charges at them. Continuing to track Kong, they come to a massive swamp and make a raft with which to cross it but as they make their way across, the raft is attacked by a brontosaurus, with the massive creature killing several members of the crew. As the surviving crew members run from the creature, they attempt to cross a log bridge but Kong, having heard the men approaching, places Ann in a tree and goes back to the log and, after shaking several of the men off the log, drops the log and the remaining men into the gorge below. Noticing Driscoll on a ledge beneath him, Kong attempts to grab him but when Ann screams at an approaching tyrannosaurus, Kong leaves Driscoll and heads back to protect Ann. Engaging the massive carnivore in a brutal battle, Kong is able to kill the beast and then takes Ann and continues into the jungle. Meanwhile, Driscoll manages to climb back up the cliff and after talking to Denham, who had managed to survive on the other side of the gorge, Driscoll continues following Kong while Denham goes back to the village for help. Driscoll follows Kong to his lair, a giant cave in a mountain, where he sees Kong fighting another dinosaur that attempted to eat Ann. When Kong takes Ann to a ledge outside, Ann is attacked by a pteranodon and Kong once again rescues her. While Kong is fighting the winged dinosaur, Jack uses the opportunity to try and rescue Ann but as they are climbing down a vine, Kong, having killed the creature, begins pulling them back up so they drop down into the river below. Running back to the village, they manage to make it through the gates but when Kong approaches, Denham, Englehorn and the crew close and bar the gate. Kong begins pounding on the gate and begins to force it open but the natives race to the gate to help brace it. Eventually, Kong manages to force the gate open, and begins to destroy the village before Denham manages to subdue the monster with gas grenades. With Kong unconscious, Denham makes plans to take the massive creature back to New York, claiming the whole world will pay to see him. Back in New York, Denham introduces Kong as “The Eighth Wonder of the World”, and after introducing Driscoll and Ann to the audience, he allows the press photographers to take pictures but Kong, believeing they cameramen are attacking, proceeds to break free from his chains. As Kong goes on a rampage through the city, Driscoll takes Ann back to their hotel room for safety but Kong manages to track Ann down and grabs her through the window. Wanting to go somewhere high for safety, Kong begins climbing the Empire State Building, forcing the authorities to use airplanes to try and kill him. As Kong puts Ann down in order to fight to planes, Driscoll manages to save her, while the planes continuously shoot at Kong, eventually causing him to fall from the building due to the loss of blood. As the crowd stares at the giant corpse, one of the police comments on how the planes got him, only for Denham to remark, “Oh no. It wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the beast.”
King Kong (1933) was met with rave reviews from the critics, currently holding a 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (though 3 years ago, it was at 100%). Among the praise heaped on the movie was that it was “a fantastic and powerful adventure”, as well as “one of the most original, thrilling, and mammoth novelties to come out of a movie studio.” The movie was a box office success, earning $2 million dollars domestically in it’s original release, and after several subsequent releases in 1938, 1942, 1946, 1952, and 1956, it would double that amount. While it was not nominated for any Academy Awards, King Kong (1933) has received other accolades such as being listed as one of AFI’s Top 100 Movies of all time and being archived in the National Film Registry in 1991.
This is one of my favorite black and white movies. The acting was good between Robert Armstrong (Denham), Bruce Cabot (Driscoll), and Frank Reicher (Englehorn). Fay Wray truly became the first scream queen with her role of Ann Darrow as all she did for most of the movie was scream. The story was good and really did seem to be some take off of Beauty And The Beast, though it was definitely a darker take than the Disney version. However, the main point of this movie was definitely the special effects. Willis O’Brien did an absolutely amazing job with his stop-motion animation in this movie. The actors also did a great job in reacting to the rear-screen projected model. This movie also has one of my favorite goofs that made it into the final film. During the scene where Kong is attacking the gate and the villagers rush to help, one of the villagers leaps from his hut and falls into some thorn bushes, which winds up knocking his wig loose. As many times as I have seen this movie, I honestly never noticed it until almost 10 years ago, when I had just bought this movie on DVD and was watching it while half asleep and happened to catch that and rewound it just to make sure. Anyways, this is one of those must see movies that everyone should see at least once.
Rating: 5 out of 5