King Kong (Review)
The granddaddy of all giant monster films! An icon of film! The Eight Wonder of the World! It holds up pretty well for being 72 years old. Sure, effects have come a long way since then, but aside from a few points in the beginning, King Kong keeps pretty much action filled, and follows a modern style pacing after the first half hour. The “Beauty killed the beast” message has been repeated countless times, especially in the dozens and dozens of knock offs over the years. Willis O’Brien pulled off a masterpiece here, and it didn’t take any Dino De Laurentiis, any Twin Towers, any robot apes, or any CGI nonsense. Big budget remakes cannot improve on this, and Peter Jackson’s upcoming version will not take the spotlight away from this one, either.
Bigshot producer Carl Denham is looking for the next big movie, he produces nature movies, bringing the wilds of the jungle to the big screen. For his newest film he is headed to a secret location, and he needs to find a girl to put in the movie so as to increase box office draw. The rules were the same then as they are now, it seems. No regular actress is willing to trod off into the unknown for Denham, but luckily for Denham the Depression is going on, so he picks up a girl off the street who he finds trying to steal some food. This is Ann Darrow, played by Fay Wray, who this film made into a scream queen. I never see women that hot on the street as beggars, must be a Depression thing. It surely can’t be Hollywood related…
So they are off, to their secret destination, that Denham won’t even tell the Captain, Englehorn, played by Frank Reicher, who just looks like a ship captain. It’s uncanny, the casting here was so completely on the mark it’s scary. First Officer Jack Driscoll (that’s a Hollywood Hero’s name if I ever heard one) doesn’t like them women things about his ship, so you know immediately they will be in love by the second act. Or he will kill her and wear her skin. They head for an unnamed island with a giant Skull Mountain. The island is never called Skull Island, though it is always referred to as such. It’s like in Destroy All Monsters, where the Monster home was called “Monsterland” but became “Monster Island” because everyone just called it that. Skull Island also features a giant door from olden days, and the legend of Kong, which no one on the boat knows what it is, but Denham is determined to film it.
The natives of Skull Island are played by a bunch of black actors in makeup, despite the island being in the Pacific, which would make them have to be Polynesian. They dance around in typical thirties Hollywood stereotype fashion, and as the white men seeing them dancing has ruined their production of the Bride of Kong, they want to buy the white woman, Ann Darrow. The boat crew leaves for the day, to return tomorrow, but that night Ann is stolen by tribesmen. They do a rush performance of the Bride of Kong dance and offer her up, and watch from safely on the other side of the wall. This movie plays into the whole “they took our women!” fear, so the white men go to get their girl back (they even tell the Chinese chef to stay onboard, though they do say it’s because he’s a chef, and that makes him alive enough to be in the sequel.) They shoot their way to the door, but by then, King Kong has appeared in all his stop motion glory, and taken Ann away. Half of the men go after him, lead by Jack Driscoll and Denham.
First thing they encounter is a stegosaurus running around. It’s one of them evil stegosauruses that attacks without warning, but a gas bomb Denham created brings it down. This is the first of many horrible things that will attack our group or Kong, making the middle portion of the film full of action and danger. Kong has a considerable lead on the men, as each step of his is like thirty of a normal person. Kong walks through a lake, so they build a raft to take across as a shortcut. The lake is not empty, and contains a meat eating brontosaurus (apatosaurus). Brontosaurus knocks the raft over and chomps on a few of the sailors, then chases another up a tree, who is graphically eaten. The survivors are not stopped, and they keep on chasing after Kong. They chase too fast, and get trapped on a log bridge as Kong approaches (except for Denham, who is caught on a tree.) Jack manages to climb down into a small cave at the top of the cliff, but the rest of the men have to hang on to the log bridge for dear life as Kong starts swinging it around, and they all fall to their doom one by one. Kong then turns his attention to grabbing Jack, but his knife staves off Kong long enough for Kong to get distracted by a Tyrannosaurus Rex that is attacking Ann.
