King Kong (1933)
Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot
Directed by: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Beaumont Schoedsack
Released by: RKO Pictures
Synopsis: Ambitious filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) embarks on a journey to Skull Island to film the greatest picture ever. In their journey they meet one of the most terrifying secrets of the island: the eighth wonder of the world, King Kong!
Review: Like Singin’ in the Rain, King Kong was a movie I had known for many years (I even knew about the basic premise and the character) but had never bothered to see it. I finally got around to it and was very surprised to see that despite its age it’s an amazing thriller and one of the most gripping of the 1930s!
The story is very basic and one used for many decades. A group of people journey into a mysterious location and find an ancient evil/danger/treasure that puts their lives in danger. Later they foolishly bring it to modern civilization and it causes a lot of dangers and chaos, and only they can stop it. In King Kong the mysterious place is Skull Island and that threat is King Kong, a giant monster ape worshipped as a god by the denizens of the island.
But as the old saying goes, it’s not the story you tell it’s how you tell it that counts. King Kong has an amazing pace. Never does it stop to explain a superfluous detail or go on and on about a plot point. The entire story is told in its hour and a half run time, never leaving any questions unanswered while still being vague enough to keep audiences interested. The other reason the story is so great is because of how intensely it is told. It might have been made in 1933, but it surprisingly manages to be thrilling even in this age of sophisticated action films
This is all credited to two characters. First of course is King Kong himself. While he may look goofy he is anything but. He is a savage beast that kills and destroys unmercifully. Every time he is on screen you can’t take your eyes off of him and stare in shock at some of the things he does. Seriously, he eats people, steps on them and even drops them from very high places!
The other character is Carl Denham, the mastermind behind all the madness, played by Robert Armstrong. To me, he is the real antagonist of the film. Blinded by greed and ambition, he puts the lives of men and women all for the sake of show business. On top of this he is manipulative, misogynistic and selfish, putting his desires on top then the safety of others last. King Kong may be the monster on the loose, but Carl is a far bigger evil, and the movie benefits greatly from it.
For an action movie made in 1933 King Kong does a fantastic job of presenting us a fantastical world filled with strange, dangerous creatures. This is all brought to life by the magic of stop motion animation. While this may seem crude and primitive to an audience that has grown seeing computer generated creatures on screen, the effects are very effective in expressing the dangers Skull Island has in stored for the characters. What’s even more impressive is the interaction between the live action scenes and the animation. Characters will stand in front of it and even interact with the animation, creating the illusion that they were indeed confronted by these creatures. This is achieved by editing scenes together as well as using animatronics for detailed shots.
Kong in particular looks great. Despite looking rather cartoony his expressions are very well done and convey authenticity. He can express anger to sheer lust and curiosity, and his interactions with Ann Darrow are captivating and even risqué for the era it was made. The films that came after it perfected all of the techniques seen here, but the effects in King Kong are still great to watch.
Sadly, there are some flaws that while they don’t take away from the film they still bothered me a bit. The first is Ann Darrow, played by Fay Wray. She is the classic damsel in distress. During the first minutes of the film she is perky and likable, you feel for her right away. But once she becomes Kong’s prisoner all she does is scream and faint throughout the film, becoming a stereotypical character that you fail to care for. The same issue lies with Jack Driscoll, played by Bruce Cabot. He can be a charming character due to his 1930s machismo, but like Ann he quickly becomes a background character. Some of the acting is also cheesy and over the top. This can be forgiven due to the nature of the film, but it’s still worth noting. Finally, while this may not seem like a flaw, the film is unrelenting when it comes to action, meaning that there are very few quiet scenes where both the characters and the audience can relax and enjoy the rest of the story. Again not a real flaw but it can be tiresome for certain audiences.
For all its flaws, though, King Kong is an achievement in cinema, taking the impossible and making it possible for future filmmakers and storyteller to present a story with creatures beyond our imaginations. But this isn’t just a popcorn flick, it tells a good story with some well shot scenes and decent characters. It’s a movie fans shouldn’t miss if only to witness a great legacy told on screen.
Rating: 4 filmstrips out of 5
This review is dedicated to Ultimate Disney forum member jpanimation. Not only is he one of the most active participants in this project (offering recommendations, advice and such), he is a big fan of the film and was really happy to know that I saw the film. Hope I made the film justice!