dir. merian c. cooper & ernest b. shoedsack
There’s a kind of magic in the original King Kong that you don’t see very often. Sure, at times, it’s corny as hell–ancient special effects will do that to ya–but it doesn’t take an ounce of that magic away. The film was made in 1933, and perhaps I use this justification too often, but film was still young; they had only just synchronized sound, and now they’re lifting people up with a giant gorilla. Film takes the point.
The story is simple: fame-hungry movie director takes crew to scary remote island. Crew encounters a gorilla as tall as the sky. Gorilla locks eyes with a beautiful girl and decides he must have her. All hell breaks loose. The classic “white man steps foot in remote village and remote village is almost immediately obliterated” trope takes place. Fame-hungry movie director drags the ape back to New York, and learns–surprise!–that the ape is more of a country boy.
“Say, what is it anyhow?”
“I hear it’s a kind of a gorilla.”
“Gee, ain’t we got enough of them in New York?”
The violence in the film is brutal in its simplicity and bluntness (some members of the crew fall to their deaths, marked by a quiet blip as they hit the ground), and it’s vastly underrated. We’re still pre-Code in Hollywood, meaning that pretty soon we’re gonna go back to melodramatic clutch-your-heart deaths. Here we get to see blood oozing out of a T-rex’s broken jaw, and that’s pretty rad.
Rad too is the special effects, which was groundbreaking and is still pretty great today (again, when you take into account that the movie was made 80 years ago). Kong, as well as the other creatures on Skull Island, were predominantly clay figures that were animated with stop-motion. There are numerous scenes that feature both stop-motion and live-action too; I honestly didn’t expect the effects to be this advanced yet, so I was kind of in awe the entire time. It’s rarely true-to-life, but when you have scenes of a fake monkey reaching down into crevices below a cliff to find a human man who’s hiding in it (and remember this is literally in the Great Depression), it’s pretty remarkable.
Kong elicits sympathy, which, as the chief monster in a monster movie, is a rarity–almost unheard of in my mind since Cujo in the novel. He loves the girl, in his way; he feels the need to protect her, or at the very least, to not kill her. He’s then gassed and brought back to the concrete jungle to be put on display (seeing, no doubt, a very small percentage of the $20 ticket rate). He breaks free, finds his love, and escapes, only to be met by the planes–oh, the planes–and if you don’t feel sorry for him, I don’t get you.
Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot are both gorgeous and give great performances. The score was remarkable and innovative, the directing solid. It’s a monumental piece of film history, and it’s now one of my favorite films ever.