March 7, 1933
Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack
Fay Wray as Ann Darrow
Robert Armstrong as Carl Denheim
Bruce Cabot as John Driscoll
Frank Reicher as Captain Englehorn
Carl Denheim is a filmmaker who meets the lovely Ann Darrow in New York City and offers her the starring role in his latest picture. He travels with her and a filmmaking crew to Skull Island, in search of footage of abnormally large animals for the production. Yet when the group arrives they encounter a primitive tribe who give live sacrifices to the fiercest and most violent creature of all – Kong. They have never seen a blonde beauty and believe Ann will make an exceptional offering. Yet, instead of eating her Kong, is taken by her beauty and will stop at nothing to keep and protect her. As the film crew searches for her they encounter many enormous beasts on the island, all of which were thought to be extinct. Once Kong is subdued and Ann is safe, Carl decides to bring the creature back to New York to be displayed before the entire world.
Few films can be said to have changed the course of cinema, but King Kong is almost always on every critic’s list. This was the first film to bring fantastical larger-than-man creatures to life. Before King Kong, monsters in film were confined to the same basic size, shape and actions of a human. The monsters in Phantom of the Opera (1925) and Frankenstein (1931) are both noted for their makeup effects, but their shape and proportions are distinctly human. Kong, however, is a giant that towers above other humans and although he also has two arms and legs he fights prehistoric creatures that do not.
To be fair, the first film made with stop-motion models in an attempt to simulate actions of giant beasts was The Lost World (1925). Yet – perhaps because it’s silent, or because it lacks a villainous monster, or maybe because it relies only on stop motion models for effect – The Lost World never reached the same level of influence as King Kong. Willis O’Brien animated both films, but for the latter he employed better stop-motion models, live action, back projection and miniatures that made larger-than-man creatures come to life in ways never before thought possible. The film’s international success changed filmmaking forever and made Hollywood studios invaluable to the process. Special effects allowed fantasy to be visually experienced and altered the trajectory of movies – exploiting their escapist purpose. Furthermore they could only be accomplished with budgets and equipment available to the big studios. Each advance in technology raised the standard and only those who could afford the latest technology could make the most visually stimulating movies.
King Kong was the first movie with the feel of an epic (even though it was made by RKO on a budget of less than $600,000) and is generally considered an adventure movie instead of horror. Why this characterization persists is likely due to elitist critics not willing to acknowledge the influential role horror played in early film making. Yet, the brutal creature violence cannot be overlooked. Kong is depicted shaking several puny humans off a tree and watching them fall to their deaths. He also kills several dinosaurs on screen. Each scene is graphic, time-consuming and the camera never shies away. When one considers that horror movies at the time never went so far as to depict grisly kills – even if they were only other creatures – it is difficult to not consider Kong more violent than his contemporaries. He is certainly a monster – a mega-monster – and like Frankenstein and Dracula is ultimately a tragic figure. If that’s not enough to convince skeptics, consider that to this day Kong still scares children whereas the Universal monsters do not. King Kong was also the favorite movie of the most notorious real-to-life villain in history – Adolf Hitler. In short, Kong is not only on par with other horror icons of the 1930s, but there is a good case for placing him as first among equals.
Bottom Line: This horror classic has stood the test of time and to this day still entertains with its maniacal savagery. All horror novices, fans and freaks will enjoy a viewing.