Friday, February 24, 2017

King Kong (1933)

King Kong is one of those characters who's so ingrained in the popular culture, with other examples being Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny, and Superman, that I cannot recall a time when I didn't know of him. Weirdly enough, I can and have pinpointed to when I first became aware of Godzilla, both my favorite movie monster and possibly my favorite character period, but I'll be damned if I can remember exactly when I first heard of the Eighth Wonder of the World. I can, however, recall one of my first, if not my absolute first, true exposures to the character, which was actually a 1993 Energizer commercial that used clips from the original film and new stop-motion to show King Kong climbing up to the top of the Empire State Building, where the Energizer Bunny is going back and forth. Kong reaches for him (because, according to a big card he holds out, an Energizer battery equals... a banana?), only for Ann Darrow to slam down the window on his foot, causing him to go, "Ugh!" and fall off the building. That always stuck in my head and, looking the commercial up on YouTube, it's still pretty funny, although I found Kong's snarling face to be pretty intimidating when I was a kid. It wasn't too long after that when I saw my first legitimate King Kong movies but, the thing is, neither of them were this film; they were actually the 1976 version and its 80's sequel, King Kong Lives, both of which were the only Kong movies our town's video rental store had available. For a while, those, along with King Kong vs. Godzilla, were the ones that I saw, whereas my only exposure to this original movie was through one of the Crestwood House monster books I found at my school's library and it took me a while to realize that this was completely different from the 70's version I was more familiar with. I was always confused when I would read the beginning of that book which detailed this film's story and see it mention a journey to make a movie on an island and dinosaurs attacking and killing many of the sailors, none of which are part of the '76 movie. I was even further confused by a section in the back devoted to that remake, complete with images from it, one of which was used earlier during the discussion of the '33 film and only furthered my confusion. Once I finally realized that there was a much older movie than the one I was familiar with, as I saw clips of it in advertisements for Turner Classic Movies and the re-release trailer on the compilation, Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies, I wondered why the later movie wasn't called King Kong II or whatever, rather than just King Kong again (I didn't understand the concept of remakes at that early age).

I finally did see the original 1933 movie, or at least the latter half of it, for the first time one night on TNT when I was around maybe seven or eight years old. I remember that vividly, mainly because it was a showing of the colorized version that was created in the late 80's but is now virtually impossible to find (it's on YouTube but in Spanish and the sound keeps cutting out), and also because my parents were afraid that the movie would actually scare me, which it never did. Instead, I sat there enthralled, watching Kong fight the T-Rex, the Pterodactyl that tries to fly off with Ann, burst through the wall and tear down the native village, and rampage through New York City before being shot off the Empire State Building. I saw it again, this time almost in full and in its original black-and-white state, one evening on Turner Classic Movies a few years later when I was either ten or eleven and I loved it even more then, so much so that it was only a year or so afterward that I finally bought it on video, which I watched a number of times. With each viewing, I grew to further love and appreciate what a great movie this is, and by the time I got the excellent two-disc DVD release by Warner Bros. as a Christmas present in 2005 (if you're a fan of this movie, you must own that release), I'd already seen Peter Jackson's remake in the theater and, as a result, my love for the character and this movie in particular was at its peak. To this day, this is one of my favorite movies ever and, in my opinion, absolutely deserves its status as one of the greatest ever made. It's one that I have very few problems with, as virtually everything about it just works, from the acting, the direction, and the pacing (the movie is 100 minutes long but it feels like only 30 to me) to the music, the special effects, the monsters, etc. It's undeniable piece of cinematic art and one that I, like many, many others, love to death. Strap yourself, everyone, because this is going to be a long review.


