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There's little new I can probably add here, judging by the amount of
comments, but here goes. King Kong is still one of the greatest fantasy
films. It has inspired generations of filmmakers, writers, and other
artists, all of whom have been awed and thrilled by the level of
craftsmanship involved in its creation. The film haunted my nightmares
as a child; there was something absolutely frightening about Kong's
glaring eyes looming in the windows of the wrecked elevated train.
Thanks to television and repeated showings every Thanksgiving for years
(thanks WOR) I became smitten with this film. Nearly 30 years later-
post the 1976 remake, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings, etc,
I still sit down every few months to watch Kong. EVERY time, I see
something new. The detail they put into this film is phenomenal,
considering it was released long before television or VCRs could give
viewers a chance to watch it enough to notice the more subtle details.
Volumes have been written about this movie's production, but one effect
still has me puzzled. When Kong is in his cave, just before he sets Ann
Darrow (Fay Wray) in a small opening in the rocks, the head of the
elasmosaurus can be seen surfacing and submerging in the pool behind
him. If it was done in stop motion, it's the smoothest work in the
film; even the pool's water actually appears to ripple around the head.
Willis O'Brien is the man primarily credited with bringing King Kong to the screen, but in truth, Kong was the brainchild of Merian Cooper, a truly larger-than-life film producer, on whom the character of Carl Denham was modeled. Cooper had been a fighter pilot in World War I, a POW after he was shot down behind enemy lines, and- with his partner Ernest Schoedsack- had traveled to the wilds of Asia and Africa to film documentaries. Cooper imagined King Kong as the logical extension of his true life exploits; exaggerated but a recognizable caricature of his experiences. Originally he had wanted a real gorilla to portray Kong, and even wanted to have it fight a Komodo dragon! (Call the Humane Society!) We can all be grateful he encountered Willis O'Brien (who was working on his own dinosaur film- Creation) and decided to produce Kong and the monsters of Skull Island using stop-motion. I doubt anyone in 1933 could have tolerated the spectacle of a live gorilla in real combat with a Komodo dragon. I suspect the film would have either been banned outright or been little more than a grisly footnote in motion picture history. The idea was Cooper's, but the majesty and spectacle of the film belong to O'Brien. The miniature jungle settings created by O'Brien's crew with multiple glass paintings created an otherworldly quality to Skull Island that could not be duplicated by shooting on location- as Cooper had originally envisioned.
To be sure, the film is very much a product of a simpler time. However, if the acting in Kong is compared to its early 1930's contemporaries in the horror/fantasy genre, it holds up quite well. Cooper and Schoedsack understood the necessity of establishing the characters before Kong's entrance, but kept dialog to a minimum. The story is told visually, with camera-work furthering plot points that may have seemed didactic otherwise. The film is carried by not only its visual imagery, but by one of the first feature length music scores. This was an innovation that put King Kong ahead its sound contemporaries, which relied quite heavily on the spoken word and direction alone. There is a ten minute sequence in the center of the film- after the death of the tyrannosaurus until the escape of Ann and Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) from Kong's lair- that is told entirely with visuals, music, and sound effects. It is in large part due to the score that much of Kong's emotional impact is conveyed, particularly in its finale atop the Empire State Building. Steiner was able to suggest Kong's emotional state, assisting O'Brien in providing empathy to a creature who in reality was only an 18 inch high puppet.
It is a mistake to compare Kong technically or artistically with films from later decades. Consider the cultural context in which King Kong was produced. America was in the darkest days of the Depression. World War II was seven years away, and nobody outside of a few physicists knew what 'atomic bomb' meant. Kong truly was the 'Eighth Wonder of the World' just as the Empire State Building was at the time considered the greatest technological marvel. As Cooper envisioned it, Kong was an adventure escapist film, offering Depression-Era audiences something that at the time would be considered the 'ultimate in adventure.' Whether or not Peter Jackson's proposed remake of Kong can maintain these qualities of showmanship and adventure is a matter of wait and see: to today's audiences Kong no longer represents something 'all powerful' or able to 'lick the world' as Carl Denham described him back in 1933. Even setting the remake in 1933 will have its difficulties, since the film will then be a period piece rather than a contemporary story, as both the original film and the 1976 remake were, and audience involvement may be more limited.
