King Kong (1933)
king kong | merian c. cooper | ernest b. schoedesack | james ashmore creelman | ruth rose | fay wray | robert armstrong | bruce cabot | giant monster | giant monsters | adventure | united states | sci-fi | sci fi | frank reicher | sam hardy | animal attack
Film: King Kong
Director: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Writer: James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose
Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot
This was a film that growing up I would refuse to watch, because I didn’t like anything that was in black and white. I definitely came around to it though in college when I took Intro to World Cinema and saw some classics. My mother had this in a box set that I borrowed and remembered watching in my apartment. To get into the synopsis, a film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal ape who takes a shine to their female blonde star.
We start when a talent agent approaches a large shipping vessel. This is an interesting way to let us know some back-story and he talks to the first mate, John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot). He is taken to speak with Capt. Englehorn (Frank Reicher) and Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong). The purpose is they are going to shoot a film somewhere exotic, but he won’t tell anyone where. The agent is there to let Carl know that he can’t provide him with an actress as his lead. He then has to go into New York City to find one.
It doesn’t take him long to meet Ann Darrow (Fay Wray). It takes a little convincing, but she is broke and needs the job. She joins them on the voyage. It is during this that she takes a liking to John, who feels the same, but he is also a rough guy. There are some also interesting screen tests with Carl and poses she does that come full circle later.
He reveals they are going to an uncharted island where supposedly a giant ape, dubbed Kong, lives. The captain is leery, but continues on. When they get there, they are met with hostile natives. The chief is Nobel Johnson and their shaman is Steve Clemente. They are doing a ritual to marry one of their women off to Kong, but when they set on eyes on Ann, they want to buy her. The men refuse, but these natives won’t take no for an answer. This leads to an interesting chase when we actually meet King Kong and other creatures on the island. We also learn the greed of man when Carl makes a dangerous decision to recoup his losses.
It had literally been about a decade since the last time I saw this. After this viewing, I have to say that it is crazy how well this film holds up, for the most part. It is interesting, being this film came out in 1933 that the film industry was still relevantly new, but they were going out in the nature to make Carl’s wild films. It was interesting that he didn’t want a female lead, but the fans wanted more of a love story so that was the only reason. Carl was a good guy who was strictly business.
Something I love about this film is the setting. I’m a big fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, which I do think this film borrows heavily from. It’s the idea of an island like this out there is fascinating and I kind of wish it was true. Being that it is isolated, we have creatures that we see today that are just larger as well as dinosaurs. There are so many uncharted islands out there, makes you wonder.
After this viewing, I do have to say that I almost feel like the cannibal films might have borrowed some ideas from this. It is really sad to see that us, as civilized people, coming to their island and disrupting what their way of life. Now in this case, the invaders didn’t necessarily disrupt their lives too much aside from trying to film them. What I have a problem with is what they do to Kong. I will delve into that here more in a second with some concepts from a documentary I saw.
Now if you know me, I’m a Caucasian male. I like to think I’m open-minded and try to understand the plights of others. This viewing of the film, I can see how this film can be read as a racial tale. We have Kong being taken from his island, not much different than the slave trade especially their plan for the animal. The up-close look at Kong’s face does seem to be very similar to that of caricatures that come out afterwards in the advertising and racist cartoons. On top of that, he is a mindless beast and going after a white woman. I don’t think any of this was in mind when making the film, but these elements are there. Plus, the men are quite sexist, which was a sign of the times it was made.
To more technical aspects, this film runs 100 minutes, but I will admit it didn’t feel like. I never found myself bored and we are constantly seeing things happening. This film actually surprisingly had a bit of a sub-plot that you necessarily didn’t get in films of the era. There is a good allegory to Beauty and the Beast, while we also have the problems at hand. I do like the ending, but I feel it is tragic and quite sad.
Something else that really struck me was the acting. I think a lot of that was we didn’t have a lot of things in the era that could cover it up. I thought Wray did a great job in her character. She is a bit passive, but that was more women in the era. She was quite attractive and I liked her fear. Armstrong is kind of a scumbag when it comes to business, but I can respect his treatment of Ann. Cabot is fine in his role and I think the rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed. It was good to see minorities casted in the roles they were playing, at least it did seem that way.
I couldn’t get through this without talking about the effects. They were done with stop-motion, before it was really popular. I do believe I read the man in charge actually trained Ray Harryhausen, who was a legend in this technique. I think it actually holds up for the most part, there are a few things here and there that I noticed, but for a film as old as this, I was still impressed. There is animal fighting that was pretty solid and the amount of deaths also, which I didn’t remember. The film is also shot exceptionally well.
The final thing to cover would be the soundtrack of the film. I think the music selections definitely fit for what was need and helped to build the tension. There are some drums, which I’m not entirely sure they would be able to hear where their ship is, but it does give a bit of the ominous feel of foreboding. I also like the sounds of Kong and the other animals in the film. I thought they were quite realistic.
Now with that said, I didn’t expect to like this film as much as I did. I think that it has a story that still works today. There are some underlying issues that can be read in this, depending on what you think which I’m a fan of. I think the acting is really good and the effects were amazing for the time. The soundtrack of the film is fitting for what they needed as well. It is insane to think how old this film is, but I think this is a really good one. I would avoid this though if you don’t like really old films or ones that are in black-and-white.
My Rating: 9 out of 10