There are several key people who are instrumental in making King Kong what it is but, if there's one person who could truly be called the father of Kong, it was Merian C. Cooper, a guy whose life-story would make an incredible movie in its own right. Cooper was more than just a filmmaker: he was an adventurer, an aviator, and officer of both the United States and the Polish Air Force. Some notable periods in his life include helping to pursue Pancho Villa in Mexico; flying a DH-4 bomber in World War I, which got shot down at one point, forcing him to land it with his elbows because he burned his hands, after which he became a POW of the Germans; aiding the Polish in the Polish-Soviet war, during which he was shot down and taken prisoner again, eventually escaping this time and killing a guard in the process; becoming the Vice President in Charge of Production at RKO after the enormous success of King Kong; and becoming an Air Force colonel during World War II, being promoted to brigadier general by the end of it. He was an amazing man, one whose amazing life I can't do justice. Check out the documentary, I'm King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper, which is an extra feature on Warner Bros.' special edition of the film, to get a better idea of it. It was while he was in Vienna in 1919 that he met who would become the second key member of the King Kong team, Ernest B. Schoedsack, who was working as a combat photographer and who was an adventurous and fearless person in his own right, which was why he and Cooper became good friends (interestingly, they were both born in the year 1893). After they both returned to the United States after World War I, they went their separate ways until Cooper joined an exploratory expedition around the world and suggested Schoedsack as a replacement for a cinematographer who dropped out of the trip at the last minute. Although that expedition ended in disaster when their ship was damaged in a storm and later caught fire while in dry dock, it started the two men working in earnest and they began a series of films called "Natural Dramas," where they would go off to wild and exotic lands, shoot footage of real animals and natives, and edit them into dramatic stories. This approach resulted in three films: Grass and Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness, the latter of which featured a stampede of real elephants through a village and a tiger getting right up to the camera, which was held by Schoedsack. After they produced a 1929 film called The Four Feathers, based on a book that Cooper loved in his younger days, and while Schoedsack was off making a movie called Rango with his wife, Ruth Rose, Cooper came up with the idea for King Kong, combining all of his major interests into one film. As it was on their past films, he and Schoedsack produced and directed it together, with the latter filming all of the scenes involving the actors while Cooper directed the special effects scenes with Willis O'Brien, the third member of the key creative party, whom we'll talk about later.


As far as the cast goes, everyone talks about Ann Darrow but my favorite character is Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong). Why, you may ask? Because he's awesome, that's why! This guy's energy and enthusiasm for what he does is infectious and makes him extremely likable. He's passionate about his job to the point of recklessness and is so excited about the prospect of going to this uncharted island he's recently learned of that he's willing to risk everything, including prison if the authorities discover the amount of ammunition that he's had stored away on the ship, which he plans to avoid by shoving off at the crack of dawn. He's also not exactly fond of bringing a girl along on this dicey voyage in order to put her in his movie but, because of the public's need for a pretty face to look at, he's so determined to find one that, when theatrical agent Charles Weston fails to get one for him, he goes out into the New York streets to do it himself, adding, "Even if I have to marry one!" And that's no idle promise, either, because he's somebody whose determination would lead him to doing it. That's another thing about Denham: he's so excited and has so much conviction in everything he says that you realize he believes it and that you should to. He has such great lines, like, "I'm going out and make the greatest picture in the world, something that nobody's ever seen or heard of. They'll have to think up a lot of new adjectives when I come back," and when he tells Ann Darrow, "It's money and adventure and fame! It's the thrill of a lifetime and a long sea voyage that starts at six o'clock tomorrow morning," and the way he delivers them is that of a true showman. You get a sense of how fearless he is right from the beginning, when a man on the docks tells Charles Weston that he's heard Denham is so brave that, "If he wants a picture of a lion, he just goes right up to him and tells him to look pleasant," and that he acts as his own cameraman, "Ever since a trip I made to Africa. I'd have got a swell picture of a charging rhino, but the cameraman got scared. The darn fool, I was right there with a rifle! Seems he didn't trust me to get the rhino before it got him. I haven't fooled with a cameraman since. I do it myself." He's so courageous that he's willing to go to this lost world of an island and find a possible monstrous creature that he's heard of in order to photograph it. And that's another thing: he's so sure that Kong exists that, when Jack Driscoll hints that this possible god of the island might not like having its picture taken, Denham simply says, "Well, now you know why I brought along those cases of gas bombs." If Denham sounds a little bit like the real-life Merian C. Cooper, you're not wrong. Armstrong said that he based his performance around Cooper's own personality and the character was basically meant to be him when the script was written, right down to his pipe, which Cooper always had at hand.