Like Star Wars, King Kong was a made for the movies myth, not based directly on any previous source other than Cooper and O'Brien's imagination. It spawned one of the first monster movie sequels, one remake, (so far) and countless imitations, parodies, and merchandise. Among fantasy films, only the Wizard of Oz can rival King Kong for the sheer longevity of popularity, but while Oz provided escapist entertainment, it did so in a lighter fashion. Kong provided escapism but of a more disturbing and haunting kind.
Here's to ya, Obie, and Coop!
Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.
First, the 1933 version of KING KONG, is for me, the greatest fantasy film
ever made. Sure, there are fantasy films with far better special effects
(THE MATRIX, JURASSIC PARK) better acting (the acting here is of the
period!) but KING KONG is a film of tremendous excitement. The suspense,
pacing, sensuality, violence all adds up to a blood pumping experience. We
all read about the film's history, being made, released, censored, restored,
and how it's been picked to itsy-bits by every arm-chair film
What very few film-makers have focused on is the film-making itself in KING KONG. It has superb build-up. We are wondering what is on the island as we approach it. Then we wonder what is behind the wall on the island. Then we wonder what gigantic beast is sharing that frightening jungle with the rescuers, trying to save Fay Wray. The film is faultlessly edited. Many scenes begin or end with people running for their lives. Unneeded scenes just don't exsist (we go from Kong knocked out on Skull Island to his Broadway debut. We don't need to see what happens inbetween!) then there's Max Steiner's perfect music score. Before KONG, most music scores were borrowed snippets of classical or popular themes, but Steiner's score follows the action to an inch! Also, he does a great number of abstract musical strokes (I.e the clash of drums when Kong beats the giant snake to it's death. The lovely string piece that jumps to pulsating chase music in a milli-second.) When I hear of a friend say they never saw this film, it's like hearing a child say they never had ice cream. Long Live Kong!
How many films can truly be said to be definitive? The answer is
probably "not many", but the original 1933 version of King Kong is
certainly one of them. For its time, every aspect is innovative.
First-of-their-kind special effects, first-of-its-kind plot, famous
performances and a final sequence that remains unequalled as an
eye-popping cinematic experience. The quality of cinematography and
visual trickery has progressed a long way since 1933 - so the special
effects obviously look rather primitive to 21st Century eyes - but
anyone with a shred of common sense will still be astounded by what
they see. This is movie history in the making. Had this never been
made, the whole history of films may have taken a different course.
Ace film director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) hires an unemployed, attractive New York woman Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to star in his new picture. He takes her by boat to remote Skull Island where, according to legend, there lives an awesome god-like beast named Kong. Denham's plan is to shoot a variation of the Beauty and the Beast story, using Ann as his beauty and Kong as his beast. Everyone involved gets more than they bargained for when Ann is kidnapped by the island natives and offered as a sacrifice to Kong. She is kidnapped by a gigantic prehistoric ape and saved only by the courage of ship's mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot). But Denham has one more trick up his sleeve when he captures Kong and takes the beast back to New York. You don't really think those chains will hold him, do you?
Virtually every monster movie ever made owes something to King Kong - even colossal modern hits like Jurassic Park, The Lost World and Godzilla (not to mention thousands of small scale homages such as The Land Unknown and Gorgo). It is arguably the most influential film of all-time. I genuinely envy people who were lucky enough to experience this film during its 1933 opening week - what must they have thought? Did they realize they were witnessing something utterly extraordinary? I could go on all day giving reasons why you should see it, but it would be pointless. It can all be summed up in one sentence: if you have even the slightest interest in movies SEE THIS FILM!
