King Kong (1933)
Release year: 1933
Director: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Screenwriter: James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose
Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Sam Hardy, Noble Johnson, The Tallest Darkest Leading Man in Hollywood
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #11, week 34 2014
Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) hires beauty Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to go with him and his crew to the tropical Skull Island to finish his film. There is legend claiming that an ancient creature the natives calls Kong is living on the island. When arriving they discover that the legend is true and the natives keep peace with the creature by sacrificing young girls. When they see Ann they decide that she is just Kong’s taste.
The whole idea for King Kong allegedly originated from a dream director Merian C. Cooper had of a giant gorilla attacking New York City, his first vision being a giant ape on top of the world’s largest building fighting off airplanes. Today King Kong is known by most people with two succesful remakes; King Kong (1976) by John Guillermin starring Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges, and King Kong (2005) by Peter Jackson starring Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody. The three different versions means that several generations have grown up with the giant, furry anti-hero, with the iconic vision from Cooper’s dream forever inprinted in their memory. This, the original, has a slow build up where we get to know the characters during their trip to the island. The fact that when you see the title (and poster) star is held back for so long, only makes its appearance that more effective. Made from a metal mesh skeleton, a mixture of rubber and foam for the muscle structure, and rabbit fur for his hair and with a roar created from that of a lion’s and a tiger’s run backward slowly, the true and empowering star of the movie is off course the king himself: Kong. Created with stop-motion animation he is a fantastic creation, even today, and even though the special effects pale compared to today’s standards, the tension and heart of the story will still mesmerize you into believing in this furry beast. The human cast is well played, with Armstrong (The Most Dangerous Game, 1932,) as the movie director who is willing to risk his own and everybody else’s life to make the movie he wants, and Cabot (Diamonds are forever, 1971) are good, as the hero who changed by love risks everything to save her. But the true star among the humans are the stunningly beautiful Fay Wray (The Vampire Bat, 1933) who with this movie established herself as the Queen of Screams as she brought sexappeal, vulnerability and not at least lung capacity to her most famous role as the damsel in distress, who first steals the heart of the sailor and then of the giant ape. Her performance is wonderful to watch and as her eyes burn through the screen and her screams raise the hairs on your neck you can’t help thinking that beauty may have killed the beast, but what a way to go.
When Fay Wray was offered the part she was told she would have “the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood” by Merian C. Cooper. Wray happily accepted thinking she was going to star with Cary Grant.
Several scenes were cut because they were to violent or of too sexual a character. Most of them were restored to the film in 1971; there is, however, a scene involving giant spiders that was never found. It was cut by the director himself after a screening proved the scene to be too disturbing to go with the rest of the film.
The movie grossed $90.000 on opening weekend, the biggest opening at that time, and it is often credited for saving RKO from bankruptcy.
Picture copyright: RKO