This April the first true monster movie celebrates its 85th anniversary, which came from the mind of a 6-year-old boy who found him fascinated by gorillas and a nightmarish hatred for elevated trains, and who knew all of it would find its way into a 1933 classic raging and rampaging beast marked as the Eighth Wonder of the World. That boy, Merian C. Cooper, who had developed his love for apes into thinking of a large creature confused and frighten about us as we were of him, fighting airplanes on a tall building, from there he worked backwards to create his epic motion picture. The story started in the hands of a famous writer named Edgar Wallace, who passed on early on in pre-production, and landed firmly in the control of James Ashmore Creelman who had achieved a positive status in creating wonderful tales, that pushed some boundaries, the year before with The Most Dangerous Game (1932), a controversial movie for its time. As Cooper the perfect person for job, one he thoroughly believed in for the project and had the original concept locked down, the lead character Carl Denham more or less based off of himself, and his personal exploits many recall as to rival anything Indiana Jones ever did any of his movies.
Ernest Scheodsack assisted in the directing though more as a secondary role with the legendary David O. Selznick serving as producer who led RKO Radio Pictures (and this movie saved this studio from bankruptcy). One must note this film was released during the Great Depression, which held the United States (and world) in a death grip, unemployment at 25%, hence movies offered an escapism. This film has since gone on to earn incredible honors such as in 1991 added to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress and in 1998 listed as the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Greatest American Movies. I personal have seen this film many, many times knowing that King Kong never appears until 47-minutesd into the film and sadly truly a misunderstand beast, more of a child than a monster, after he seeks to stay hidden away, worshiped by the natives and man seeks the greed to capture and whisk him into their corrupt world of distrust.
This movie struggled for a while over the ownership rights, with Universal retaining the majority of the character rights, and previously courts noted, that the Kong rights held by three other parties at one time: RKO owned the rights to the original film and its sequel, Dino De Laurentiis (DDL) owned the rights to the 1976 remake, and Richard Cooper owned worldwide book publishing rights. However, with numerous company mergers and buyouts, these intellectual rights might have transferred to one firm, though that seems as murky as the waters on Skull Island. Nevertheless, King Kong still stretches its mighty hand across the years, inspiring new filmmakers, and young children who love monster movies, as well as big kids. Just look at all the monster movies since then, with oversized proportions of creatures, Mega Piranhas, Scorpions, and Sharks, as opposed to those of human monsters in the vein of Frankenstein and vampires. In addition, the characters in the Kong movie resemble many of the film crews of today, the director and/or producer as the leader of the group, loud, in command, perhaps a little crazy, leading a rebel group of crew, on a modest budget with dreams of financial riches. Just like the character Denham’s bunch of followers, paid with promises, favors and few dollars, all for the glory of the picture and the good life.
In the film, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) was a director and filmmaker known for delivering strange sights and sounds, to an innocent and unaware audience (long before internet, smartphones or better education). He acquires the ship, crew and plenty of firearms, and in desperation with no casting studios help he heads out searching for his leading lady. After rescuing a damsel Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in distress, caught stealing one apple, he hires her for his picture. They sail for an unknown fog covered island he heard about in Singapore. He knows only of the legend, one word KONG, who he hopes to use as the star of his production. Co-starring is Bruce Cabot, appearing in his first picture, as Cabot, a sailor who at first treated Ann as a no nothing dame, remember the year and decade, women had few rights and were treated less depending on their class position. By the end they fall in love with him saving her from Kong, though he’s not quite keen on his involvement.
For those who have never since this production, because unaware it existed or that’s in black and white, either way I’ll try to avoid some the key uniqueness not captured in the remakes. First, the obvious real star is Kong, a distinct creature created with childlike temper tantrums confusion how one-culture praises him as their protector and the other seeks to exploit with modern weapons and for their fame, not his well-being. Kong in the movie, often played the protector for the character of Ann, and in scene, the audience actually for a moment feels sorry him. Once in New York, Cooper placed his childhood nightmare and anguish into the movie with Kong’s destruction of the elevated train, I suppose quite therapeutic. In addition, the movie dealt with censorship from the Production Code of 1934, which barred the exposure of Ann’s body as Kong examines her and for his killing of sailors who fall to deaths only become eaten large spiders, which outrage audiences of then. In 1971, the movie finally found to restore to its magnificent glory.
As the creation of the beast, had different models used for the sections of the film, from an 18-inch model made from metal mesh skeleton, a mixture of rubber and foam for the muscle structure, and rabbit fur for his hair. Then a 22-inch model for more close up shots, and of course an oversized head with workable jaw and eyes, other facial movements, as well as large hand attached to a crane. The models used for Kong’s battle with dinosaurs, a giant snake, a flying reptile, several humans, and bi-planes attacking him on the empire state building. Finding his famous roar, was no easy feat, needing something rare and unusual, he turned to RKO’s soundman Murray Spivack, who design a backwards playing of lion and tiger roars. However, the music of the film came from maestro Max Steiner, a composition found in many composer’s collections.
Even today, many modern audiences enter movie poster shops looking for an original `King Kong’ poster, and shocked to learn the cost of them, and rarity at auctions. Noting recently a one-sheet (27 x 41) King Kong poster in mint condition sold for $244,500 on April 18, 1999 and a three-sheet (40 x 79) earned a payout of $388,375 at Heritage Auctions on December 6, 2012. Even, the rare 22-inch high model of King Kong, sold in 2009 for about $203,000. The character King Kong has become one of the world’s most famous movie icons, having inspired countless sequels, remakes, spin-offs, imitators, parodies, cartoons, books, comics, video games, theme park rides, and a stage play.
Modern audiences will no doubt toss the “dated” phrase at the film, along with rude and crude criticism, and roll their eyes over any discussion of films like this one, however they are very incorrect to do that, as one day the movies they acclaim are magnificent creations will find them too considered dated. It’s already happening in some regards, but this film shows a time when movies just started visual effects design and learning to combine music, voices and film all at one. Yes, stop-motion animation looks staggered, but at some point, the subtext and other stereotypical behaviors occurred but this all comes long before the over-usage of political correctness. This film brings many fine qualities to the screen.
King Kong, continues to find itself reissued at film festivals, and special engagements with packed audiences. It still brings interesting elements about years later for example when Fay Wray (perhaps the first scream queen) died in the hospital on August 8, 2004 King Kong (1933) played on the screen. I’m always discovering new things about epic pictures, which makes watching incredible cinema such a wonderful experience and this likely find plenty of interest for you to beat your chest about and then compare it the modern versions.
IMDb Rating: 7.9/10
Baron’s Rating: 8.5/10