King Kong battles biplanes atop the Empire State Building in the definitive 1933 classic King Kong.
The 1933 King Kong remains the definitive version of this classic Hollywood story. For a movie that relies so heavily on special effects it's ironic that the best version is the oldest. Compared to the 1976 remake and most especially the 2005 Peter Jackson behemoth the technology available in 1933 is laughably prehistoric. But that version cuts to the heart of the story, is paced very well, and has just the right tone. The '76 version was just plain campy and Peter Jackson treats the story like the Holy Grail. The 1933 version got it just right.
Fay Wray is also very important to the success of this movie. Not only was she beautiful, with a set of iron lungs (she screams for what seems like minutes on end) but she also managed to have great chemistry with a giant ape (that was really only 18 inches high). She will always be the 'real' Ann Darrow.
But let's talk pacing. The movie opens with a shot of the tramp steamer. We very briefly learn about Carl Denham and that he needs an actress for his adventure movie. He meets Ann after seeing her steal an apple from a produce stand and then buys her a meal and offers her the role. Within 20 minutes they are out to sea. They reach Skull Island by the half hour mark and Kong makes his first appearance shortly after 45 minutes into the movie.
Even the climax in New York and King Kong's death atop the Empire State Building are done better in the original. That damn gorilla doll has a more emotional death scene than the newest screen incarnation has, even with all of today's CGI wizardry. I miss black and white cinematography. Our imaginations can sometimes fill in the shadows in a more satisfying way than when we see something clearly depicted in vivid detail. That's my opinion anyway.
If you haven't seen the new King Kong it's worth seeing. Once. For repeat viewing though, this is one instance where you can't top the original.
Fay Wray in King Kong.
You're right Patrick that special effects don't make a movie better all by themselves. Newer versions of King Kong might have improved the visual presentation but not that heart and soul of the story. This original has more charm than either of the more recent remakes and that's in spite of, or maybe even because of, the old fashioned stop-motion special effects.
I also agree with you Patrick that Fay Wray is important to the story. It's easy to see what the big ape saw in her. And this being a pre-code talkie, Wray isn't impeded by things like a bra as is clearly evident in a couple of scenes on the ship. Later, when she's kidnapped by Kong there's a rather bizarre, but sexy scene where the ape begins peeling bits of her clothes off and sniffing them. This scene - along with others - would be trimmed when the film was rereleased after the Production Code took effect.
There's no denying that this is an enjoyable little romp of a movie, but it's not a perfect one. It starts with the introduction of two interesting characters. Wray as Ann and Robert Armstrong as film director Carl Denham. They go on an exciting trip together, but once the ape takes center stage, Ann and Carl are pushed into the background. Kong on the loose in New York City is exciting, even with the limited special effects of the era, but I was never as emotionally invested in his fate as I was in Ann's and Carl's.
There are also a few minor plot holes. I know this is a silly little adventure story and not a documentary, but there are some unanswered questions. For instance, how do all of these giant animals survive together on this tiny island? Is Kong the only one of his kind? What was he going to do with Ann, anyway? And is a Broadway theater really the best place to show off a 25 foot ape?
Sure, the effects are incredibly dated, but the charm of this movie never will be.
Apes are vegetarians, so why is Kong so excited to see Fay Wray?
I agree with my brothers. This version is better than any remake thus far. I watched it late at night. (The best time to watch old black and white films) I easily found myself caught up in the adventure. My eighteen year old son came home from work during the trek across the island scene when they are looking for Fay Wray. His comment was just how fake Kong looks.
Of course he is not realistic looking but then again, fifty foot apes do not exist, so no matter how realistic the ape is, the audience must still suspend all disbelief to enjoy the movie. I think Patrick makes a very good point when he wrote, "Our imaginations can sometimes fill in the shadows in a more satisfying way than when we see something clearly depicted in vivid detail." Modern audiences have become jaded thinking great special effects alone denotes a great movie. Avatar anyone?
Fay Wray was a hot little thing. Like Scott, I wondered what Kong actually had in mind to do with her. Clearly it was something sexual. When the crew first arrives on the island, a native girl is being prepared as an offering for Kong. They see Wray and decide to offer up her instead, but why? Sex, in the normal sense, could not obviously occur between them, yet the first thing he does with her, once he has a moment to relax, is to take off her clothes. We never get the details of the offerings, so we never know how often they are made. As dangerous as the island is, the girls Kong take probably do not live long. They are either eaten by some random monster or Kong squishes them with his penis.
I have never seen this film before and I thought the part in New York would last longer. The film just raced by. Before you know it, Kong is on top of the Empire State building making movie history. Hardly any questions get answered and the plot holes are far too many to count. Still, King Kong is a classic adventure tale and it has never been better than this. Just make sure you watch it at night with no cynical teenagers around.
Photos © Copyright RKO Radio Pictures Inc. (1933)