As adventurous and reckless as Denham tends to be, what makes him really likable is that he's a very trustworthy person. He makes it clear to Ann when he first meets her that he wants her for no other reason aside from being the romantic lead in his movie, which is the truth, telling her, "Just trust me and keep your chin up," (he was also good enough to help her when she was about to be arrested for stealing an apple in her desperation), and while he doesn't tell Captain Englehorn and Jack Driscoll where they're going until they're far out at sea, he doesn't lie to them about the adventure they've been embarked on and how risky this one is compared to those they've been on with him before. Still, his overenthusiasm and excitement when they reach the island gets the better of him, as he's eager to go ashore and shoot some scenes with Ann as soon as possible, and when they come across the native ceremony in the village, he's amazed and decides to film it, which is what gets them spotted. In spite of his eagerness to make friends with the natives and his excitement upon learning that the girl at the center of the ceremony is meant to be Kong's bride, he draws the line when the native chief wants to make Ann the bride instead and, seeing that she's rattled by this, tells her not to be scared and to talk to Jack as they leave, again telling her, "Keep your chin up." Once he later learns that Ann's been taken by the natives, he drops his movie-making plans and leads a rescue party to the island and later into the jungles in order to save her from Kong. He can't help but be amazed when they come across dinosaurs, remarking about a downed Stegosaurus, "If I can only bring one of these back alive," but he remains focused on saving Ann and worries for Jack's safety when he intends to continue following Kong after everyone else has been killed. He and everyone else plans to bridge the ravine the next day if they don't see any signal from Jack but they end up not needing to when he and Ann make it back. However, that's when Denham's showman tendencies kick back in and, knowing that Kong won't be too far behind them, decides to capture the ape in order to bring him back to New York, saying that he's worth more than all the movies in the world (as well as probably because he knows the movie he intended to make is now dead and he has to salvage something from it). Once they do knock Kong out with Denham's gas bombs, he can hardly contain himself as he exclaims, "We're millionaires, boys! I'll share it with all of you. Why, in a few months, it'll be up in lights on Broadway: Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!" And, again, I don't doubt that promise that he makes. However, his plans quickly go south when Kong escapes from the Broadway theater and rampages through New York after recapturing Ann, Denham again dropping everything in order to help save her and stop the monster. And after Kong has fallen to his death off the Empire State Building, Denham is clearly showing signs of regret and remorse when he looks at his corpse and when he tells the policeman, "It wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast," an attitude that leads into his characterization in The Son of Kong.



Fay Wray's Ann Darrow is undoubtedly the most iconic human element of the film and there's a good reason for that, as she's both one of the first and the most famous example of a girl whom a movie monster becomes infatuated with and carries off, something that would influence many, many other movies down the road, including other retellings of this particular story. However, while I don't dislike her, she's not one of the main reasons why I watch this film. She's definitely a lovely young woman, as well as extremely kind and, above everything else, innocent, eager to accept Denham's offer, despite not knowing all of the details and momentarily getting the wrong idea about his intentions, and finding the prospect of setting sail on an adventurous voyage to be very exciting. It's certainly a better alternative to the life she was living before, where she was suffering from the Great Depression, forced to steal an apple from a street vendor in order to fill her stomach with something, and with no real family and no job, since the theater she once worked for having closed down. Once on the ship, she makes friends with everybody, although it takes a while for the woman-loathing, he-man first mate, Jack Driscoll, to warm to her, although he does from being very concerned for her safety to the point where he falls in love with her. She's a little bit adventurous herself, perfectly willing to go ashore when they first reach the island, although that spirit dampens a little when the native chief takes a little too much of an interest in her, and what's really apparent is that she never once falters in her faith towards Denham. In spite of that scare in the village, Ann tells Jack that she'll do anything for him after everything he's done for her, and even after her ordeal on the island with Kong, she still goes to the opening of the Broadway presentation of him in order to help Denham out. Too bad her presence is a reason why Kong goes berserk and breaks himself out. So, Ann is a likable character but she's still not one of my favorite parts of the movie, mainly because her constant screaming gets on my nerves after a while. It's the thing she's most well-known for and it is understandable why she would scream the way she does but, lord, after a while, you'd think she would realize that if Kong was going to eat her or whatever, he would've done it by then. And that's another thing: while later versions of the story would have the girl grow to love Kong, Ann is frightened of him to the very last frame and is obviously relieved when he's shot off the Empire State Building. In the enormous documentary on the film on the special edition DVD, a music historian mentions how composer Max Steiner spotted a "relationship" growing between Kong and Ann but, unless he's talking about the one-sided aspect of it on Kong's part, I'm not sure what relationship there is. In fact, it gets to the point where I wonder why Kong is infatuated with Ann since all she does is scream in his face and if she thinks that he'll let her go if she screams enough. Actually, he seems to like it when she screams, so maybe he's into that. Who knows?



