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King Kong (1933)

 

 I'm the King Of The WORLD!... ow...ouch... OW!
I'm the King Of The WORLD!... ow...ouch... OW!

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy Thriller

Starring: Fay Wray (The Wedding March), Robert Armstrong (Blood on the Sun; The Paleface)

Directed By: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack (The Son of Kong; Mighty Joe Young)

Overview: In pursuit of exotic footage, a New York film crew goes to an uncharted island.  There, our blonde Ann Darrow finds herself the affectation of a 25 foot monster gorilla.  Some set out to save her while other set out to bring the beast home.

Performance:

As I was about half way through this film, I realized something very interesting: this movie is a very odd tale about a woman and a huge frickken monkey, and somehow it made it into the realm of classic.  When you look at the names and careers of the men who directed this, which such titles as the ones above as well as Dr. Cyclops (1940), Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life (1925) and The Monkey's Paw (1933), I'm shocked that this had the staying power that it did in pop culture history.  Sometimes weird just clicks. Astoundingly amazing stop-motion photography just meshed perfectly with just enough hammy acting to work - go Fay Wray for sticking to silent film melodramatic roots.
Rating: 7

Cinematography:

Besides there being the aforementioned super-duper wicked stop-motion, there's also these great incidental establishing shots. Imagine seeing a 1933 Times Square.  Yes, indeed, I paused the film to soak in that awesome piece of history. That's what I'm talking about: contextual greatness.  There's also biplanes! Is there anything more awesome than a historical piece that was shot as a contemporary piece? I know I know, I'm in love with the silent era... but it's so cool to look at!

And dinosaurs too!
Rating: 9

Script:

Throw your arms across your eyes and scream, Ann. Scream for your life!

King Kong is not... 'good' in this regard.  You might draw comparisons to films like Revolt Of The Zombies (1936), The Mummy, or any number of black and white, low budget, big bugs versus small cityscapes or the stuff of Ed Wood-ian C-grade fame. It's corny and cheesy and clunky... all the way to the bank.  It works.  The dialogue is unreal - like the scene where the ship captain can understand the language of the natives they've never met ever. It does a very interesting thing to your brain.  You keep forcing this film into the category of 'classic art' even though it constantly reminds you it's just really about a huge monkey with his live doll clutched in his hand.  
Rating: 6

Plot:

So you may remember the new Peter Jackson or the '76 version as including the hint of romance and understanding of the ape's feelings. This is very different, it's a lot more... realistic. From the beginning Ann is terrified of the ginormous ape, and the fear stays and she basically just spends the rest of the movie screamin' her fool head off.  There might be a smidge of character development there, but not more innovative than standard 30s fare. You will be impressed by the stuff on the island though... man those natives can spook a crowd.
Rating: 8

Mood:

This is the perfect example of how each mildly awkward 'sum of its parts' makes the whole. A a screaming, tied up blonde and ominous island natives mesh perfectly with 30s macho wit, one-liners and carny 'step-right up'-style dialogue like, "Don't be alarmed, ladies and gentlemen. Those chains are made of chrome steel." Just enough 'isn't it quaint' to be juxtaposed against a 25 foot rampaging gorilla in NYC. Oh you've just got to see it to believe it. It's like nothing you've ever seen. 
Rating: 9

 And a nice pteradactyl tablecloth for the picnic...
And a nice pterodactyl tablecloth for the picnic...

Overall Rating: 78% (Larger Than Life)
Aftertaste:

For as much as I may have evaluated this film as technically 'decent', the battles are what it's all about.  Watching the ape stomp around smashing trees and streetcars, there's nothing more amazing that looking at the degree of detail that went into the special effects. Regardless of the corny moments, it sucks you in, it makes you afraid of dinosaurs, and that's what it's all about.

I mean come on, it's the 8th Wonder of the World...

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