This is a film everyone has heard of, in one way or another, by mid childhood in film-fan healthy cases. With my dad having a love for classic monster movies, I had seen King Kong a few times before I was nine. Also, as many blessed upper-middle class kids of the nineties whose families believed in theme parks, I was quite a fan of the King Kong ride at Universal Studios (though riding bikes with E.T. was where the action really was). At the height of my brother’s adorable preschooler stage, we stood in line for the ride with him telling everyone that, “King Kong is on the rampage!” Yes, Kong had a healthy existence in my childhood home and I do hope the next generation of children find the original before stepping into Peter Jackson’s sensory overload. Save the remake for later.
In the film, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is a director known for his films showing the wild parts of the world and he is preparing for his greatest expedition yet. He has a boat, a crew, film and loads of ammunition; when he finds his leading lady, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), they set off for an uncharted island. There, the natives have appeased and contained a terrifying beast for generations. When they see Ann, with her fair skin and golden hair, they must sacrifice her to Kong. The brave crew willingly charge into the jungle after her, but find terrible creatures beyond their imagination. Even with the film in ruins, Dunham has a grand idea to make millions off this trip anyway. What could possibly go wrong with bringing a giant gorilla in chains as a spectacle in New York?
For those who want to get philosophical about an action adventure film about a giant gorilla, it’s all about beauty taming the beast. Ann’s the beauty. She can inadvertently put Kong in chains and make hardened sailor John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) grow soft in love. So the beast is both Kong and men. Ah, the idea of men being giant hairy apes. Suddenly the scene with Kong ripping away layers of Ann’s clothing has a much more sinister feel.
That’s right, Netflix sent me the restored, uncensored version of the film. That’s right, I got all the stop-motion ape violence the world couldn’t take back in 1933. This includes scenes with Kong chewing on people, stomping on natives and even peeling away Fay Wray’s clothing. Compared to the epic violence in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, seeing Kong munch on natives is a cake walk.
Some of my favorite moments from King Kong are the stop-motion animation. The fight between Kong and a Tyrannosaurus Rex is a staple of all claymation. Even in my adulthood, I still get very into the scene and cringe at the final blow. The other creatures are just as exciting. A stegosaurus charges at the men, a brontosaurus chases them and I always feel bad for the pteranodon. But it’s Kong who is cream of the creature crop. Plus, the ways he interacts with our live characters is astounding for the age. One of my all time favorite pieces of movie magic happens when Kong lifts a log with men hanging onto it for dear life, over a ravine. Oh the humanity!
These days, I can see little twerpy kids scoffing over the old effects in King Kong. My advice, show them this film before any bit of cynicism sets in, age six at the latest. If you feel the excitement and adventure in this wonderful classic gem once, I don’t think you can ever really lose it.
“Listen – I’m going out and make the greatest picture in the world. Something that nobody’s ever seen or heard of. They’ll have to think up a lot of new adjectives when I come back.”