King Kong (1933)

King Kong title

Written by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack

Directed by Merian C. Cooper

Tagline: "The most awesome thriller of all time!"

Run Time: 100 min

Summary:

Adventurer and film maker Carl Denham leads an expedition to an uncharted island in search of a legendary beast: Kong. The giant ape is captured and returned to New York for exhibition…with disastrous results.

Recap:

"King Kong" is without doubt one of the greatest film classics of all time. Created at a time when an American public, weary from 4 years of the Great Depression, desperately needed an escape, a small movie studio on the brink of bankruptcy, RKO Pictures, took a chance on Cooper’s story of a giant ape ravaging New York, and a legend was born. Through Willis O’Brien’s unparalleled special effects talents, an 18-inch doll is brought to life, evoking fear, and in the end, compassion and pity.

The film opens with Denham (Robert Armstrong) talking to a ship’s captain, trying to buy some time so he can find a female lead for his newest adventure picture. Time is short, for if the harbor master Gas grenadesshould find out that the ship is laden with (undeclared) ammunition and the new "gas bombs", Denham and the Captain will land in a world of trouble. The casting agent comes aboard the ship and states that he will not send along one of his actresses unless Denham tells him what the project is all about. Denham refuses to disclose the project’s details, decides to take matters into his own hands, and storms out into the city streets to find a woman to fill the role.

After searching the streets of New York for a while, he notices a beautiful woman desperately trying to steal an apple to eat. Denham offers her warm food and drink if she’ll listen to his proposition. The woman introduces herself as Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and eagerly accepts Denham’s offer of fame and fortune. (As opposed to starving on the streets, good idea.)

Once the ship is safely in the middle of the ocean, Denham reveals his plans: He has gotten ahold of a map showing the location of an uncharted island. On said island is a legendary creature (and the future star of Denham’s film): Kong. He further explains that he wants to film the beast along with Ann in order to create his greatest picture ever. Skeptical to say the least, the Captain agrees to continue to voyage.

As they approach the island, the Captain stares in awe at the massive wall and jagged cliffs of Skull Mountain. (Many people mistakenly believe that the island is called "Skull Kong islandIsland", but the name of the island is never mentioned…only the name of the mountain: Skull Mountain.) As Denham and the crew unload the landing boats, the sound of drums becomes louder and louder. The crew discovers that the source of the drums is an elaborate ceremony performed by the island’s natives. The center of attention appears to be a virgin bride; being prepared for a symbolic wedding to Kong . (In other words: dinner time!)

When the natives spot Denham and his party, the ceremony is abruptly halted and the village chief approaches the invaders. The chief spots Ann , "…the Golden Woman", and offers to exchange 6 of his women for Ann. The deal is refused, and the belligerent natives begin approaching Denham and the others with warlike intentions. Denham, realizing that events are turning against him and the others, wisely decides to retreat back to the boat.

Later that night, Ann and the ship’s first mate, Jack Driscoll, exchange sweet words and finally a kiss. Ah, young love. The romantic interlude is interrupted when Jack is called to the bridge, leaving Ann alone to dream of her new beau. Unfortunately, a group of native warriors has canoes out to the ship, abducts Ann from the ship, and takes her back to the island to be Kong’s new bride.

The ship’s cook, Charlie, happens to spot a beaded necklace that one of the warriors lost in the scuffle while kidnapping Ann and raises the alarm. Once the others realize what has happened, a rescue party is quickly formed and they race off to the island to liberate Ann from her abductor’s clutches.

Alas, they are too late to save Ann from being bound to an altar on the other side of the massive gates leading into Kong’s realm. The villagers close the gates and strike an enormousKong Fay Wraygong on the top of the wall to signal Kong that his latest bride awaits him. As the gong is sounded, Kong pushes his way through the trees, and with a terrible roar, bursts forth from the forest and carries away the screaming Ann.

When Jack and Denham reach the island, they force open the gates and see that Ann has already been carried away. Denham and Jack quickly form a rescue party and follow Kong’s tracks through the danger-filled wilderness.

While tracking Kong through the jungle, the rescue party is forced to battle several dinosaurs before getting their first glimpse of Kong himself. Unfortunately, they get this first view while they are scrambling over a fallen tree that spans a deep chasm. Kong picks up one end of the tree and shakes the men off one by one.

An interesting bit of history here: The original King Kong release showed the men begin eaten by giant spiders and scorpions at the bottom of the chasm. The scenes were so graphic and horrifying, that people in the audience fled the theater! Those that remained continued to talk about the scenes throughout the rest of the film, paying little or no attention to the rest of the film. When the film’s director saw the audience’s reactions, he quickly cut out these scenes for the films re-release later that year. Unfortunately, these scenes were lost and have never been recovered.

As Kong violently shakes the men from the tree, Jack manages to scramble down a vine and into a hole in the cliff’s face. Kong tries to get ahold of him, but Jack jabs at his fingers with his knife until Kong hears Ann’s screams of fear (she’s about to be eaten by a tyrannosaurus rex…dangerous place, this island!). After Kong leaves, Jack shouts to Denham on the other side (he was the only person who managed to make it off the tree) that he’ll continue looking for Ann and that Denham should head back and await him.