One guy who's initially rather unlikable is Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), the first mate of the Venture. You first meet him at the very beginning as he snarls at Charles Weston, the theatrical agent, when he shows up on the dock, asking him who he is and only changing his demeanor when he learns that Denham is expecting him. He's also not at all pleased about Ann Darrow's being on the ship, telling her that he doesn't like women on ships because they're a nuisance and tells Ann that she's already been in the way. In fact, her introduction to Jack is when he accidentally whacks her in the chin when he's yelling at the men on the deck as they're preparing to leave and his reaction to it is, "What are you doing here?" He off-handedly apologizes to her but, a couple of minutes later, does it sincerely when he realizes that first apology was rather weak. Six weeks into the voyage, Jack is a little bit nicer to Ann but still makes it clear that he'd rather she not be there, saying that her just being around is trouble. When it's obvious he hurt her feelings with that remark, Jack does try to make up for it by saying, "Oh, you're alright," but then adds, "Women just can't help being a bother. Made that way, I guess." Yeah, Jack's a typical, chauvinistic man of the period but after this, he starts to mellow a little bit when he hears Ann mention that she's had the best time of her life on the voyage and becomes very protective of her when they reach the island, not liking Denham's insistence that the goes ashore and calling him out on it when the native chief becomes interested in giving her to Kong. Speaking of Denham, he's not too fond of him either, first for not telling them where they're heading until quite a ways into the trip and then for making Ann go ashore with them, thinking he's crazy. After the confrontation with the natives, he worries what else Denham will have do for the movie. This is when he realizes that he's fallen for her and the two of them become romantically involved, with Jack becoming a typical, dashing hero, leading the rescue party along with Denham when Ann is captured by the natives and later by Kong. He's even bold enough to continue following Kong after everyone in the party except for him and Denham have been killed and manages to save her and bring her back to the village. When Denham then decides that he wants to capture Kong alive, Jack calls him crazy again and is more protective of Ann than ever when Denham hints that he'll come to the village because, "We've got something he wants," saying, "Yeah. Something he won't get again." He manages to protect Ann during Kong's rampage through the village and by the time Denham presents him on Broadway, the two of them are engaged to be married. Unfortunately, Jack isn't able to do much when Kong escapes and recaptures his bride-to-be, although he's the one who comes up with the idea of using airplanes to take care of Kong, climbing up to the top platform of the Empire State Building and comforting Ann after it's all over.

