Thursday Night Movie Club
King Kong (1933)
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Release Date: 7 April 1933

Director: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Fay Wray
Robert Armstrong
Bruce Cabot
Frank Reicher
Sam Hardy
Noble Johnson
Steve Clemente
James Flavin
King Kong
Ann Darrow
Carl Denham
John Driscoll
Captain Englehorn
Charles Weston
Native Chief
Witch King
Second Mate Briggs
King Kong (1933) movie poster King Kong (1933) movie poster King Kong (1933) movie poster
Robert Armstrong, Frank Reicher, Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot in King KongKing Kong (1933) is "The Granddaddy" of all monster films! Subsequent monster films will be judged against this film. None will measure up!

In Depression Era New York City, nature/animal documentary filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is planning his most extravagent film project. He carefully guards the film's subject, even from the steamship's Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) and his First Mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot). Denham faces a daunting challenge. Early versions of "focus groups" say Denham's films would be greater successes if he included a female lead character. Denham's problem: no agent in New York is willing to commit one of their actresses on such a secretive project. Denham cannot say with any certainty, when the voyage will end.

All Denham will say is that he is following clues regarding the legend "Kong". Only one person has seen Kong and lived to tell the tale. This survivor describes an island that looks like a giant skull, hence it's name Skull Island. No one is exactly sure of the island's location. Denham has a map directing him to an unexplored region of the South Pacific. The island is shrouded by a large fog bank.

Denham and crew explore Skull Island in King KongDuring the voyage, Denham lets some clues slip. He shoots test footage of Ann Darrow on the deck. He dresses her in a "Beauty and the Beast" style costume. Denham tells Ann to slowly look up... higher... higher. You see it. It's monsterous. Scream Ann... Scream! First mate Driscoll calmly asks the captain, "I wonder what he is really going to find."

What they find on Skull Island is even more fantastic than imaginable. A native tribe is in the middle of a ceremony to Kong. A virgin is to be given to Kong as his bride. Behind the natives is an immense wall built of logs, rope and mud. A gate leading into the interior of Skull Island is some 30 feet high. An interesting question: Why build a door that size?

Denham and his landing party are discovered. The ceremony has been contaminated. The native chieftan espies Ann. He has never seen a woman with "golden" hair. He wishes to buy Ann. Later that same night, the natives paddle out to the steamship and kidnap Ann. Denham and the ship's crew race to the island to rescue Ann. They are too late! Kong has taken her.

The native ceremony in King KongUp to this point in the film, directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack have cleverly crafted a suspenseful, action thriller. Denham is so secretive, neither the crew or the audience know what he is after. Denham isn't too certain. He has packed as many supplies as the ship can carry. Will it be enough?

Once on the island, Denham is surprised to find a native civilization. The ceremony to Kong proves Denham has found his island. King Kong skyrockets to heights unknown when Kong makes his first appearance. Denham, Driscoll, and most especially Ann Darrow, are shocked beyond belief to discover Kong is a thirty-foot tall, gigantic ape!

In reality, Kong is only sixteen inches tall. He is brought to life by the technique of stop-motion photography. All of the fantastic creatures populating Skull Island are some form of mechanical armiture. Using matting techniques to seamlessly combine the animation with the live actors brings King Kong to a new level of motion picture making. Kong is covered in fur. Handling him caused his fur to move uncontrollably. The result is Kong looks even more realistic.

Kong attacks Englehorn's crew in King KongThe sets and background plates are as detailed at the creatures. Skull Island looks like no where on Earth and yet it looks real. There are mountains, caves, rivers, lakes, swamps, and strangling vegetation at every step. Even though filmed in black-and-white, the film is visually stunning. As Jack and Ann try to escape Kong by climbing down vines, the background clearly shows the wall in the village and Captain Englehorn's ship in the background. The depth and perspective of height and distance is amazing.

Kong is nothing more than a raging brute. He kills everything that crosses his path: a Tyranosaurus Rex, pterodactyls, lizard, and half of Englehorn's men. Only Ann Darrow can temporarily calm the savage beast. Has Kong fallen for Ann? Who knows? Ann does not have many quiet moments with Kong before some new danger strikes. Kong clearly protects Ann. Is this Love or is this a spoiled child who wants to keep his new prized possession all to himself?

Kong breaks through the wall in King KongAt the center of King Kong is a problem: the mere act of observation can completly destroy the balance of a delicate ecostystem. The natives learn that there are others like them. They learn their God (Kong) can be captured and taken away. How will the villagers survive once their invinsible God is mortal? Kong could have stayed safe on his mountain. Instead, blind rage causes him to chase after Ann come hell or high water. Kong's ego results in his blood boiling and one of the singular moments in the film and in cinematic history: Kong breaking through the gate! The scene is frighteningly stunning!

There is also another theme in King Kong, do not fool around with Mother Nature! Denham's film project is ruined. The only way to turn disaster into a huge profit is to take Kong back to civilization and put him on display. Denham's ego has the same result as Kong's: utter destruction. Kong promptly escapes from his chains of chrome steel. Instead of seeking safety, Kong rampages through unfamiliar ground wrecking everything in his path searching for Ann Darrow. Kong finds one woman, sniffs her, realizes she is not Ann and calmly drops her 20 stories to her death. Kong stomps people escaping a trashed "L" train just like he stomped the natives on Skull Island. Kong is no racist. Kong is not nice.

Kong atop the Empire State building in King KongOnce Kong finds Ann, he takes her to the safest place he can find, the top of the Empire State building in New York.Only airplanes can bring Kong down from there. King Kong ends with a jaw-dropping sequence as biplanes swoop in riddling Kong with a hail storm of bullets. Kong is subdued and eventually killed. Strangely, the audience reaction is sympathy towards Kong. He didn't deserve to die like an animal. Kong should have been left in peace, well, that is after he stomped the natives into pieces. He would eventually get over Ann.

The acting is great. Robert Armstrong is over-the-top as movie producer/director Denham. Armstrong portrays Denham as an infernal optimist. No catastrophe gets him down. No problem is insurmountable. He always finds an answer to each problem that arises. Fay Wray is sexy, sweet and a bit of a tease as Ann Darrow. Ann is down on her luck and leaps at the chance of a real job with a well-known film producer. She is as excited as Denham. Grounding the film yet adding a touch of comedy is the droll but not dull John Driscoll portrayed by Bruce Cabot. Cabot's monotone delivery brings the film to earth but his gestures betray Driscoll's growing affection and love for Ann.

King Kong is a great film. There is high adventure, action, danger, suspense, a love triangle(possibly two depending on how you look at it), and plenty of mayhem. The stop-motion animation is amazing in its realism. In fact, the whole film is amazing in its realism. King Kong is one of the best examples why to watch films on a big screen. Enjoy! Enjoy! Enjoy! King Kong isn't going away any time soon.