As a guy whose pushing 52, I'm proud to say that this movie has been a profound influence on my life and is largely instrumental into launching me into a career as an art director. I've seen this movie perhaps over 1,000 times. Before the advent of VHS, I would catch it anywhere in L.A. where there was a revival house. Saw it countless times before the "lost" footage was restored (which puts a competely different spin on the complex character of Kong). I have a rare tape recording of the original Steiner "prologue Music" lasting over ten minutes (dubbed for me by a collector friend) which I don't think has made it onto the excellent Turner/Rhino CD soundtrack. And still I see something new upon each screening. I first saw Kong in 1956 on the local "Million Dollar Movie" show, a weekly feature of KHJ TV-9 - an RKO-General station. I remember the scenes of Kong throwing the "wrong" woman to her death as still intact...as well as a few feet of film where a New York fire engine flips-over after going around the corner (I've never seen that bit since). I was in a film class being taught by Rudy Behlmer at Art Center in 1971 when he matter-of-factly screened the "lost" footage in class (he had gotten access to it). I've seen nitrate prints screened at the L.A. County Museum of Art, UCLA and MOMA. I have seen this film with Fay Wray in attendance. I don't think I've ever missed a screening anywhere locally to the best of my knowledge. What bothers me is that today's audiences may not be able to project themselves back into time and try to relive the thrilling film-going experience circa 1933. They cannot grasp or accept the dialogue or style of acting at face-value; many consider it corny...or over-the-top. Yet a comparison between Kong and say Jurassic Park III finds the latter's dialogue so stiltedly puerile and instantly forgettable that it cannot stand the test of time even in the present, let alone seventy years. In Kong, Bruce Cabot portrays a "natural" mug who plays his part beautifully as an uncouth mate aboard ship suddenly sharing his space with one of the prettiest women of all time (Fay Wray's looks are timeless, and she is still a "hottie" even by today's standards) . Is there any wonder that similarities between Cabot and Harrison Ford as "Indiana Jones" are not coincidental? If Cabot were alive today, he'd be the one earning millions. Robert Armstrong is perfect playing an impresario so full of energy he bursts at the seams. This is the way show people talked during the third decade of the Twentieth Century...full of what they used to call ballyhoo (check out Jimmy Cagney in "Footlight Parade made in the same year for the same kind of high-voltage enthusiasm). Frank Reicher is totally believable as the captain, lending an even greater amount of quasi-realism to the fable. Never discussed is fact that this movie is shot almost documentary-style...it has a mythical "preserved-in-amber" feel about it. It's as if what you are seeing is truly real...folklore-become-fact...and that the scenes unfolding actually happened once upon a time in 1933. Who cannot visit New York City today and NOT think of King Kong on the rampage close to 70 years ago? I urge anyone who has not seen "King Kong" on the big screen to do so. When you hear the any of the remarkable sound effects as you view the film, you will become a convert; for example, just listen to the all-too-real crunching of the Allosaurus' jawbone just before Kong ends its life (a death made all-the-more poignant by the way the carnivore is introduced to the audience-by innocently and realistically SCRATCHING ITS HEAD WITH ITS CLAW as it enters frame before the fight). Absolute Perfection in a movie made up of absolute perfections. I could yammer on and on. But I won't. All I can tell you is that for these and countless other reasons this film will always rate a 10-out-of-10. It is still the Greatest Adventure Movie Of All Time.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY KING KONG! This month marks the 70th anniversary of the release of the classic 1933 movie King Kong. Produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, King Kong is a tragic tale of a giant ape that is taken from his jungle home and put on display in the big city of New York. He escapes while pursuing a girl he has become enamored with and dies a tragic death at the hands of a squadron of Biplanes. Who among us can forget the classic ending line `It was Beauty that killed the beast'. King Kong played to record numbers during its East Coast release in the first week in March 1933(It was released in April on the West Coast). In two theaters in New York the film grossed $89,931 smashing all records. Keep in mind this was during the depression! Many film makers have drawn inspiration from King Kong's tragic tale. Craftsman such as Godzilla director, Ishiro Honda , Ray Harryhausen,( who worked with King Kong effects artist Willis O'Brien on his film MIGHTY JOE YOUNG for which O'Brien won the very first special effects Oscar) and
Peter Jackson have claimed to be inspired by Kong's dynamic presence.