My favorite human character in the film aside from Denham is Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher). He's a really cool old guy, a great captain as well as a nice, reasonable man, and while he, like the others, is a little concerned about Denham's ambitions and the implications that could arise from the massive amount of weapons and ammo in the cargo, he goes along with his voyage, despite his initial doubts about the island they're looking for actually existing. Having been a veteran captain and traveled to many different areas in his voyages, he's aware of the legend of Kong, despite not exactly believing in it, and while he's a bit incredulous of Denham's intention to try to film this so-called god, he tells Jack Driscoll at one point that he feels Denham is enthusiastic rather than crazy. Englehorn is also in key in communicating with the islanders, as he happens to speak a language that's very similar to theirs, although this doesn't make them any less happy about their being there or keep them from kidnapping Ann after Englehorn turns down the chief's offer for her. As much as he does have some respect for Denham, he does have a limit to his patience with him, getting quite irritated when he talks about sneaking ashore to see what's going on in the village one night, saying, "Oh, be sensible! We're lucky to be all safe aboard tonight." Like everyone else, Englehorn jumps into action when it becomes clear that Ann has been taken, saying, "Serve out the rifles! Man the boats!", and while he doesn't go with the rescue party, he does stay behind with the rest of the crew to keep the villagers from the closing the door of the Great Wall. The one time where he does think Denham is out of his mind is when he suggests capturing Kong, yelling, "What?!" when he mentions it, and after they manage to knock him out with a gas bomb, Englehorn isn't so sure, saying, "No chains will ever hold that!" But, he goes along with it and helps bring Kong back to New York, the aftermath of which gets him in hot water along with Denham in the sequel.

Those are the four main characters of the film, although there are others who leave an impression, chief among them being the native chief (Noble Johnson). He has quite a presence to him, with how tall he is, the way his face looks, and those markings on it, and he's pretty intimidating when he walks down the steps of the altar towards Denham and the others after spotting them watching the ceremony (it's helped by Max Steiner's music there). While he's not speaking English, it's obvious that he's not happy to see them and wants them to get out, even more so when, according to Englehorn, the witch doctor tells him that their seeing the ceremony has defiled it. As much as he wants them to leave, he's quite taken by Ann, referring to her as "the golden woman," and placidly offers to trade six women of his village in exchange for her to become Kong's bride. He's even more displeased when Englehorn turns his offer down, taking a few steps towards them in a very intimidating manner, and sends a couple of villagers to the ship that night to kidnap her. As he did before, he watches over the ceremony as Ann is presented to Kong and also yells at everyone else when he sees that the others have arrived to save her. You wouldn't be remised for thinking that the chief was killed in Kong's rampage through the village but the sequel shows that he did survive.




While he may not be considered politically correct nowadays, one guy I do like is Charlie (Victor Wong), the Venture's Chinese cook. I just can't help but like him when Ann asks him how many potatoes he thinks he's peeled in six weeks and he says either, "Two million," or, "Too many," (with his accent, it's hard to tell what he said exactly), and adds, "Some day, me go back China. Never see no more potato. He also makes this odd comment: "Ocean very nice when you order weather or some eggs for breakfast." I don't know what that means at all. While he's little more than a supporting player, he is important in that he discovers the bracelet the native dropped when he took Ann and lets everyone know, although, speaking of un-PC, he tells Englehorn, "Crazy black man been here!" I also like how enthusiastic he is to go with everyone when they're going ashore, saying, "Me like to catch missy!" but is told, "This is no job for a cook!" Another actor who caught my eye, despite being in a very bit part, is Dick Curtis, who I know because he went on to appear in a number of Three Stooges shorts, as one of the sailors. He's the one who says, "Hey, let's scram out of here," when the chief is approaching them. Finally, I have to mention the two pilots who shoot Kong down at the end of the movie, as they're played by none other than Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack themselves, as Cooper felt, "We made him, so we might as well the son of a bitch ourselves!" Cooper is the pilot and Schoedsack is the gunner.




One thing that makes King Kong stand out amongst many of the other films made around the same time is how technically superior it feels. I'm not just talking about the special effects but also about how it looks and sounds. The film had a massive budget for the times, over $500,000, and it feels like every single penny was spent on it. The sets and matte paintings used to depict the jungles and other terrain of Kong's island (some of which were actually refurbished from The Most Dangerous Game, another film Cooper and Schoedsack were making at the time), the native village, the Great Wall, and the streets and buildings of New York City are all very well-done and sophisticated for the time and the same goes for the film's overall look. Not only is it very well-shot by cinematographers Eddie Linden, Vernon Walker, and J.O. Taylor, but the film itself doesn't look as grainy or archaic as many other films made around that time. Even the sound design is superior, as the dialogue sounds much crisper and clearer than other early talkies and that's to say nothing of the sounds made by Kong and the other monsters, which were very well-done given the limitations of the time and a testament to the talent of sound artist Murray Spivack. Even the very construction and pacing of the story is very well-executed. It starts out pretty leisurely, setting up the characters and getting all of the exposition, including the first mention of Kong, out of the way during the first twenty minutes or so before we get to the island. But, once Kong makes his first appearance and carries Ann off, the film, it just goes and doesn't let up to the end, just as Cooper had intended. I don't know how else to describe it other than to call it a very superior movie for the time and even to this day.

What's also cool is that the film is like a time-capsule and gives you look at life in New York City during the Great Depression, which hit its absolute bottom around this time. It doesn't dwell on it longer than it needs to but, when Denham goes ashore to find a girl for his movie at the beginning, you get the impression that times are tough, as you see people lining up for lodging and Ann's being so hungry that she's forced to steal an apple from a street vendor, who complains about it and says that this isn't the first time he's been stolen from that week. In addition, Ann mentions to Denham that she has acted before but the theater she used to work at is now closed, more than likely due to the Depression, and late in the film when people are lining up to see Kong's unveiling at the Broadway theater, a guy complains to his wife, "Well, you would come, and these tickets cost me twenty bucks!", which was especially steep for that time. Not a big part of the movie's story but it's an interesting one and it does tie in to how, when this movie was released, it did very well, despite the Depression, because people were yearning for escapism.




The island is never actually called Skull Island, with the closest moniker being that of the large mountain in the center, Skull Mountain, but regardless, it's an absolute classic setting and one that's been copied many times before. Seriously, how many times have you seen or heard of movies set on remote islands with monsters and primitive tribes? Well, this is the original, and it's a really great setting for the story. It's not a very big island but the matte paintings used to depict it when they first look at it from the ship and row out to it, as well as the music, make it look and feel very ominous and mysterious, complete with the thick fogbank that surrounds it, which makes for an eerie scene as they head through it The depiction of the natives and their village may seem clich├ęd and typical by today's standards, with their overdone costumes and their straw huts, but what makes up for it is the Great Wall at the end of the village, which is quite an amazing piece of construction for a movie at that time. The best parts of the island, though, are the interiors behind the wall, with full-scale jungle sets, matte paintings, and miniature sets used to create the illusion of a deep and dense tropical jungle that looks like it goes back for miles and miles. It also has an unearthly, mysterious feel to it thanks to the black-and-white photography, the lighting (with dark foregrounds and bright backgrounds), and the hazy mist that appears to be hanging in the air in the backgrounds. Seriously, pause the movie on any of those shots and you'll have an image that would make for a great painting to hang on your wall! There are also some shots where you can see Kong moving off into the distance in the background while Jack Driscoll is hiding in the foreground and those always stuck with me when I first saw them as a kid, as they felt so real and unnerving. You also have to love the creepy, foggy swamp that Denham and the others have to make their way through in order to stay on Kong's trail and the barren, rocky cliffs that Kong climbs up to, arriving at the cave that leads up to the very top of the mountain. Like the jungle, the interior of the cave is a very atmospheric and moody environment, thanks to the same great lighting and photography, as well as elements like the bubbling pool in the foreground and the plumes of smoke here and there.




