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King Kong Movie Review

denham film wray fay

1933 – Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack –

A filmmaker, Carl Denham, takes a crew to a remote island where his leading lady is abducted by natives. The inhabitants offer the actress to their god, Kong, who, we discover, is a giant ape. The big ape falls for Ann (Fay Wray), but then he's captured. He's taken to New York City and exhibited, is maltreated, and escapes. Eventually he climbs the Empire State Building with his beloved Ann in hand, pursued by the authorities.

In spite of the opening quote from what is called an “old Arabian proverb” and all the speechifying by Denham (Robert Armstrong), King Kong's mythic qualities come as much from the clash of nature and civilization as from the old beauty-and-beast element. Anyone who hates setting the alarm clock and who has thought about dropping out of the rat race can't help but suppress a little cheer for Kong as he smashes a commuter train and rampages around the urban jungle. The movie beautifully sets up the audience for the first appearance of the monster by slowly releasing the information about the purpose of filmmaker Denham's voyage to Skull Mountain. He discovers a girl (Wray) at a soup kitchen (the only evidence of the Depression in the movie) to star in his new adventure film; they are far out at sea before Denham produces the old map to the unchartered island.

No one would have predicted from Bruce Cabot's wooden performance that he would have such a long career in movies. The dated dialogue and acting simply point out all the more how much the movie depends on its special effects, created by Willis O'Brien. The rear projection and the use of the optical printer had not attempted such depth of field effects until this film. These were realized through painted-glass backgrounds at different distances from the camera, an effect Walt Disney would later use in Snow White.

King Kong set many standards for movie spectacles: the teasing, delayed appearance of the monster (a rule Steven Spielberg follows in Jaws); the effects-driven vehicle with minimal attention given to character, acting, and dialogue; the plot as a series of memorable set pieces (as in the sacrifice scene with Fay Wray, Kong fighting the tyrannosaurus, the escape from Kong's lair, the destruction of the native village); the marketing of the film as an event (this one was billed on its initial release as “the eighth wonder of the world”); and the re-release of the film to new audiences. Most of all, as a movie spectacle, King Kong came to be regarded as something that audiences had never seen before.

Cast: Fay Wray (Ann Darrow), Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Bruce Cabot (Jack Driscoll), Frank Reicher (Captain Englehorn), Sam Hardy (Weston), Noble Johnson (native chief), Steve Clemente (Witch King), James Flavin (second mate), Vera Lewis (woman at the theater) Cinematographer: Edward Linden, J.O. Taylor, Vernon L. Walker Composer: Max Steiner Producer: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, and David O. Selznick for RKO Running Time: 105 minutes Format: VHS, LV.

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