MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #41. King Kong (1933)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

 King-Kong33

“Some big, hardboiled egg gets a look at a pretty face and bang, he cracks up and goes sappy!”

Peter Jackson’s King Kong was a technical ground breaker.  The special effects and advancements in motion capture technology were nothing less than amazing.  Peter Jackson’s King Kong was the fifth highest grossing movie the year it came out and scored four Oscar nominations.  But you know what movie no one talks about just ten years later?  Peter Jackson’s King Kong.  For all its ground breaking spectacle, it’s already a Hollywood footnote.  And while it’s less and less thought about by the day, the reverence for the 1933 original King Kong only grows.


Director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) has a problem.  He films movies in far flung, exotic, often dangerous locations, and his movies are successful enough.  But every review points out that he’d make more at the box office if he’d add an element of romance to his pictures.  About to set sail to a mystery filming location, no agent in new York will supply an actress, because of his reputation for filming in far flung, exotic, often dangerous places.  So he takes to the streets, looking for his new starlette.  He finds Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), broke and on the verge of stealing food just to survive.  The promise of new clothes, a pay cheque and adventure is enough for Ann to sign on and board Denham’s ship, bound for God knows where.

On board, the first mate, John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), has been on several of Denham’s trips before, which only makes him more wary about having a woman on board, and endangering her life.  After months at sea, they finally reach their destination, Skull Island.  Untouched by white men or modern technology, Skull Island is populated by savages who have limited themselves to a tiny outcrop of beach, behind a giant wall.  It turns out, Denham is in search of the legendary Kong, a 50 foot ape who lives behind that wall.

I wish I could give a tangible reason for why this version of King Kong only grows in appreciation, while Jackson’s remake was so quickly forgotten, but I can’t put my finger on it.  I do know I found this 1933 much more entertaining and charming.  And I’m not basing that on nostalgia either, because I was well into my 20s before I ever saw this version for the first.

And it’s not as if I would call the remake a blatant cash grab or soulless commercial move ever.  Peter Jackson is too much of a movie geek with too much love for the medium and the original movie for it to be about that.  Maybe it just comes down to the heart and soul of people being more compelling than computer graphics.  Sure, the stop motion animation is clunky and the giant model ape face and arms are clunky.  But they’re being operated by real people.  The greatest computer generated effects in the world are still computer generated and that much more removed from actual human blood, sweat and tears.

King Kong
Directed By – Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack 
Written By – James Ashmore CreelmanRuth Rose

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