The film's most successful element is the title character himself: the Eighth Wonder of the World, King Kong, and it's not just because he's a cool, badass ape who beats up on other monsters and wrecks stuff. It's because he's a fully realized character, with a personality and a heart, all accomplished through special effects rather than an actor giving a performance. At the outset, he seems like just a big brute who's definitely the king of his island and doesn't take any shit from any of the other creatures that live there with him, as the T-Rex and the Pterodactyl learn the hard way, nor does he like intruders in his domain, as seen when he shakes the men off the log. He's a very brutal and primal fighter, constantly biting his opponents as he grabs and struggles with them, and when he's dealing with humans who've made him angry, he's not above putting them in his mouth and munching on them or stomping them into the ground. And yet, despite all of the death and destruction he causes, Kong is not an evil, heartless monster. For the most part, his depiction is that of an untamed, wild animal who's the apex predator of his domain but he does have a soft spot to him. Many girls have undoubtedly been sacrificed to and killed by him in the past but there's something about Ann Darrow that catches his eye and fascinates him. You can tell from his first appearance when he lays eyes on her that he's intrigued by this woman, probably because she's white and blonde, which he's never seen, and he seems to take delight in getting her loose enough from the altar she's tied to so she can fall to the ground and he can pick her up. He becomes very protective of her when he carries her off into the jungle, taking care of the men following them so they can't interfere, fighting and brutally killing that T-Rex when he threatens her, and doing the same to the Elasmosaurus in his cave and the Pterodactyl at the top of the cliff. When he saves her from the T-Rex, the way he looks down on her shows that he's becoming infatuated with her (mind you, it's a very creepy look but still), and before the Pterodactyl attacks, he plays around with her, slowly stripping off some of her clothes and sniffing them. When the film was re-released in 1938, censors at the time felt that moment was perverted and cut it (fortunately it, and other censored shots, were eventually put back into the film) but I've always seen it as Kong simply being a curious animal, wondering what those loose "skins" on her are and why she's not screaming in pain when he pulls them off. His tickling of her when she regains consciousness is a further sign of affection that he's developed for her. That affection, however, is what proves to be Kong's downfall, in that it drives him to pursue Ann back to the village when Jack saves her, giving Denham the opportunity to knock him out with a gas bomb, and when he thinks she's being attacked by the photographers' flashing camera bulbs at the Broadway theater, he becomes enraged and breaks loose, which leads to his finding and reclaiming her and climbing to the top of the Empire State Building with her, where he meets doom. Remember when I said he's not heartless? Well, if he were, he would've lived, which is the meaning behind the immortal line, "It was Beauty who killed the Beast."

Willis O'Brien in later years.

The man who brought Kong to life was the third member of the core team: effects legend Willis O'Brien. I knew of O'Brien long before I did Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, as he was mentioned by name in the introductory segment of Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies!, where they talked about the significance of both The Lost World and King Kong in this genre of film. I always thought he was the director of the movie since he was talked about so prominently and, as it turns out, he kind of was a third director, as he and Cooper worked together on the stop-motion scenes. This is the guy who pretty much created both stop-motion animation and the field of visual effects in general and when you look at how he applied them to this film, it's remarkable, to say the least. If you've read up on stop-motion animation, you'd know that it's a time-consuming, difficult process, taking hours or even days just to set up the miniature set and the lighting before the animation begins and once it does, the animators have to subtly move the puppets a frame at a time, meaning that it can take a whole day just to get a minute of film and they have to keep working until the shot is completed for continuity's sake. Getting them simply to walk across the screen was bad enough but imagine how much of a nightmare it must've been to create the battles between Kong and the other monsters or the final battle atop the Empire State Building. When they moved the puppets, they also had to think about why the character would be moving in the direction they were and where they would natural place their feet and hands and so on. And if something went wrong or Cooper wasn't satisfied with one take, as he often was, they'd have to do it all over again. The fact that O'Brien was able to coordinate all of that and instill such a personality into Kong makes it even more amazing. If you watch Kong closely throughout the film, you'll see a number of interesting tics and gestures that he does that were purposefully put in there by O'Brien, like the sucker punches he gives to the T-Rex during their fight or how, when he first appears and sees Ann, he briefly looks up and glares at the natives on the wall, as if to say, "Don't interfere!" I'll go into more detail on those when we talk about the significant effects and action scenes but, in summation, they make Kong feel all the more alive and more than just an overgrown gorilla, which he basically is design-wise, save for liberties taken in streamlining the belly and buttocks, as well as his walking on his hind legs more than a real gorilla would. According to O'Brien's second wife, he put a lot of himself into the characterization, and I've read that his doing so caused numerous arguments between him and Cooper, who wanted Kong to be more of a fearsome beast (which is odd, considering that he canceled a dinosaur movie that O'Brien was working on before called Creation partly because he felt the dinosaurs were nothing more than savage monsters).



