Wednesday, 9 November 2011

King Kong (1933)

Fig. 1
King Kong is a fantasy monster adventure film, which was co-directed by Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack. The special effects at the time were considered to be astounding and combined with an entertaining story, as well as a powerful ending, the film is considered a classic. The film produced several iconic sequences and scenes within it, for example, the fight between Kong and dinosaur and Kong holding 'scream queen' Fay Wray on top of the Empire State building. It is clear that the 1933 King Kong has heavily influence many later films including GodzillaJurassic Park, Mighty Joe YoungHoney I Blew Up The Kid and of course the 2005 remake of the film, which is pretty much the same apart from a few more modern day special effects.  

The plot follows a director on pursuit of adventure in order to produce his film. In doing so he, the crew and Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) are faced with a myth that comes to life, Kong! During the course of the film it becomes apparent that Ann's beauty has captured the heart of Kong, after several fights with pre-historic creatures to protect her, Kong is rewarded only by Ann being rescued/running away from him. It is then when the director decides to gas Kong and bring him back to New York City to be known as 'The Eighth Wonder of the World'. During opening night all hell breaks loose as Kong escapes, frantically in search of Ann. When found he climbs to the top of the Empire State building and is then shot down by military aircraft. The last line of the film pacts a punch as the director exclaims 'It was beauty that killed the beast!'     

Fig. 2
 Almar Haflidason states, "In reviewing or watching a film from the early 1930s, it is usually necessary to allow for the age of the film and the social and technical restrictions of the time. "King Kong" defies such limited expectations because it was so ahead of its time. Willis O'Brien created impressive effects that were not only technically brilliant, but also highly imaginative in terms of cinematic action." (Haflidason 2001) Haflidason notes the film to be ahead of its time in terms of special effects and praises highly the imagination needed to create such a wonderful piece of cinematography. The set design is another vital ingredient and its prominent, bold concepts can be appreciated by all.     

Known soon after as the 'scream queen', Fay Wray is seen alongside Kong to be the true star of the film. Although at times the film can now been seen as sexist in some places (as well as racist!) Wray has been portrayed as she was, a 'old-school' Hollywood star. Mordaunt Hall suggests, "Her body is like a doll in the claw of the gigantic beast, who in the course of his wanderings through Manhattan tears down a section of the elevated railroad and tosses a car filled with passengers to the street. Automobiles are mere missiles for this Kong, who occasionally reveals that he relishes his invincibility by patting his chest." (Hall 1933) Hall discusses the mannerisms of Kong and the way his animal instincts still remain intact even out of his own habitat. It is believed in the 2005 remake that Kong has been made more 'human like' and gains sympathy from its audience, this could be down to the contrast in the way the character Ann reacts to the beast - Wray remains terrified and has no control of Kong, whilst Naomi Watts warms to Kong and he seems to listen, take note of her wishes.  

Fig. 3
Kim Newman observes, "The focusing on Kong's feelings for Ann gives the spectacle backbone, making it far more satisfying than busy updates like Jurassic Park (where the effects are stars but not characters). In the finale, King Kong delivers an image of supreme surrealism (a giant gorilla atop a skyscraper, buzzed by warplanes, clutching a blonde) that may be the greatest single image contributed by the movies to popular culture." (Newman unspecified date) Newman notes the relationship between 'beauty and beast' and states one of the most iconic scene of all time in cinematography.

List of illustrations

Figure 1. Cooper, Merian and Schoedsack, Ernest (1933) King Kong Movie Poster. At: (Accessed on:1/11/11)

Figure 2. Cooper, Merian and Schoedsack, Ernest (1933) Kong fighting with dinosaur. At: (Accessed on:1/11/11)

Figure 3. Cooper, Merian and Schoedsack, Ernest (1933) Fay Wray 'Scream Queen'. At: (Accessed on:1/11/11)


BBC Almar Haflidason (2001) King Kong (1933). At: (Accessed on:1/11/11)

New York Times Review Mordaunt Hall (1933) King Kong (1933) A Fantastic Film in Which a Monstrous Ape Uses Automobiles for Missiles and Climbs a Skyscraper. At: Tomatoes (Accessed on:1/11/11)

Empire Kim Newman (unspecified date) Empire Essay: King Kong. At: (Accessed on:1/11/11)

1 comment:

  1. You write really well, Lydia - a lightness of touch, but lots of content and great integrated use of evidence. Good stuff! :)