Willis O'Brien who created the incredible stop motion effects in King Kong tried to create interest in an idea he had been working on that had King Kong battling a creature like Frankenstein only larger. He hoped to make the film by using his stop-motion process to animate both Kong and the Frankenstein monster. He was unable to interest any of the U.S. Studios in his idea so he approached a Japanese studio, Toho, with his concept. The project fell through and Willis O'Brien passed away in 1962 his dream unfulfilled. Shortly after his death, Toho released King Kong vs. Godzilla which featured a story line almost identical to his King Kong vs. Frankenstein script except that the Frankenstein monster was replaced by Godzilla.
Little did Cooper and Shoedsack realize what an impact their film would have on the American culture. After the events of 9/11, the internet was bombarded by images of King Kong perched atop the twin towers defending them from the terrorists airplanes. Kong can be found in just about every New York souvenir shop on everything from pens to T -shirts. Todd McFarlane released his own more sinister version of King Kong in his Movie Maniacs line of action figures. Even now Peter Jackson is planning to remake this classic film. King Kong was voted as one of the top 100 Classic American films of all time by the American Film Institute (AFI) and TV Guide named King Kong atop the Empire State Building the Fourth Greatest Movie Moment.
Even 70 years later, King Kong continues to enthrall millions of new fans due to the extensive showings on television and video. King Kong has been shown on television more than almost any other film. Surprisingly, King Kong has never been released on DVD in the United States although a brand new DVD is planned for release in 2004 including never before seen footage and enhanced video and audio.
Merian C. Cooper said it best-"'Kong' was never intended to be anything but the best damned adventure film ever made, which it is; and that's all it is." Happy Birthday King Kong and thank you keeping the child in all of alive.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Pretty much sums up the movie, doesn't it? Who hasn't heard of King
Kong? This movie is a major part of my childhood, it's one of the first
horror films that I ever saw and I couldn't get enough of that giant
ape. My mom always laughed at me because this is the first movie that
made me cry, I rooted for King Kong all the way, all he wanted was that
hot little blonde and to fight dinosaurs. Not too much to ask for. But
why is King Kong so great? Why is it still very memorable? Besides the
story that was incredibly interesting, the effects are absolutely
amazing for it's time. When I was a kid, I seriously thought that they
found a giant ape to star in the movie, give me a little credit, you
believe anything at 4 years old. But this was the first movie to have
tiny figures brought to life on film that were made to look like they
were 80 feet tall. King Kong is character of it's own and this film is
Carl Denham, a film director who is famous for shooting animal pictures in remote and exotic locations, is unable to hire an actress to star in his newest project and so wanders the streets searching for a suitable girl. He chances upon unemployed Ann Darrow, as she is caught trying to steal an apple. Denham pays off the grocer then buys Ann a meal and offers her the lead role in his latest installment. Although Ann is apprehensive, she has nothing to lose and eagerly agrees. They set sail aboard the Venture, an old tramp steamer that travels for weeks in the direction of Indonesia, where Denham claims they will be shooting. Despite his ongoing declarations that women have no place on board ships, the ship's first mate Jack Driscoll is obviously becoming attracted to Ann. Denham then describes something monstrous connected to the island he's sailing too, a legendary entity known to the islanders as "Kong". Finally arriving at the island's shore, they see a native village perched on a peninsula, cut off from the bulk of the island by an enormous wall. A landing party, including the filmmaker and his leading lady, goes ashore and encounters the natives, who are about to hand over a girl to Kong as a ritual sacrifice. Although Denham, Englehorn, Jack and Ann are hiding behind foliage, the native chief spots them and approaches the troop. Captain Englehorn is able to understand the native speech, and at Denham's urging makes friendly overtures to the chief. When he gets a clear look at Ann, the chief begins speaking with great energy. Englehorn translates this as "look at the golden woman!" The chief proposes to swap six native women for Ann, an offer Denham delicately declines as he and his party edge away from the scene, assuring the chief that they will return tomorrow to get better acquainted. Back on the Venture, Jack and Ann openly express their love for each another. When Jack is called away to the captain's quarters, a stealthy contingent of natives captures Ann, takes her back to the wall and presents her to Kong in an elaborate ceremony. Kong emerges from the jungle and is revealed to be a giant gorilla. The Venture crew returns to the village and takes control of the wall; half of the crew then go after Kong.
