Released: 7th April 1933 (USA)
Director: Merian C. Cooper (uncredited), Ernest B. Schoedsack (uncredited)
Writers: James Ashmore Creelman (screenplay), Ruth Rose (screenplay),
Cast: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Sam Hardy
Storyline: “A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal giant gorilla who takes a shine to their female blonde star.” IMDB
I don’t even remember the last time I saw this film it was many years ago, I can of course remember the iconic scenes of King Kong swatting away planes gripping the Empire State Building, and the amazing special effects (Was this Ray Harryhausens work?). This scene has been the spoofed by many a media turn and comic with one of the most memorable for me being an advert for Holsten Pils with Griff Rhys Jones, and the incredible Goodies episode with the kitten in London…. (you know the one….)
OK so I’ve done a bit of digging, and Harryhausen wasn’t responsible for the animation in King Kong it was in fact Willis O’Brien, however this did form the dominant inspiration for his experimentation with the stop-motion photography he was later renowned for.
I must admit, it is taking me a bit of motivation to watch this film. There are so many great movies to watch both new and old out there, one of a giant gorilla carrying around a blonde bombshell is not high on my “must see” list. Considering we are only getting started on this list, and after having a quick glance at the great movies to come I decide to finally grin and bare it, and at get it over with. Hopefully it will surprise me. After reading Brit Boy’s dispo however, I am interested in the “stop motion” effects mainly because my 11 year daughter has an app on her iTouch which enables her to create stop motion projects. I now have visuals of her trying to create “kitten in London” remakes with our cat Fritzy. Thanks Brit Boy.
Set the Scene
I was actually flying home after visiting Brit Boy in Michigan for the holidays. I was trying out my brand new Nook (courtesy of Brit Boy), which was also conveniently loaded up with the next 20 movies on our IMDB list. It seemed an apt moment to watch King Kong and definitely made the flight pass quickly (granted I did have moments where I thought my fellow passengers must have wondered what I was doing watching King Kong).
This was a unique role reversal as I was sat in the comfort of my armchair with a chilled Coke Zero and the dog at my feet.
I believe most of you will be aware of the basic premise of this movie (whether you’ve seen the original, the remakes, or any of the numerous parodies), so I will not get into the plot during this review. After all, according to Wikipedia, King Kong is “one of the world’s most famous movie icons”. However, it does beg the question how this movie became so BIG and decades later is still a cultural icon.
The acting ability is not superb, granted neither is the script. There is actually minimal dialog, and the highlight is probably Wray’s innate ability at screaming. I am sure this movie had cutting edge special effects for its time, and I believe the focus is more on the use of special effects than on a poignant script. (Albeit, today there are still plenty of action packed movies loaded with special effects, which do amazingly well at the box office, regardless of a well written script.) I did thoroughly enjoy the clips of the scenery both of New York, and “Skull Island”. It was as though I was watching a time capsule. Getting a real life glimpse of how life (and our scenery) actually looked at that time.
The glimpse into the past is not one which I relish and does shine a spotlight on how backward we were both culturally and emotionally (I’m including the UK in this reference even though it is very definitely an American film, as I am sure the mindset was similar if not the same across the pond). The movie was full of racial stereotypes, sexism and idiotic bravado. At this stage I would like to say I am not getting on my soap-box and it did not stop my enjoyment of the film, I was just shocked at how far socially we have come. From the stereotypical Chinese chef with his broken english and thick accent to the “crazy black men” (who happen to be the tribespeople living quite contentedly on Skull Island, until Denham and his sailors turn up).
I completely agree with Brit Boy regarding the cultural stereo types. I can remember when I was younger and movies/tv were becoming more culturally aware, and shows had the “token” person of non-caucasian descent to represent all diversity. Now however, almost any program includes a wide social diversity, I am glad we have evolved in this regard. While I thought Wray was one of the better actors in this film, I was also incredibly annoyed by how her character was portrayed. Seriously, if a giant gorilla started carrying me around in his hand the second he set me down I would RUN, I wouldn’t wait for group of men to come save me. (As an aside, I do need to get a bit girly for a moment, I just love Wray’s style and fashion in this movie! I can completely see why this era is making its way back into a modern woman’s closet. There are many of her dresses which she wore that I would gladly wear today!)
Fay Wray was really just a dreadfully affected scream machine, I do wonder whether she is just an amazing actress playing the part of a woman off the street trying to be an actress or whether she’s just not got much range. I haven’t ever heard of her since this movie so I wonder whether she is the movie equivalent of a one hit wonder. I will have to do a bit of research on IMDB… Wow ok, so my cinematic education continues Fay Wray has 118 acting credits on IMDB and was a prolific actress especially during the late 20’s to early 30’s now I come to think of it did she ever appear in the old Harold Lloyd short films? (That’s a real blast from the past for me, I remember watching them when I was younger during the Winter evenings, re-runs American Girl…… I’m not that old!!). OK thanks again to IMDB, they did actually appear together in “Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ” however neither had a leading role, I think maybe she just looked like all of the other leading ladies of the time…. (now who is being stereotypical).
Another shocking aspect of the film was the amount of unadulterated violence throughout, I realize that Kong needed to be portrayed as a “Beast”, but given the level of special effects (I would assume ground-breaking for the time), they didn’t pull any punches. Especially during Kong’s run-ins with various animals and the natives on Skull Island.
I was also surprised at the amount of other prehistoric “animals” which were present in the film and the way in which Kong would “play” with their dead bodies once he had defeated them. Watching him kill the t-rex by trying to rip apart its jaws was almost too much to bare.
Given my zoological background I’ve given this aspect a lot of thought American Girl (no honestly I have), and I think the dinosaurs needed to be Kong’s greatest antagonists because realistically nothing in the natural world could really give him a run for his money. Apart from humans of course, who eventually put the “Beast” in his place.
I must admit I was impressed with the effects. The use of the stop motion filmmaking for Kong also gave the giant gorilla a very unique look. The light reflecting on his fur seemed to give the impression that his fur was actually moving, and it made it even more realistic. Ironically, I felt some of the scenes looked far more realistic than a lot of special effects produced using the standard “blue screen” in today’s movie making.
I too was in awe of the special effects, and given that the film is over 80 years it has truly stood the test of time. Undoubtedly I will watch this film again, maybe not soon but I think it is very definitely a classic and well deserves its place on the list. I thoroughly enjoyed this blast from the past and cant wait to be exposed to more older films as the list continues.
Overall, I was not a huge fan of the movie, but I understand why it has made this list. I would imagine this film has been studied in many film classes, and from that standpoint it definitely deserves a spot. I don’t have the need to ever watch it again, but I am glad that I watched it and got a different take on the “Beauty and the Beast” story.
Footnote – Six Degrees of Sir Richard Attenborough
As you are already aware Sir Richard Attenborough appeared as John Hammond in Jurassic Park. Stephen Spielberg (Director of Jurassic Park) requested Fay Wray appear on set to provide coaching on screaming to 12 year old Ariana Richards (Lex Murphy).