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KING KONG (1933)
Carl Denham, a film maker who likes to take risks for success, leads an expedition to the mysterious, wild, unknown tropical Skull Island to make his latest adventure yarn. They discover a dangerous prehistoric world, complete with a giant gorilla, when Denham's blonde wanna-be actress is kidnapped by local natives for a terrifying purpose. Death, havoc, and mayhem continue when the giant gorilla is captured and taken back to New York as a money making sideshow.
The cast includes: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Sam Handy, Noble Johnson, Steve Clemente, James Flavin, Noble Johnson, and Russell Saunders.
Written by: Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace, James Ashmore Creelman, and Ruth Rose.
Directed by: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack.
Promotional Lines... "The Most
Awesome Thriller Of All Time."
This 1933 black and white film, King Kong, is a classic adventure/ fantasy story with the theme of man verses beast, with elements of horror, romance, human ignorance and pride melded into the story's core. This film is the forerunner of such films as the Alien and the Jurassic Park Trilogy films, because it tells the tale of how man's overconfidence in modern technology and his own ability to control the environment and the creatures he considers beneath him, combined with a lack of respect for the power of nature brings disaster and havoc to man's civilized world. Yes, in this story, a huge beast of a gorilla is foolishly brought to the city of New York, after many men are killed, to be displayed as "the eighth wonder of the world."
The story begins in New York, when a hotshot, adventure-driven film maker, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) plans to take an expedition, consisting of a beautiful actress, his filming crew and armed boat personnel on a ship to an undisclosed, unknown tropical island, called Skull Island. The island has only been seen by one other expedition, which did produce a map, along with a lot of death and mayhem for most of the party members.
Especially intrigued by this ill-fated expedition's report of a mysterious, huge wall that blocks off part of the island, Denham is determined to film his next picture there. One big problem stands in his way. No acting agent will give him any actresses to choose from, because he refuses to give them any details on what he plans to have this actress do. So, Denham takes a trip downtown, and spies a beautiful, but poor and hungry, blond young woman, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) stealing an orange from a vendor. After bailing her out of trouble, he offers her this acting job, which she eagerly agrees to take. The expedition is soon on its way to Skull Island.
On the way, Ann Darrow and First mate, Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) become acquainted and subsequently fall in love. Upon arriving, the fog is so dense, that the island can't be seen, but mysterious drum beats can be heard. When the fog lifts, the expedition can see the huge wall from the boat, and all proceed to land to investigate, including the wanna-be blonde actress. They enter a village of the local people and observe that a big ceremony of some sort is going on, with circles of villagers, dressed up with hairy arms and head pieces dancing around in circles. A rather solemn village girl sits in the middle, being waited on and pampered by others.
Denham decides to film them, and of course the village people notice the expedition party, not too pleased with these intruders. The native chief (Noble Johnson) offers to trade 7 of their own young women, for the beautiful, blonde-haired Ann Darrow. The expedition party returns to the ship. During the evening, Ann Darrow can't sleep, so she decides to go up to the deck for some air (bad idea). As she stands there, alone (like a dumb bunny), enjoying the evening air, she is kidnapped by some determined villagers who feel she will be perfect for the honored position as the bride of Kong! Uh oh!!
Well, of course, when her kidnapping is discovered, a rescue party is formed, armed with guns and special grenade bombs. They rush into the village, but discover that the giant King Kong has already taken her, who is fascinated by her beautiful hair, very pleased with this newest gift from the villagers, and treats her like his prized possession.
Much to their folly, the rescue party goes behind the huge wall, into the prehistoric world of dinosaurs, full of dangerous and inhospitable forces. While managing to blow up some rather nasty characters, the brave rescuers are chased by an irate dinosaur, with the result being that some would-be rescuers become part of the food chain.
When they catch up to Kong and the terrified Ann, a bunch of men race onto a log bridge. After carefully putting Ann up in a high safe, place in a tree, Kong picks up one end of the log bridge, knocking them off man by man, to the valley floor below.( In the original cut of the film, the men fall to the jungle floor where they are eaten alive by huge spiders. This horrified the test audience so much, that Cooper cut it out of the film.)
Only two men from this particular rescue party, one of them being Jack Driscoll, survive. Lucky for him, Kong is distracted by a T- Rex, who he engages in a battle, again defending Ann. ( The battle between the T-Rex and King Kong is one of this reviewer's favorite scenes.) Finally, when reinforcements arrive, and because of the bravery of Jack Driscoll, Ann is rescued, with the final result being that King Kong is captured by Denham, who decides to bring King Kong back to New York as the eighth wonder of the world, hoping to make a fortune.
Well, of course, King Kong finds a way to escape, causing havoc in New York City. Being a clever animal, he finds the love of his life, Ann Darrow, who then needs to be rescued once again, by the love of her life, Jack Driscoll. In a spectacular scene, King Kong climbs the Empire State Building ( the biggest building in 1933 New York), in hopes of finding a safe place for Ann and himself. After finding a safe place for the terrified Ann, he turns to swat at the planes, which eventually bring his downfall.