Before the cool Ape King vs. Dinosaur King battle, we shall point out that there was a deleted scene here where we saw the bodies of the men get eaten by spiders and lizards, that was removed for being to graphic, and was lost so hasn’t been restored. All we get to see is some chameleon looking thing climbing up to eat Jack, who is stopped by the knife as well. So on to the T Rex scene. This is a great fight. The not the first big monster battle in the movies, but more memorable than the few before, and still holds up today. Kong defeats the king of the dinosaurs, though he is helped by the T Rex’s lack of atomic breath. After the titanic battle, Kong goes to his cave home in Skull Mountain, and fights a snake-like dinosaur in another cool battle, and then battles a pteradon who tries to snack on Ann. Jack manages to steal her away at this point, and they sprint to the giant door, where Denham has made his way back to and gotten the remaining men ready. Kong is fast, though, and bursts through the door soon after. The natives freak, with good reason as Kong starts devouring them and trampling them. Denham gets a gas bomb which takes Kong down, but then Denham has the bright idea to take Kong back to New York for a show. Does anyone anywhere think this would ever be a good idea?
It’s showtime! King Kong, the eight wonder of the world, is on display, and it’s opening night of the show. Denham is hosting, and Jack and Ann are there, and they are also engaged to be married now. The press is also there, to ruin everything. Denham opens the curtain, and the audience, who paid up to $20 for tickets, gets their first glimpses of Kong. Kong is chained up so he can’t move. Now, is this the whole show? Pay lots of money to see a giant gorilla chained up? Boring. Denham tries to liven it up by telling the story of Kong’s capture, but that isn’t really worth the money, either. We need the King Kong dancers, or the King Kong dramatic play, or the King Kong ballet. Plus, Kong chained up wouldn’t fly today with the ASPCA and other groups, why should an animal be chained up like that? The press comes out and starts taking pictures, including using the ridiculous three-bulbed flasher, which sets off Kong as he feels they are attacking Ann. Kong breaks free, leaving Denham and the chain manufactures ripe for lawsuits, and starts to tear through the city looking for Ann. A non-Ann is pulled from her room and dropped. Kong tracks down where Jack and Ann fled too, and he grabs Ann, and heads toward the Empire State Building.
For local gunplanes are called, and soon they are circling the tower ready to fight. Kong sets down Ann, and that gives the planes the opening they need to start shooting. Kong fights valiantly, and even manages to get one of the planes that gets too close, but in the end he takes too many shots, and falls too his death. It’s so sad. Ann is rescued, and on the ground below, Denham gives Kong’s epitaph “It was beauty killed the beast.”
So sad, Kong was just a misunderstood ape who wanted some lovin’, so he got brought halfway around the world and shot. His legend lives on to this day, Willis O’Brien’s effects work lives up as well. Small details like the constant movement of fur when the animators didn’t brush it back are a little distracting, but soon you don’t even notice. Many of the dinosaurs were created for a failed Willis O’Brien movie that would have been called Creation, but was far too expensive to produce during the Depression. King Kong made a ton of money, and is credited with saving RKO from bankruptcy. The film influenced countless other films in it’s wake, and spawned many imitators, as did the remake. Some of these include A*P*E, Queen Kong, The Mighty Peking Man, Nabonga, the sequel Son of Kong, Mighty Joe Young, and practically any film involving apes now has them stealing women. Kong’s legacy lives on, and will continue to live. A short lived cartoon series existed recently, Kong fought Godzilla, and had another Japanese movie, King Kong Escapes, where he fights his mechanical double, Mecha-Kong. The remake in the 1970’s got a sequel as well, King Kong Lives, where Mrs. Kong is found, and a baby is born. It remains to be seen how the Peter Jackson film will turn out, though it seems he will be sticking with more of the original storyline than the first remake. it doesn’t matter, as King Kong will continue on, beauty may have killed the beast, but the beauty of the film keeps the beast alive forever.
Rated 10/10 (Leftover Lizard, Epitaph, Scream, Bronto Bites, Pterry, Chomping Natives, Afro Baby, Tri-bulb, Peeping Kong, Fall)
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