1 Year, 100 Movies: #41 King Kong (1933)

king-kong-1933-posterFor 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!

King Kong is one of the most culturally important films, single handily establishing the genre of Kaiju, or big monster movie. Any science fiction film which includes a foreign ‘other’ can trace its lineage to King Kong. Any space explorer film that encounters unknown and/or hostile alien life forms is King Kong in space. ‘Kong‘ is a special effects extravaganza and establishes the viewer’s love of watching stuff get smashed on screen. This film made the B movie starlet – an attractive woman who could act scared and scream well – a commercially viable part of mainstream film. Fay Wray is our original ‘Queen B’ – and does an amazing job.

‘King Kong’ was directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. It is the story of Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) a motion picture man, looking for a girl to star in his new adventure film. He runs across Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), and invites her to dinner and sweet talks her into joining the film. They take a ship to Skull Island – the exotic location on which they will be filming. There they immediately run across an indigenous tribe performing a ritual sacrifice. The tribe is angry with the interruption, and the crew goes back to the ship – however the tribesman kidnap Darrow and offer her as the human sacrifice to King Kong- an enormous Gorilla that resides beyond the high wall in the jungle. Kong is pretty hilarious to watch today as far as special effects go, but it pulled out all the stops for the time. From multiple exposures and composited images to large sets and extravagant painted backdrops to stop motion animation and enormous puppets, the special effects crew led by Willis O’Brien used every trick they had. The movements of the ape are sometimes jerky and mechanical- which even the audiences in 1933 found awkward, but they still give an air of creepiness.

John ‘Jack’ Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) was the first mate on the ship, who had claimed that women had no place on board ships, but became attracted to Darrow. Before she was captured they had expressed their love for one another. Driscoll and crew attempt to rescue Darrow- but meanwhile Kong has taken a liking to Darrow, and tries to protect her from the other monstrous creatures living in the jungle- fighting a giant snake and T-Rex. Driscoll catches up to them, and escapes with Darrow, but Kong pursues them and is captured. Denham chains Kong and takes him back to New York- where he escapes during an exhibition, grabs Darrow, and heads to the Empire State Building. This is where the resolution takes a manly/midcentury American view- we’ve brought this dangerous creature into a foreign environment, and it has reacted in a fashion consistent with its nature. Let’s shoot it dead.

“King Kong” was never a film intended to have great acting or an exceptional plot line. It was always meant to be a showcase of special effects that would dazzle and amaze- and in this respect could be one of the most important films ever made. It very well could be the single film responsible for moving special effect driven films from the B film slot to the A film position- (into the mainstream). Any modern summer block buster billing itself as a must see spectacle certainly owes a debt to “King Kong.”

In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns:



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