King Kong is a 1933 landmark black-and-white monster film about a gigantic gorilla named "Kong" and how he is captured from Skull Island and brought to civilization against his will. The film was made by RKO and was originally written for the screen by Ruth Rose and James Ashmore Creelman, based on a concept by Merian C. Cooper. A major on-screen credit for Edgar Wallace, sharing the story with Cooper, was unearned, as Wallace became ill soon after his arrival in Hollywood and died without writing a word, but Cooper had promised him credit. A novelization of the screenplay actually appeared in 1932, a year before the film, adapted by Delos W. Lovelace, and contains descriptions of scenes not present in the movie.
The film starts when Carl Denham, a film director who is famous for shooting animal pictures in remote and exotic locations, is unable to hire an actress to star in his newest project and so wanders the streets searching for a suitable girl. He chances upon unemployed Ann Darrow, as she is caught trying to steal an apple. Denham pays off the grocer then buys Ann a meal and offers her the lead role in his latest installment. Although Ann is apprehensive, she has nothing to lose and eagerly agrees.
They set sail aboard the Venture, an old tramp steamer that travels for weeks in the direction of Indonesia, where Denham claims they will be shooting. Despite his ongoing declarations that women have no place on board ships, the ship's first mate Jack Driscoll is obviously becoming attracted to Ann. Denham takes note of the situation and informs Driscoll he has enough trouble without the complications of a seagoing love affair. Driscoll sneers at the suggestion, reminding Denham of his toughness in past adventures. Denham's reply outlines the theme of both the movie he is making and the one in which he is a character: "The Beast was a tough guy too. He could lick the world, but when he saw Beauty, she got him. He went soft. He forgot his wisdom and the little fellas licked him."
After maintaining secrecy throughout the trip, Denham finally tells Driscoll and Captain Englehorn that they're searching for an uncharted island. Denham says that the skipper of a freighter gave him the only map that shows its location, having received it in turn from a native of the island who had been swept out to sea. Denham then describes something monstrous connected to the island, a legendary entity known to the islanders as "Kong". As the Venture creeps through the fog surrounding the island, the crew hear drums in the distance. Finally arriving at the island's shore, they see a native village perched on a peninsula, cut off from the bulk of the island by an enormous wall. A landing party, including the filmmaker and his leading lady, goes ashore and encounters the natives, who are about to hand over a girl to Kong as a ritual sacrifice. Although Denham, Englehorn, Jack and Ann are hiding behind foliage, the native chief spots them and approaches the troop. Captain Englehorn is able to understand the native speech, and at Denham's urging makes friendly overtures to the chief. When he gets a clear look at Ann, the chief begins speaking with great energy. Englehorn translates this as "look at the golden woman!" The chief proposes to swap six native women for Ann, an offer Denham delicately declines as he and his party edge away from the scene, assuring the chief that they will return tomorrow to get better acquainted. Back on the Venture, Jack and Ann openly express their love for each another. When Jack is called away to the captain's quarters, a stealthy contingent of natives captures Ann, takes her back to the wall and presents her to Kong in an elaborate ceremony. Kong emerges from the jungle and is revealed to be a giant gorilla. The Venturecrew returns to the village and takes control of the wall, half of the crew then go after Kong, encountering an enraged Stegosaur and a territorial Apatosaurus.
Up ahead in a jungle clearing, Kong places Ann in a high cleft of a dead upright tree, then goes back and confronts his pursuers as they are walking along the top of an enormous fallen tree trunk over a deep ravine. Kong shakes them all off into the ravine, with only Driscoll and Denham escaping. Driscoll, who had grabbed some vines and ascended the chasm, continues the chase while Denham returns to the village. Meanwhile, a Tyrannosaur approaches a terrified Ann, whose screams alert Kong, who rushes back and confronts the Tyrannosaur. The violent fight between the two titans ends when Kong pries open the dinosaur's jaw until it breaks. Kong takes Ann up to his mountain lair, where a plesiosaur emerges from a bubbling swamp and tries to strangle Kong, who kills it as well. Kong then inspects his blonde prize and begins to caress her, tearing off her clothing and tickling her. Jack interrupts the proceedings by knocking over a boulder. When the gorilla leaves Ann to investigate the noise, a pterosaur swoops from the sky and clutches Ann in its talons. A final fight ensues and the pterodactyl is dispatched and is sent tumbling down the cliff face. While Kong is distracted, Jack rescues Ann and takes her back to the native village. Kong chases them, breaks through the large door of the wall and rampages through the village, killing many of the natives. Denham hurls a gas bomb, knocking Kong out, whereupon he exults in the opportunity to take the giant back to New York: "He's always been King of his world. But we'll teach him fear! We're millionaires, boys! I'll share it with all of you! Why, in a few months, his name will be up in lights on Broadway! Kong! The Eighth Wonder of the World!"
The next scene begins with those very words in lights on a theater marquee. Along with hundreds of curious New Yorkers, Denham, Driscoll and Ann are in evening wear for the gala event. The curtain lifts, and Denham presents a subdued and manacled Kong to the stunned audience. All goes well until photographers, using the blinding flashbulbs of the era, begin snapping shots of Ann and Jack, who is now her fiancé. Under the impression that the flashbulbs are attacking Ann, Kong breaks free of his bonds and escapes from the theater. He rampages through the city streets, destroying an elevated train and killing several citizens.
Kong finds Ann and carries her to the top of the Empire State Building. The military dispatches four Curtiss Helldiver biplanes to destroy Kong. The ape gently sets Ann down on the building's observation deck and climbs atop the dirigible mooring mast, trying to fend off the attackers. He manages to swat one plane down, but in the end he is mortally wounded by machine-gun fire and plummets to his death in the street below. Denham picks his way to the front of the crowd, where a cop remarks "Well Denham, the airplanes got him." Denham replies, "It wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast."
Why It Rocks
- Groundbreaking special effects.
- Willis H. O'Brien pioneered the use of stop motion animation, which would later be widely used in many other films by many filmmakers including himself and his protge Ray Harryhousen.
- To combine the live actors with the stop motion footage, they had to invent all sorts of new techniques. Sometimes the actors were performing in front of a rear projection. Other times the two pieces of footage were composited together. And other times the scenes with the real actors were projected into the background frame by frame while the stop motion creatures were being animated around them.
- Aside from all of that, there were also full sized versions of Kong, such as the hands when he's grabbing someone, the feet when he's stomping people into the ground, or the head when he's sticking people into his mouth.
- Kong himself terrified many audiences, which further proves how advanced the special effects are.
- In the movie, live-action actors even interact with stop-motion animation elements.
- Great casting choices, especially Robert Armstrong as Carl Denham.
- Great story that deals with the thematic from the traditional european fairy tale but in a completely different and new way.
- It has the iconic scene where Kong climbs the Empire State Building and fight planes, which is still famous today.
- Skull Island has dinosaurs which are amazingly rendered with special effects.
- In the movie there is an awesome fight between Kong and a T. rex, which is considered to be one of the most famous movie fight sequences ever made.
- The score is amazing. The film had a fully orchestrated musical score, which was something that was incredibly rare at the time.
- The setting is pretty good.
- This film helped inspire many filmmakers, from Ray Harryhausen, to Peter Jackson.
The Only Bad Qualities
- Fay Wray's screaming almost non-stop could get on somebody's nerves and she dosen't really get used to Kong later in the film like in the 1976 and 2005 remakes.
- The film never got an Oscar nomination.
The movie was almost universally positive received at the time of its release and was a box office success with several re-release in subsequent years untill 1956. Nowadays it still is highly regarded and has a 9/10 average rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It was included in the United States National Film Registry.