I’d wager that most of you have not seen “King Kong” on a big screen. I mean a big screen in a movie theater, not in your living room. And I don’t mean the hokey 1976 Dino De Laurentiis remake, or Peter Jackson’s overlong 2005 remake. I mean the original 1933 masterpiece, that combined action, adventure, romance, horror, fantasy, and a rip-roaring story that made audiences back then drop their jaws and widen their eyes.
Well, here’s some good news. Despite all of the advances in sight and sound and effects in today’s movies, “King Kong” still stands tall as a groundbreaking piece of jaw-dropping, eye-widening entertainment. And it’s returning to cinemas for one day - March 15. Here are a few reasons to see it.
Adventure moviemaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) has an idea for his next film, involving something there that no civilized person has ever seen. Or as he puts it to the feisty young actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), “I’ve got a job for you. It’s money and adventure and fame! It’s the thrill of a lifetime! And a long sea voyage that starts at 6:00 tomorrow morning!”
That speech, delivered in New York, is a central moment in the first of the film’s five acts. The other four are: the sea voyage, the arrival at Skull Island, a series of hazards on Skull Island, and all hell breaking loose back in New York City.
Here’s some dialogue from the first 20 minutes.
Denham to the ship’s captain: “Did you ever hear of Kong?”
The captain to Denham: “Why yes, some native superstition, isn’t it? Neither beast nor man.”
The captain to Denham: “You expect to photograph it?”
Denham to the captain: “If it’s there, you bet I’ll photograph it!”
The first mate to Denham: “Suppose it doesn’t like having its picture taken?”
Denham to the first mate: “Well, now you know why I brought along those cases of gas bombs.”
“King Kong” opens with a huge, Wagnerian-style score by Max Steiner during the credits. There’s not another note to be heard till the ship arrives at the island, where quiet musical menace slowly builds in intensity, then explodes when the crew stumbles upon a native tribe’s sacrificial rite for the god-like Kong. It’s blonde-haired Darrow’s bad luck to be seen by the tribe, who decide that this “golden woman” would make a much better sacrifice than one of their own villagers.
Kong roars, then appears, in all of his chest-thumping glory, and grabs the unfortunate gal, even though she’s screaming louder than he’s roaring. From that moment on, the film is firing on all pistons, never slowing down for a breath of its own or for anyone watching.
Square-jawed first mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) had already fallen hard for Darrow, and heads up the rescue operation. Alas, there are huge prehistoric creatures everywhere, all ready to eat the would-be rescuers. Cameras move along with them at a rapid clip as they look for lunch. Cameras train lenses on lonely and confused Kong as he fights off predators who want Darrow for something other than companionship.
Stop-motion cinematography, along with rear-screen projections, matte paintings, and mixtures of real actors and miniature animated dolls merge to make astounding action sequences completely believable. There is constant peril - the Kong vs. Tyrannosaurus wrestling match is phenomenal; there are funny moments - curious Kong peels off some of Darrow’s clothing; and there’s pathos - everyone’s trying to kill Kong, just because he’s found his dream girl.
When the story returns to New York, with the big ape set to appear, in chains, on Broadway, billed as “Carl Denham’s Giant Monster,” it at first seems that you’re watching a whole different film. At least until havoc is wreaked upon Manhattan and its citizenry. And it’s there that we all find out that Kong really doesn’t like having his picture taken.
“King Kong” was a film that was way ahead of its time, and it remains one of the greatest films of all time. See it in a big theater with a big crowd. It’ll still blow you away.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by James Creelman and Ruth Rose; directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
With Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot