We take on the king of them all – King Kong (1933). This is the king (see what I did there) of all monster movies and set the bar for what was to come. But has anyone done it better?
Today I’m going to talk about the movie King Kong (1933). If you just thought about the 1976 or the 2005 version, or even the 207 version, this ain’t it. I’m talking about the 1933 real King Kong (1933) movie. This is the one with bi-planes and Fay Wray.
This is an American-made film in the monster/adventure genre. It was never nominated for an Oscar. Oddly this film had two directors both of which were uncredited. The first, Merian C. Cooper, is better known as a producer for at least 5 John Wayne films, with one of the most interesting being The Searchers (1956) which is loosely based on the search for Cynthia Parker, a kidnapped white woman who became the mother of the last Comanche chief, Quanah Parker.
The second director Ernest B. Schoedsack. Schoedsack is best known for Mighty Joe Young (1949), another ape flick, and the sequel to King Kong (1933), The Son of Kong (1933). Both Cooper and Schoesack served in WWI, and Cooper flew with the American Kosciuszko unit in the 1920s in the Polish/Soviet Union war.
The female lead, Fay Wray, was a Canadian-born actress that played the love interest in westerns during the silent film years then made the transition to talkies. Fay stated that director Cooper said he would cast her with the tallest dark-haired leading man in Hollywood. Wray though he was talking about Clark Gable. Of course, he was refereeing to the 25-foot tall ape.
In Kong, filmmaker Carl Denham played by Robert Armstrong must find a leading lady to finish his movie. So he gets Ann Darrow played by Wray for the price of a meal. Remember the depression? The love interest for Wray, not counting the big ape, is John Driscoll played by Bruce Cabot. Cabot had a career that lasted over 30 years, mostly playing tough guys. He also managed to appear in The Son of Kong (1933) and Mighty Joe Young (1949).
You all know Bruce Cabot whether you know it or not. Moving from a leading man to a sidekick role Cabot became a regular feature in most John Wayne movies such as The Comancheros (1961), Hatari! (1962), McLintock! (1963), In Harm’s Way (1965), The War Wagon (1967), The Green Berets (1968), Hellfighters (1969), The Undefeated (1969), Chisum (1970), and Big Jake (1971), a movie that has more quotable lines than an episode of “Game of Thrones.” Cabot became Wayne’s on-screen and off-screen drinking buddy.
The native Chief was played by Noble Johnson, great name. Johnson was a childhood friend of Lon Chaney, star of Phantom of the Opera (1925) and father of the best Wolf Man ever. Johnson was an African American that had a great career playing bit parts and side characters of various races. His roles include Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923) and The Thief of Baghdad (1924).
A Mexican actor, Steve Clemente, a.k.a. Clemento played the Witch King or as we would know it witch doctor. He also reprised this role in The Son of Kong (1933).
The movie tells the story of an island tribe that is living on the toenail of a beach while most of the island is behind a great wall with a huge gate. We will talk more about this gate in a minute. It is clear that the natives have canoes so why they didn’t leave the island for a more ape friendly place.
The special effects artist was Willis O’Brien. While his work was groundbreaking and set the standards for the future. Unfortunately, he is probably best remembered for working with Ray Harryhausen on Mighty Joe Young (1949). Harryhausen went on to do the effects for Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981).
Character Denham brings Ann Darrow to Skull Island to finish the film where they encounter the islanders. The islanders take one look at Darrow’s blonde hair and decide right away that she will make a great sacrifice for what is presumed to be their god, Ani saba Kong!, King Kong. Racist much?
So now we come to the wall. The wall seems to be about 100 feet tall and is built to keep a 24-foot tall climbing ape out. The original posters said 60 feet. They also added a 25-foot tall gate so they could place their lunar inspired sacrifices when a 6-foot gate would do.
But I digress. So the natives use their canoes, remember the canoes, to steal Ann to feed to Kong. But Kong likes what he sees and carries Ann while he battles giant prehistoric and modern beasts. Of course, Denham and Cabot rescue Ann and capture the giant ape as well.
They whisk the beast to NYC where they crown and chain him. Feeling humiliated and longing for Ann he breaks free and goes on a rampage. After much mayhem, he captures Ann again and climbs to the top of the Empire State Building. Eventually, he frees her to protect her from the attacking bi-planes. He swats one of the bi-planes and it’s a real applause line for the underdog. In one of the bi-planes directors, Cooper and Schoedsack were filmed attacking the beast. Over 70 years later in his over-hyped version of King Kong, Peter Jackson cast himself and make-up man Rick Baker in the same scene. Generally, the folks that recognized Jackson though it was the coolest thing ever never realizing that there is nothing new under the sun.
But back to the plot
Eventually, Kong falls from the building, dying more from a broken heart than the bullets he was hit with.
World-Famous Short Summary – Country boy goes to town and falls for a big-city girl. Things end badly for the boy.