King Kong was a first of a kind horror movie, it had a story, terrific actors, amazing effects and a wonderful script. Faye Ray was the first actress I really looked up too as a kid, she was absolutely beautiful and such a great screamer, she made me want to lay in a monkey's paw for a while yes, I also needed to get out more as a child. But hey, you have to admit, if you ever wake up late for work, I'd rather take a giant ape then the bus or car to be caught in rush hour. Anyways, is this movie worth the look? Absolutely, it's a true classic that I guarantee you'll love. It's a great movie and still stands the test of time of making us believe that there are giant apes in third world countries.
I could never tire of this movie, i've seen it so many times and always watch it when it's on tv-in fact i watched it just a week ago! It's one of those films that is rewatchable countless times, like many other 'monster' movies. But this is the best 'monster' movie , it is so well made-it is a masterpiece. Everything is right-the effects,the photography,the score,pacing,continuity. My favourite part would be the big middle chunk on the island. Ann captured-natives dance-a sacrifice to kong-rescue mission-defeat of stegasoraus-swamp adventure-swamp escape-log catastrophe-trex battle-snake creature fight-pterydactil disposal-rescue/escape-kong wrecks village-gas bomb. There is almost no let up in the action in this sequence. I have seen two versions of the film though. One was cut, the other wasn't. Some scenes that were cut: kong pulls a native out of his hut and stomps him into the mud. Brilliant. Also the bits when kong chews a native, and when he chews on a new yorker. And when he throws a woman down from a scraper into the street. Needless cutting in my book. A lot of people complain about the acting. The acting is swell. Robert Armstrong is perfect as the over enthusiastic director who is completely responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent people but has absolutely no scruples about it. He provides the silent chuckles of the movie e.g my one line summary is actually what denham says when he sees the savages and their dancing. And Bruce Cabot to Fay Wray: ' hey, i guess i love you!' in a moment of clarity. Overall a smashing film with a great climax. And kong is supposed to have the hots for fay wray too when he plays with her and her clothes
"He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to
civilisation merely a captive, a show to gratify your curiosity," the
director says to the vaudeville house, before a curtain goes up and we see
Kong suspended with his arms nailed out, as if on a cross.
Self-reflection and satire of Hollywood is everywhere, which came as a great shock to me. There is a great subtext: the story is about a filmmaker who travels to overseas locations, such as jungles, to film his movies - he cares nothing for the cultures he may be violating, all he cares is capturing the spectacle on film. If he is unable to capture it on film, he tells us early on in the picture, he'll destroy it without a second thought. This is a film about the emptiness and recklessness of Hollywood, yet the satire is not bitter, but tongue-in-cheek in a way that follows James Whale's advice for putting subtexts in genre films, ie, not spoiling it for those viewers who don't "get the joke." So Kong can be enjoyed as a pure genre picture. The performances have false moments, but as an adventure picture it develops well, taking us gradually further towards the mystery of the legend of Kong, then follows Kong as the whole drama of his attempted capture plays out. The music also, is great, and along with mist and good cinematography helps create a mysterious atmosphere. The beginning is fairly talky, but it picks up. And the lovely Fay Wray offers reason enough to watch this on her own. If I was Kong, i know i'd beat the hell out of any dinosaur there was in order to protect her!
