I had been meaning to see this movie pretty much my entire life. I’ve never really been into monster movies, but I knew – even before I started studying film – that this one was well worth seeing. I actually only saw it for the first time about a year and a half ago and I was so impressed!
King Kong (1933)
Kong – the monster and the story – was invisioned by the director/producers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, who both had experience filming adventure documentaries. Schoedsack’s wife wrote the screenplay – completely original and cinematic – despite having no prior experience. Kong was physically created out of steel, cotton, latex and rabbit fur. He was controlled by Willis O’Brien, who was the first real visual effects artist in Hollywood. O’Brien influenced people in the visual effects field like Ray Harryhausen – you might know the name from Monsters, Inc. (2001) when there was a restaurant named after him.
Here’s a synopsis: Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), an adventurous documentary filmmaker, decides to venture to an uncharted island with a ship full of men and one brave woman, Ann Darow (Fay Wray), in hopes of seeing how beauty affects a beast he’s only dreamed of. During the voyage, Ann falls in love with John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), but when they arrive on the island filled with pre-historic creatures – including dinosaurs!! – King Kong, a giant pre-historic gorilla, becomes fascinated with Ann. He’s eventually captured and brought to New York City to be put on display by the cruel Denham. When he sees Ann again, he wreaks havoc on the city so he can communicate the only way he knows how.
Why You Should Watch:
King Kong is one of the top 3 classic movie monsters, in the same ranks as Frankenstein’s monster and Dracula. Not only is Kong the biggest, he amazingly is one of the only film stars who never had a pulse (spoiler alert: he’s a puppet), but made audiences feel like they knew him like he was flesh and blood. From just an animation perspective, the film is a must-see. The eighty-year-old stop-motion technology is still baffling, even by today’s CGI standards.
The score was written by Max Steiner, the same composer for later films Gone with the Wind (1939) and Casablanca (1942). With a track record like that, the soundtrack for King Kong does not disappoint. Considering that for a large portion of the film, especially on the island, there is no dialog due to a language barrier, the score enhances the visuals and escorts the audience through the film.
This film is also credited with saving RKO from bankruptcy. Thank goodness for that, because RKO went on to produce classics like Citizen Kane (1941), as well as distribute numerous Disney features and shorts in subsequent decades, including Dumbo (1941), Alice in Wonderland (1951) and Peter Pan (1953) to name a few.
Scenes to Look Forward To:
Kong isn’t actually shown until about 45 minutes into the film. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but withholding the image of the monster lets the audience’s imaginations run wild and heightens the suspense. This technique was also used in Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), when the shark actually wasn’t shown until well into the film. That being said, obviously you should look forward to when Kong debuts on screen!
My favorite scene in the entire movie bar none is the fight between Kong and the T-Rex. Why did no one tell me that there are dinosaurs in this movie!? Once I got over the initial shock, I was flabbergasted by the way this scene was shot. It apparently took seven weeks to film the entire thing, and I’m not surprised! There’s a great little flourish at the end where Kong plays with the T-Rex’s jaw. It’s a nice touch to reemphasize Kong’s playful animal instinct in contrast with his instinct to protect Ann.
Kong at the top of the Empire State Building is the most iconic scene in the film and looks amazingly real. When they filmed Kong on the top of a model of the Empire State Building, they had to reposition him by hand for each frame. Since the puppet was covered in rabbit fur, the handling left finger prints on the fur which actually make it look like his fur was being blown by the wind. What a fortunate accident!