KING KONG

(1933)
With Robert Armstrong, Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Sam Hardy, Noble Johnson --- and King Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World
Directed by Meriam C. Cooper and Ernst B. Schoedsack
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

"Hey, you guys in the plane... which way to the Chrysler Building?"     It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that Meriam C. Cooper, Ernst B. Schoedsack and their outstanding team of visual and sound effects artists reinvented motion pictures in 1933 with KING KONG, which could almost be thought of as CITIZEN KANE with a giant gorilla.

     This is what we are talking about, of course - a movie about a giant gorilla who falls in love with a pretty blonde. Adventurer and filmmaker Carl Denham (played by the hammy Robert Armstrong) sails to Skull Island to investigate the legend of something called Kong.  There he finds not only the giant ape in question, but prehistoric monsters of all kinds, who are eager to make snacks of Denham and his crew of sailors.  Kong, in turn, finds aspiring actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to be so lovely, he snatches her away, keeping her as a pet and love interest.  The silliest of premises, and yet the original KONG remains one of the most memorable, watchable films of all time.  It is a fantasy, an adventure and a cornucopia of special effects, but what makes KING KONG classic is its tragic love story.  (Alas, unlike in the 2005 remake, Kong's adoration for Ann Darrow in the original is unrequited.)  When Kong is captured and brought to New York, the film becomes a heartbreaking drama about the loss of innocence.  KING KONG works on so many metaphorical levels, all of them probably unintended by the film's makers, that you can always find something new to enjoy with every viewing. 

     The remake has been criticized for overkill in the Skull Island sequences, throwing so much at the viewer there is no time to breathe, but the original film keeps things simple and linear.  Once it gets going, after a necessary if slightly overlong plot setup (though not if you compare it to Peter Jackson's hour-long setup in the 2005 remake), Cooper's KING KONG moves steadily and logically from setpiece to setpiece, allowing the viewer to savor each highlight - Kong rolling sailors off a log into a ravine, boxing with a T-Rex, rescuing his girl from the clutches of a pterodactyl.  Each animated scene is beautifully and fully realized by stop-motion animation pioneer Willis O'Brien, who turns an 18-inch ape puppet into a living, breathing tragic hero who gives as touching a performance as Boris Karloff in FRANKENSTEIN.  Despite the technical evolution of special effects over the decades, O'Brien's work, which plays out on deeply layered and detailed miniature jungle sets, is still astounding.  His effects are magnificently supported by Max Steiner's rich score, which is in full harmony with Murray Spivack's innovative sound effects.  The only regrettable effects decision is the use a full size Kong head for a handful of closeups.  In 1933, this was probably shocking, but today, it merely looks like a big rubber ape head.

     The film's climax, with Kong on top of the Empire State Building battling it out with fighter planes, is arguably movie history's most famous scene and still retains all the power it had in 1933.  Kong's movements and facial expressions, as it slowly dawns on him that he is beaten, still brings tears to my eyes, even after more than fifty viewings in my life.  So far. 

    Two decades after its release, KING KONG, and the creative work of Willis O'Brien, inspired several men at Japan's Toho studios, men such as special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya and director Ishiro Honda, to come up with their own answer to Kong in GOJIRA, known in English-speaking countries as GODZILLA. ½ - JB

Godzilla and Friends     The Secret Vortex
ADD ANOTHER QUOTE AND MAKE IT A GALLON

"They say it's some kind of gorilla."
"Gee, ain't we got enough of them in New York?"


SEQUELS AND REMAKES

The Son of Kong (1933)
King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962)
King Kong Escapes (1967)
King Kong (1976)
King Kong Lives (1986)
King Kong (2005)