KING KONG

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Movies E.C. McMullen Jr. Review by
E.C.McMullen Jr.
King Kong
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SHOULD YOU?
TIP JAR
SON OF KONG
MOVIE REVIEW
KING KONG - 1933
USA Release: April 7, 1933
RKO Radio Pictures
Rating: N/A

Starring:
Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Victor Wong, Noble Johnson

KING KONG. In its day, during America's Great Depression, it was the JAWS, Star Wars, HARRY POTTER, and THE MATRIX (the first one before the franchise imploded) all in one. It was not THE LORD OF THE RINGS, because, like a great many blockbusters from ET to Titanic, to SPIDER-MAN, those films were not influential. KING KONG was so damn influential that the majority of people who have never seen the movie, not only know the name, but also know what its about - one great big honking giant ape!

KING KONG opens with a view of the New York skyline as seen from the harbor. At night, a man walks up to a decrepit looking ship. He meets up with an old and frightened dockworker and finds himself confronted by a surely first mate. When he introduces himself as Weston the Theatrical Agent, the First Mate becomes friendly and smiling, welcoming the man aboard.

Meanwhile, in the ship, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong: SON OF KONG, THE MAD GHOUL, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG), is having to explain himself to the Captain. The Captain is nervous about the cruise and their cargo, which has too many weapons for his tastes. When the agent comes in, things get worse. Carl Denham wants to make another documentary movie and he needs a pretty girl for the audience, "bless 'em!". The agent can't get one for him due to Carl's reputation. Carl can't explain himself out of the situation and, in his frustration, goes out into New York City to find one himself.

After several fruitless attempts, he finds a young woman who gets caught stealing an apple. One look at her and Carl feels she is right. He takes the woman to a nearby restaurant. The girl, nearly exhausted from malnutrition, accepts his offer of food unquestioningly, even gratefully. Her name is Ann Darrow (Fay Wray: DOCTOR X, THE VAMPIRE BAT, MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, THE CLAIRVOYANT, BLACK MOON, MURDER IN GREENWICH VILLAGE). But when Carl offers her a mysterious job onboard a ship that involves a trip of "Money, adventure, and fame! It's the thrill of a lifetime and the ship leaves tomorrow morning!", she shys away concerned. Who can blame her? As Carl, caught up in his own enthusiasm, is punctuating his words with a rapid pumping movement of his arm at waist level. Then, when Carl calms down and introduces himself, she recognizes the famous documentary film maker and accepts the risk.

The crew sets sail for a long voyage, halfway around the world. Denham pays his money and keeps his lips sealed. Ann, who never sailed on a ship before, is having the time of her life, but for the rest of the all male crew, its just another day at hard work. Antagonistic sparks fly between Ann and the First Mate, John "Jack" Driscoll (Bruce Cabot: THE ROADHOUSE MURDER, DISGRACED!, MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM, FALLEN ANGEL), and even audiences back then knew what that meant.

Finally Carl tells the Captain and crew where they're going. To a place not on any map. When the Captain expresses doubt, Carl asks him, "Have you ever heard of ... Kong?" This question elicits the interests of all assembled. Everyone has heard of Kong, but no one is quite sure what it is. A monster perhaps, or maybe an island God?

Later, Carl does a few screen tests with Ann and, while he directs the crew watch. At one point Carl tells Ann to imagine that she's looking up at something so horrible that she can't even scream. He tells her to throw her arm over her eyes so she can block the vision and scream, scream for all she's worth. When she does so, her scream is so startling that even the hardboiled first mate grabs the captain's arm and says, "What does Carl think she's really going to see?"

What indeed. They reach the island and see the impressive wall that separates the villagers from the rest of the land. It's at moments like these that the dialogue gets a little sketchy.

Ann: How will we know we're at the right island?

Carl: It's shaped like a skull.

Ann: Oh yes! That's right! You told me: Skull Island.

