(1933) director Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
I’d last watched the original King Kong with the kids five years ago. Small wonder they have little recollection of it. Clara wasn’t even two, if she even sat in on any of it. Felix was 4 1/2, younger than Clara is now. I’d been meaning to watch it again with them for some time. Having watched King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and quite recently King Kong Escapes (1967), I wanted the King Kong of their imaginations to be the original King Kong, not the Japanese tokusatsu, guy-in-a-rubber-suit King Kong, but the amazing black-and-white stop-motion animated King Kong, and while not one and only, the real deal.
It’s such a great film, a creation of its time, the pre-code era of 1930’s Hollywood. An image of the bustling, hard-boiled New York City. Starring a beautiful flapper named Fay Wray.
The story takes the first half hour to get rolling, not at all slow for the average adult. In fact, I really enjoyed the snappy banter, the deft character development. The kids hung in there, varying by degrees how much, as the narrative picks up its characters from New York and puts them en route to the uncharted Skull Island, home of the legend of a monstrous “Kong”. The film-maker Carl Denham (played by the well-cast Robert Armstrong), probably a stand-in of sorts for actual film-maker Merian C. Cooper, gets the whole film-making expedition to the mysterious island, and then all heck breaks loose.
It’s kind of amazing, really, the amount of action that the film packs in. The latter hour is virtually non-stop stop-motion awesomeness. From Kong’s first sighting of Ann Darrow (Wray), his little blond lady love, he fights a T-Rex, a snake-like creature, and a pterodactyl, as well as rolling a whole crew of men off a log. And the men encounter a stegosaurus, a brontosaurus, and finally Kong himself. A lot of people get squished or chomped along the way.
The natives are certainly a bit unfortunate, stereotypes so antiquated that the kids probably have no idea how strange and racist they are. But the action is all over the place, and Kong is just a big lug, who fell for the wrong girl. That said, when Denham offers his classic final line, “It wasn’t the airplanes that got him, it was beauty that killed the beast,” the pure fact that it was human exploitation, Denham in particular, which is to blame for the death of the lovable, tragic hero, King Kong himself the irony is somewhat potent.
But the film is just pure classic Hollywood, the stuff of movie magic, still…80 years on. It’s a hell of a lot of fun. A great film, a great time.