Cert: PG Runtime: 100 mins Director: Merian C.Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack Cast: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Sam Hardy and Noble Johnson
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
We are kicking off Giant Monster month with a behemoth King Kong, for me apart form Godzilla he is on of the most iconic monsters in cinema. As a kid I remember watching the original every now and again with my grandfather, for me it was nothing but brilliant. What is King Kong all about? Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is a producer and director of adventure films specializing in remote and exotic locations. He sets off to a remote island, uncharted except for a map he purchased from a seaman. He hires a ship and with the star of his film, Ann Darrell (Fay Wray), he sets off to Skull Island where there supposedly lives a large ape known as Kong. The island itself is divided and the giant ape lives behind a great wall. When the local islanders kidnap Ann to offer her as a sacrifice, Denham and John Dricsoll (Bruce Cabot) set off to rescue her. It’s obvious that Kong is fascinated with Ann and means her no harm but Dehnam gasses the beast and transports it to New York where he puts it on display. When it manages to escape, it terrorizes the city, climbing to the top of the Empire State building where it must confront air force planes trying to shoot it down.
The story’s mix of horror, fantasy and adventure was conceived by famous crime writer Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper himself, but the actual script was completed by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose, who developed the story and in the process created one of the most memorable adventure films in history. While the plot is certainly simple, it’s filled with a constant series of thrilling scenes that literally reinvented the adventure genre in film due to their influence on subsequent films. Also, there is a good deal of character development despite some cliché dialogues. The fact that Rose and the directors were notorious adventurers on their own account gave the story a strong sense of realism despite its fantastic plot, as the adventure echoes the group’s real expeditions.
Director Ernest B. Schoedsack was definitely the best man for the job of making Cooper’s ideas a reality, as his great eye for visuals and remarkable technical proficiency were instrumental in the making of this, the duo’s greatest challenge. It is clear that the directors knew how to raise the suspense before the revelation of Kong, as the slow pace the film has before the arrival to the island enhances the suspense and the mystery about what is truly out there, perfectly building the right mood for what’s coming next. It is also obvious that Cooper knew how to give a great show, as just as soon as the monster is revealed, the movie becomes a roller-coaster of action and adventure of enormous proportions, effectively capturing that feeling of adventure that Cooper wanted to transmit. Finally, the innovative use of the music by Max Steiner to create atmosphere is the icing of the cake in this masterpiece.
While nowadays the style of the dialogue may sound cheesy, the performances of most of the cast were very good, specially considering that the real star was “Kong”. Robert Armstrong is excellent as the enthusiast (and obsessive) filmmaker Carl Denham, and effectively portrays a man who would do anything and go anywhere to give the greatest show to his audience. As the ship’s mate Jack Driscoll, Bruce Cabot makes a good job as the “hero” of this adventure, who like “Kong”, gets fascinated by the beauty of the movie’s new actress. Cabot’s character is the typical heroic character, but he manages to make him natural and human. Finally Fay Wray gives the performance of her lifetime as Ann Darrow, as while her range as an actress was limited, in this movie she has the chance to fully show the extent of her talents, effectively delivering an iconic performance.
However, the real star of this show is without a doubt Kong himself, who thanks to the astounding work of special effects done by Willis H. O’Brien and his team, achieves a characterization never before seen for a character that was entirely created by special effects. O’Brien, who had previously worked his magic in the silent classic “The Lost World”, creates in Kong his masterpiece as he makes this monster look alive and able to express feelings better than most actors. While the directors and the writers do deserve credit for this character, it was ultimately O’Brien who gave the final touch to the legendary monster, making us feel identified with the confused beast as it faces the attack of the world. Even now, more than 70 years later, his work of animation in this movie remains one of the finest ever made.