Carl and his handpicked crew go ashore unannounced. There is a celebration of sorts going on and Carl wants his camera and Ann along. Carl rubs the crew the wrong way, especially Jack Driscoll, who clearly has a thing for Ann.

As they watch the natives party down, Carl is overwhelmed by his fanboy geeky enthusiasm ("Holy mackerel! Whatta show!"). Carl starts filming the whole thing in plain sight of the natives, the chief of whom immediately spots him. The Chief (Noble Johnson: THE HAUNTED VALLEY, DANTE'S INFERNO, THE MYSTERIOUS DR. FU MANCHU, THE MUMMY, SON OF KONG, THE GHOST BREAKERS, THE MAD DOCTOR OF MARKET STREET) stops the ceremony and confronts Carl and crew. His Witch Doctor is hopping mad, saying the intruders have ruined the ceremony. What ceremony? Why their Bride of Kong ceremony. It's a wedding of sorts, though a sacrifice exactly.

Denham and the gang are able to get away with their skins and that night, Jack Driscoll admits his true feelings for Ann. But while he is called away on ship business, Ann, on deck and gazing up at that clear Indian Ocean sky, is kidnapped by the natives who've snuck aboard. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know, Ann is the Bride of Kong.

!!!THE UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT!!!:
What is the UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHÉ ALERT? Check it out first, then you'll understand the rest of this.

Would it surprise you to know that KING KONG gets no URCA? In fact, its amazing how, for its time, KING KONG is as tolerant of other folks regardless of skin color. Charlie, the Chinese cook, speaks broken English, but the crew don't look down on him for it and Ann talks to him as an equal. Until the natives kidnap Ann and give her to Kong, Carl, the Captain, and the crew are respectful of the Skull Island natives.

Continued at URCA/KingKong Page.

Even today, the script is excellent. Talky pictures were still new but the facial and physical dramatics of early cinema, taken from actors who started as stage performers in plays and vaudeville, are gone from Kong. People talk and act like regular folk, even with the argot of 1930s America. We are halfway through the story before the movie becomes a different movie entirely. In the first half, its all Ocean adventure. In the second, its all Horror and Horror in a big way. King Kong is brutal and vicious; its the way he lives. Seems every other monster on the island hates Kong and tries to eat his new Bride, which gives you some idea of what became of all of his other brides. Kong kills with a gusto and when humans get in the way they likewise are gruesomely killed: screaming in stark terror right to their deaths. Kong also takes pleasure in killing: crushing a man's head beneath his foot and twisting it, or smiling as he crushes a human in his teeth. Yet Kong is clearly taken with Ann. Perhaps because he's never seen a white person with blonde hair.

Carl: Yeah, I guess they don't get many blondes around here.

Only the special effects, great for their time, give it all away. The monsters look way too fake by today's standards and KING KONG might be ready for another remake after all. The visual effects are partially saved by the sound effects. Players of the video game, DOOM, will recognize many of the sounds: from the ferocious battle between Kong and a Tyranassarous Rex to Kong's mighty roar.

But understand, the special effects are the only thing that's not right with KING KONG. From the drama to the full out terror of being killed by a giant ape, Kong still rules! No wonder it remains a classic.

5 Shriek Girls

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2005 E.C.McMullen Jr.

KING KONG
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BLU-RAY Extras
There are tons. Loaded with history, interviews, and commentary including commentary by Ray Harryhausen, who was inspired, as a child watching King Kong, to become a stop motion animator. Interesting repos of theater cards and a booklet about the creators of KING KONG.


KING KONG
in 30 seconds and re-enacted by bunnies!

 

BOOKS FROM
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IN OTHER BOOKS
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Extensively quoted in
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The Unauthorized Companion


Robert S. Rhine's
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E.C. McMullen Jr.

Dept. head for
Special Effects Make-up
(SFX MUA) and was Michael Madsen's stunt double on the movie
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