Luckily, King Kong came in the period between 1930 and 1934 when there was no production code in Hollywood, so content was not censored. A couple years later we wouldn't have had the pleasure of seeing Fay Wray clad in a torn to shreds jungle jane costume, and especially not then falling in the water wearing said outfit! And probably not the degree of violence we have here: in one particular fight Kong has with T-rex he breaks the dinosaur's head by pulling its jaws so far open!
The vintage special effects are great. They're so fun for quaintness value, but in places they're actually really good. The wrestling match with the T-rex, when Kong cracks a giant snake's back, and especially when he shakes the men off the log - all these sequences in particular were very well done. When I think about it, these effects aren't as quaint next to today's as you might initially think. How would we do a convincing giant ape onscreen (how will Peter Jackson do it in 2005)? By computer? Most of our completely computerised creatures at this writing are ridiculously fake looking. Try the ridiculous creature in Hulk? Everyone commented on how fake it looked. I'll go for the much more fun stop-motion Hickenlooper Kong over Hulk anyday.
And the famous climax in New York City, which ends on the Empire State Building with Kong swatting at planes, is marvellous.
This movie was awesome. After recently watching it for the first time since
I was five years old I was amazed. The production and editing were
brilliant, and the effects left me stunned. The small attention to detail
throughout the movie complete this 1933 masterpiece.
8.5 out of 10
So much has been written about this movie, which has been analyzed more
than all but a few films, it's difficult to come up with anything new
to say about it but to say that it's magnificently made, and dated as
it is in certain respects, it plays as well as anything from seventy
years ago, and has a dream logic of its own, which, if one submits to
it, still works its charms.
A few points:
i.) There are no wholly sympathetic characters in the movie. While some people are more likable than others, there's really no one to identify with. Fantastic as the subject matter is, it's filmed almost like a documentary about an adventurer who captures a giant ape, takes it to New York, where it escapes, wreaks havoc in the city, takes down the el as if it were toy, and stomps on a lot of innocent people.
ii.) I've never heard more screaming in a movie than in this one. Men, women, children, natives, sailors, white people, dark people, you name it, they scream, often and loudly. Fay Wray is the chief screamer here, but there are plenty of others, such as the man chased up a tree by a dinosaur, and the sailors shaken off the log by Kong, as they fall to a horrifying death in the ravine. When Kong attacks the village there's screaming galore, then more screaming in old Manhattan, when the big guy breaks out of the theater. For his part, Kong does not scream. He roars. The great ape is angry, not terrified, while the people are only afraid.
iii.) As one of the chief characters is a documentary film-maker, it's impossible (for me anyway) to avoid making associations between what is going on in the film and the film-making process itself, as I wonder to what extent this entered into the minds of them men who made the movie, Merian Cooper and Ernest Shoedsack. To put it another way, film-maker Carl Denham wants to film the beast to show movie audiences something weird and exotic, so as to tickle their fancy. What he finds is so fantastic that he scraps the idea of making a movie and brings the creature back to civilization and puts it on display. But the beast has fallen in love with a woman, and when he thinks press photographers are hurting her, breaks free from his chains and goes on a rampage through Manhattan. Real life, which was supposed to make a "swell movie", proved so astonishing that it had to be brought back alive, to be shown to people as something that actually exists (i.e. not a thing made up by movie men), but in the process something went wrong, and the great creature went berserk. King Kong is in other words about a movie that didn't get made because life interfered, and proved more fantastic than the film that was abandoned. As such one might call it a cautionary tale (movie men, stick to your job). Or is it about the movies themselves? How, in their attempt to bottle life and sell it back to moviegoers as entertainment, like Kong, they have a way of breaking free and becoming real all over again.
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