King Kong (1933) / Fantasy-Adventure
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably PG-13 for violence
Running time: 100 min.
Cast: Robert Armstrong, Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Noble Johnson
Director: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Screenplay: James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose
Review published November 26, 2005
Godzilla may be the King of Monsters, but King Kong may forever be the king of monster movies. A fantastic and lasting adventure, King Kong works on multiple levels. Although it was a spectacular feat in special effects for its time, the injection of, dare I say, "humanity" in this creature feature makes what could have been rather exploitative into one of the most riveting, and tragic, stories that has ever graced the silver screen. Although the effects may not be stunning by today's CGI standards, it is amazing just how well this ambitious 1933 film holds up in this regard, using stop-motion animation, rear projection, and many other old school techniques that, while not 100% convincing, still are a marvel to behold in the pre-computer era. It should go without saying, they created one of the great icons of the modern era, with simple story so primal, it goes right into the psyche and engages with a story everyone can relate to on a fundamental level.
The story concerns an expedition headed by famed animal and nature filmmaker Carl Denham (Armstrong, The Most Dangerous Game) and his mission to find out just what is on an uncharted island that is making the natives build great walls to keep it out. After finding the beautiful young starlet named Ann (Wray, Mystery of the Wax Museum) to be the eye-candy for his big piece, he and his crew head out to explore, only to find that the natives are about to sacrifice one of their women to some god they call Kong. The natives spy the golden-haired Ann and deem her to be more appealing for Kong, and in the middle of the night, steal her away for the sacrifice. Kong turns out to be a giant ape of unprecedented size, and he instantly becomes Ann's possessor and protector. Sensing untold millions can be made from his discovery, Denham seeks to capture Kong to return him to New York City, where people all over the county will pay money to see this Eighth Wonder of the World he has dubbed "King Kong".
Perhaps the one aspect of Kong that makes him different from typical movie villains is his vulnerability. If anything, Kong is a victim of circumstance, thrown from one world of violence into another, just wanting to live a life of peace with his newfound "bride", but everyone keeps trying to take her away from him. It's hard not to feel for the beast, especially when he has done nothing wrong, knowing nothing about laws or morality, other than survival of the fittest. Credit the filmmakers for making every effort to make Kong as facially expressive as realism allows, and especially in not going the route taken by other ape films in just putting a guy in an ape suit, which would have proven disastrous.
Despite some dated aspects to the film, particularly in the very pronounced post-silent era acting style of the performers and often corny dialogue, as well as a racial subtext that is hard to ignore outright, King Kong still remains to this day one of the grand spectacles of cinema, and also one of the most studied of metaphoric films in the world of psychology and sociology. Even though it is evident today that Kong is wholly an animated creation, nevertheless, there is a lot of heart that beats within this beast, and ironically, a certain beauty as well.
-- The phenomenal success prompted a hurried sequel later the same year, The Son of Kong.
-- Remade in 1976 and 2005. Also remade into a 1998 straight-to-video animated feature-length cartoon, The Mighty Kong.
©2005 Vince Leo