I just want to mention the battle between Kong and the tyrannosaurus is a pleasure to behold. The stop-motion animation of the two beasts is beautiful, and the action is fast paced and exciting. In fact, the battle scene was choreographed by an ex-wrestler whose input gives an amazing sense of realism to the viscous melee. This battle is undoubtedly one of my favorite scenes in the entire film.

Kong eventually makes it back to his mountainous lair where he fights off a giant snake-like creature that tries to devour Ann. (In yet another wonderfully executed stop-motion sequence.) While Kong is distracted by the serpent, Jack manages to sneak into the cave and get a fix on Ann’s whereabouts. After dispatching the snake-thing, Kong takes Ann out on a ledge for a little quality time with his bride, peeling off a bit of her skirt with his finger and toying with her hair. (This shot was also removed from one of the re-releases as being too ‘risque’. It was returned to the film in 1971.)

While Kong and Ann get to know each other better, Jack is stealthily making his way through the cave in an effort to get closer to Ann. He is nearly discovered when he accidentally topples a loose boulder, causing Kong to leave Ann and come into the cave to investigate. While Kong is looking around for the source of the disturbance, a pterodactyl tries to fly away with Ann, but Kong returns to rescue her yet again. This time however, Jack manages to whisk Ann away while Kong is preoccupied with the dinosaur, and they plunge off the ledge and down into a swift moving river.

Now Kong is pissed. He roars in frustration and storms out of his cave to find his runaway-bride and her rescuer. Fortunately, Jack and Ann have a big enough head start to make it to the massive gates just ahead of Kong. Denham and the crew, awaiting their return, open the gates and let them through. Ann’s angry suitor is unfortunately in hot pursuit and storms the gates. The outraged Kong forces his way through and lays waste to the native’s village (with some good stomping and smashing scenes). Just as he is about to nab Denham and the others, Kong is gassed by one of the "gas bombs" and rendered unconscious.

Denham returns with Kong to New York and is to reveal him to the world via an extravagant Broadway show billed as: "KING KONG – Eighth Wonder of the World – Carl Denham’s Giant Monster". (It’s funny to hear the audience complain that the show better be worth it because the tickets cost $20!)

Kong in publicOnce the crowd is seated, Denham brings out Ann and Jack, now engaged to be married. With appropriate fanfare, Denham has the curtains pulled back revealing the captive Kong bound to a draconian steel structure for all to behold. The crowd gasps and fidgets in their seats but Denham reassures them that the chains holding Kong will not break. (Doh!)

A group of eager photographers rush the stage and begin taking pictures of Ann and Kong. Unfortunately for New York, Kong believes that their flash bulbs are somehow hurting Ann causing Kong to roar and strain against his restraints, quickly breaking free. Jack sweeps up the terrified Ann and they flee the stage as a furious Kong bursts through the walls in hot pursuit.

Frantically searching for Ann, Kong storms around New York, stomping on people, crushing trains, and generally being a pain in the ass. He eventually spots Ann in an apartment building and pulls her out of the window. With his bride in his possession once again, Kong heads for safety on the highest point he can find: The Empire State Building.

After reaching the buildings apex, Kong sets Ann down on the roof and prepares to battle a squadron of fighter planes. In a fantastic scene, the planes take run after run at Kong, firing madly with their machine guns until the mighty Kong is overcome by his injuries. Mortally wounded, Kong totters on his perch, picks up Ann for one last loving caress, and then plunges to his death on the streets below. (An interesting bit of trivia: The squadron commander and gunner are cameo appearances of the film’s directors: Cooper and Schoedsack.)

Down on the street, Denham forces his way through the crowd of gawkers, walks up to Kong’s bloodied remains and recites the film’s famous closing line: "It wasn’t the planes…It was beauty killed the beast."

Dennis Grisbeck (May 2005)

Afterthoughts

King Kong is surely one of my favorite movies. The story is tight and moves quickly, the acting is believable, and the special effects are a joy to watch even now, nearly 75 years later! This film will rightfully remain a classic for generations to come. If you purchase the DVD, I highly recommend you check out the informative “Making of King Kong” documentary that is included. And please, please, if you’re going to watch Dino De Laurentiis’s 1976 remake of "King Kong", make sure you see the original first: It is superior in every way.

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6 comments to King Kong (1933)

  • guts3d

    I really wish I could see it with the deleted spider scenes, I’ll bet they were worth the price of a ticket alone.

  • Yeah, me too. If you ever buy the DVD for this one, (at least the one that I have 🙂 ) there is a really cool documentary on the “making of” this movie. The researchers say that, unfortunately, the spider scenes were clipped out and lost forever. Damn!

    (Good to see you around again!)

  • Dr. Jeff

    Forrest J. Ackerman published a still picture of the spider scene in Famous Monsters of Filmland. Unfortunately I do not remember the issue number.

  • Oh man….I’d love to see that. Didn’t people run from the theater in panic? Even though we’re much more jaded now, it could still be pretty cool to see them.

  • Charles

    My decidedly less thrilling accounting of the scene came from a film historian who said that the filmmakers decided that the spiders eating the bodies of the dead and dying men was simply overkill, especially since it served no dramatic purpose in the narrative. So they cut the scene.

  • guts3d

    I agree with Dennis, seems tame by today’s standards.

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