Both Merian Cooper and his longtime partner, Ernest B. Schoedsack directed KING KONG, bringing all elements together to offer an involving, exciting classic tale that kept 1933 audiences at the edge of their seat. The action sequences with 1933 innovative special /visual effects still hold up very well, and are still very entertaining to the modern audience, though probably not as thrilling, breathtaking as they were to the 1933 audience, who loved this film.
Merian Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack were also the producers, working with executive producer, David O. Selznick. The level and amount of talent that was pooled together for the creation and production of KING KONG, really is what makes this a classic in its genre, and propelled whoever was involved with it to more success in the movie business.
This wildly popular, thrilling action / adventure yarn was written by Merian C. Cooper, and Edgar Wallace, (James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose.) Interestingly, the character of Carl Denham was an exaggerated image of Merian C. Cooper himself, as Cooper had traveled the globe making adventure documentaries in exotic places seldom traveled by film makers. Before becoming involved with the film industry, Cooper and Schoedsack made such exotic documentaries as Grass (1925), Chang (1927), and Gow the Head Hunter (1928). After KING KONG, Cooper had a long, successful career making / producing great action / adventure/dramatic films, and near the end of his career, in 1952, he received a special Oscar for his "many innovations and contributions to the art of motion pictures"
Edgar Wallace (1875-1932) was a very prolific novelist, a master of writing suspenseful films. KING KONG was his last story before he died, but Wallace holds the record for a 20th century novelist, who has had the most novels/stories made into films, even to this day, 70 years past his death. From 1910 - 2002, over 172 films were based on his prolific life works.
The black and white cinematography (Edward Linden (1896-1956) , J.O. Taylor, Vernon Walker) , Oscar nominated optical photography (Linwood Dunn & William Ulm), the editing ( Ted Cheesman), the special effects (Frank D. Williams and Harry Redmond Jr.) and visual effects (Frank Williams & Clifford Seine) are all innovative, do a wonderful job setting the right ominous, mysterious, believable atmosphere, bringing the storyline to life in a huge, scary way. All these men must be spinning in their graves because of Ted Turner's recently released colorized version of KING KONG, which is truly awful, ruining their skillful use of the qualities / properties of black and white film to create a total masterpiece of black and white cinematography. Luckily, not much color was added to the battle scenes, and they still are thrilling.
The musical score, which is the first one of its kind to fully integrate into whatever was taking place in each scene, describing musically in some instances the emotions of the main characters on screen, in the process of scoring individual scenes for their content. This was the brilliant work of the musical genius composer, Austrian-born Max Steiner. Stiener was a child progeny who was composing complex, complete works by age 16. He studied under Gustav Mahler. Shortly after coming to the United States, talkies became a reality, and he was snatched up by the studios. He revolutionized the kind of musical scores which were made for films, and became one of the most respected, innovative, and brilliant composers of film music (1930 -1960's), "creating a truly staggering number of exceptional scores for films of all types." Over the course of his long career, he earned 18 Oscar nominations for his musical scores and won three times.
While the characters portrayed in KING KONG are all one dimensional, which is true in most standard action films, the cast members are well directed and portrayed perfectly their assigned character parts, and found their careers launched because of their performances and the huge popularity of the film.
Fay Wray (1907- ) did a terrific job playing Ann Darrow, and had the acting ability to really scream, convincingly act physically terrified with all her might, resulting in really "putting on a show," and giving a sense of terrifying reality to KING KONG. Her forever defining role in this film landed her 11 films in 1933 and 11 films in 1934. She unfortunately got typecast into a bunch of horror films in the middle to late 1930's, which stymied her career somewhat.
Robert Armstrong (1890-1973), was perfectly cast as the out of control, adventure-seeking, thrill-making, self-confident film maker, Carl Denham. Armstrong had a long career playing "tough guys" on both sides of the law. He was always remembered for this role, however, and for his famous line at the end of KING KONG; "It was beauty killed the beast."
Bruce Cabot (1904-1972) is best remembered as the brave fellow, Jack Driscoll, who rescues Ann Darrow from KING KONG's monster grip. He had a long career playing both dastardly villains and brave heroes, alternating good-guy and bad-guy characters throughout his film history.
KING KONG is rated PG. It may be too intense for young children, but it does offer some lessons about the importance of being aware of your surroundings, of thinking before you agree to do something (don't be like Ann), of the significance that a monster gorilla is killed because men thought they could control nature, and the importance of knowing one's limitations.
Quotes: Carl Denham, movie maker: "And now, ladies and gentlemen, before I tell you any more, I'm going to show you the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive--a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!"
Most famous quote of the film: Carl Denham says at the very end: "It was beauty killed the beast."