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King Kong: A myth for the new world

Updated on April 7, 2013

An American Legacy

Some times it's hard to believe that King Kong was never based on a previously existing book or story. When you consider how much the imagery of Kong has lingered in our public consciousness, you almost believe there must have been some classic work or something. Maybe by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But no. There's nothing.

The idea, as the story goes, came to co-director Merian C. Cooper when he dreamed about a giant gorilla attacking New York City. He then showed some test sequences to studio heads, using stop-motion creatures originally developed for the 1925 silent film adaptation of Doyle's The Lost World. The project was green-lit, and history was made.

The story (in case you don't know and have been living on the moon for the past hundred years) follows a group of film makers who are led to a dangerous jungle island after their crazy-as-nuts director, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), hears about a giant creature that lives there. Apparently he's thinking he can offer it a contract and wean it of its poo-flinging habit long enough to film a movie.

The director finds struggling actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and offers her a role in his picture. When they get to the island, the natives realize that she matches Kong's eHarmony profile perfectly and offer her to the beast. A love connection is made and the director spend the rest of the movie trying to convince her that Kong's just not that into her. All he wants is to get her back to his cave for some serious poo-flinging.

They rescue the girl, capture the beast and bring them both back to New York City where Kong goes wild after learning that every Broadway showing of The Lion King is completely sold out.

In this 1933 original, the special effects are definitely below today's standards, but they're very much up to the needs of the story, and some of them are actually quite good.

The scene where the explorers are charged by and kill a stegosaurus is actually very well done. And there was some good work done to make the shot of Kong shaking a log with real live men on top.

But more importantly, the ape himself is very well personified. He's not quite as sympathetic as the one in Peter Jackson's version, but he's not the pure monster you might otherwise expect. It'd be very easy to play up this kind of creature as an out-right monster. Especially when you consider the fairly under-nuanced era in which the movie was made.

Perhaps that's what has made this story stay with us for so long. Sure, there's the iconic image of a giant ape on top of the Empire State Building, but iconic scenes only ever mean anything when people already wish to remember the movie. I mean, remember that iconic scene from Catwoman? Yeah, neither do I.

The acting, dialog and character development are very much of their time, but also sufficient for their needs. For instance, when Fay Wray is watching Kong fight a T-Rex over her, her constant flailing of the arms to hold her wrist over her forehead is a bit distracting, but it definitely tells you she's scared.

You know. Because you wouldn't know she's scared without that. Thanks a lot for the confidence, movie.

The relationship that develops between Ann and Kong isn't nearly as well developed as in the 2005 version by Peter Jackson. She's scared of him even though you can tell that he doesn't have any desire to hurt her. And in the end, the audience makes a connection with him. Sure, he's caused mayhem, but he's an animal abducted and taken out of his natural habitat. He becomes a sympathetic character to us just moments before he dies.

And that kind of thing can haunt you.

Personally, I wish they'd let the Beauty and the Beast comments have a rest, but that's a minor thing. And it all leads up to the iconic last line, so you take what you can get.

For me, I give this one 8 / 10.

King Kong isn't rated, but there are numerous scenes of violence and mayhem. A little silly at times, but people do still die.


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    • Garlonuss profile image

      Garlonuss 2 years ago from Saratoga Springs, Utah

      Thanks. The interesting thing about 'classics' like this one is that they're the kind of thing that everyone 'knows' and nobody's actually seen. There's definitely stuff here to recommend this movie to even today's more jaded audience.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      Good article, I liked the humor you inserted. King Kong defines a classic. The special effects were good for its time and held up well until CGI came about. Yes, "'twas beauty that killed the beast" was not the best moment of the film, except for a laugh. Air combat movies were hot at the time so having the aeroplanes vs gorilla fight at the top of the world's tallest building seems a stroke of genius.