King Kong (1933) Review

King Kong (1933) Director: Merian C Cooper and Enrest B. Shoedsack

“Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty that killed the beast…”


Starring Fay Wray, King Kong is perhaps the most famous adventure/horror flick of all time. Initially, the actress Wray believed that the RKO film would feature the ‘tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood’, such as Cary Grant, rather than a 50 foot ape. She was unpleasantly surprised with the outcome and wrote about it later in her autobiography entitled “On the Other Hand”, referring to the giant Kong hand she was grabbed by in the film. The directors reused the forest sets from their earlier film entitled The Most Dangerous Game, released in 1932. Once the censorship laws took effect in 1934, the film was re-released four times with four violent scenes edited out of its release. It was later remade in 2005 by Peter Jackson, who included a new rendition of the lost spider sequences that were edited out and lost to history, and there were at least eight other follow-up Kong movies along with video games remade after the film. Remarkably, King Kong was nominated for no Academy Awards, however speculations abound as to whether it would have won if the “special effects” category was in existence at the time for its  innovative stop-motion techniques. In addition, for the first time in history, RKO’s sound department thematically matched the score with the action sequences of the film in order to intensify the experience. King Kong launched the entire ‘giant beast’ sub-genre for future generations, especially in Japan.

The film begins with an old Arabic proverb: “And the Prophet said: ‘And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead.'” Its opening setting is in a New Jersey dock where an excessively large ship is prepping to leave. A young filmmaker goes out to find a young girl, an aspiring film actress, and persuades her to star in his big film: “It’s money and adventure and fame. It’s the thrill of a lifetime and a long sea voyage that starts at six o’clock tomorrow morning.” Ann, the young girl, finally agrees in pursuit of fame and fortune as an actress. When she boards the ship she befriends the monkey on board, foreshadowing of what is to come as one of the sailors says, “Beauty and the Beast, eh?”

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As they approach the fog-shrouded “skull island” they notice the giant wall constructed -the wall was originally used in the 1927 epic entitled King of Kings and it was burned down in the evacuation of Atlanta scenes of Gone with the Wind. The crew approaches the island and finds a ritual sacrifice in process by the natives, meanwhile Driscoll, one of the sailors, has been falling in love with Ann. The natives notice the crew standing in the trees and they confront one another, the natives want Ann to sacrifice but the crew denies and returns to the ship. However, while alone on the deck of the ship, the natives row out in the moonlight and steal Ann for the sacrifice.

Kong, the fifty foot ape, appears out of the forest and discovers Ann tied up for the sacrifice. He tenderly unties her and takes her deep into the jungle, closely followed by Driscoll. He catches up to them and together Driscoll and Ann escape down a hanging vine and return to the native tribal village closely followed by Kong who is then gassed and brought back to New York on the S.S. Venture for display.

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“He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive — a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World.”

He is announced to an upper class audience as the “eighth wonder of the world!” With the constant flash photography, Kong becomes enraged and breaks free of his chains killing people as he breaks out of the auditorium and climbs the empire state building. He sees a woman screaming and drops her to the ground but he grabs Ann and carries her to the top of the building as planes begin to encircle and shoot at him. He grabs and destroys one, but is eventually shot in the throat and chest. Realizing he is dying, he tenderly looks at Ann one last time and gently strokes her hair with his massive hand before being shot again and falling to the ground below where his lifeless body creates a massive crater.

The famous closing lines of the film:
Police Officer – “Well Denham (the director), the airplanes got him.”
Denham – “Oh, no. It wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.”

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