A good way to see the wear-and-tear effect that stop-motion had on not only the technicians but the models themselves is to notice how Kong's face subtly changes throughout the course of the movie. That's because the rubber parts of the stop-motion puppets would dry out after being under the hot studio lights during the long time it took to film these sequences, which is why puppet-designer Marcel Delgado made two that they could interchange, and because they didn't have molds, Delgado would have to rebuild the rubber face from scratch each time, which led to it looking a bit different after every repair job. They also created a third, larger puppet for the sequences in New York, as Cooper felt that the smaller ones didn't look as imposing amongst the enormous urban infrastructure, and they may have probably used it in some scenes set on the island as well, specifically full-on shots of Kong's face. You can tell this puppet apart from the others because it has a rounder head, while the others are longer in the face. And here's something else that's interesting. You may notice that Kong's fur bristles constantly throughout the movie. Well, what you're seeing is the effect of Willis O'Brien's fingers as he grabs onto the puppet and gradually moves it one frame at a time. This horrified Cooper and Schoedsack when they first saw it in the dailies and they thought it would ruin everything but, supposedly, an RKO executive thought it added realism and made it look as if it was happening because Kong was so mad. I always thought it was meant to be his fur blowing in the wind and was quite surprised when I learned it was a simple accident they didn't plan for.


Stop-motion wasn't the only way in which they brought Kong to life, as they made use of full-size versions of head, hands, and feet for big close-ups. The big head I've always found to be kind of freaky, especially when you see it from Ann's point-of-view. Something about the way it looks framed behind the trees, staring right at Ann when she first sees Kong, has always gotten to me and so does the way it peers down on her, with a big, Cheshire cat-like grin, after Kong has defeated the T-Rex. Maybe it's an early example of the Uncanny Valley or how much smoother it moves in contrast to the stop-motion but it's always felt unnerving to me. The big hands, which would become a common feature in future King Kong movies and other giant ape flicks over the years, look pretty good, as if they're really gripping Fay Wray enough to where she can't escape, and while the foot, which you see only a couple of times, looks a bit mechanical in the way it rises and falls, it works for the short period it's used. Finally, I have to mention Kong's vocals. I've always thought his main, growling roar, which was created by combining the sounds of lions and tigers and then playing them backwards and forwards, always sounded pretty cool and distinct (it's nice how, in his first scene, you hear him before you actually see him), and the same goes for the odd, low grunts that he makes. Sound designer Murray Spivack, who did those sounds with his own voice and then slowing them down, referred to them as "love grunts" since he only does them whenever Ann's nearby, and they do have an affectionate sound to them, although still a little bit unnerving.





Fortunately for O'Brien and his team, they'd already built some dinosaur models that were meant to be used in Creation before got it canned in favor of King Kong, so making the other inhabitants of Kong's island wasn't quite as time-consuming. Of course, since we're talking about a film that was made in the 30's, the depiction of the dinosaurs is hardly scientifically accurate by today's terms (not that Merian Cooper cared about that, anyway) but they're so cool-looking and appropriately fearsome beasts that I don't think it matters. The first one they see, the Stegosaurus that charges at Denham, Jack, and the rescue party, is probably the most accurate in terms of the way he looks and behaves, as it's feasible to think those dinosaurs would have been territorial like a lot of modern day animals are. The only thing is that they can't seem to keep his size consistent, as he's pretty big already when he charges at them but when they walk by him after downing him with a gas bomb and a bunch of bullets, they look absolutely puny compared to him. The Brontosaurus (and to all of you paleontology aficionados who are going to say, "You mean Apatosaurus," you might be interested to know that it was recently discovered that the Brontosaurs was actually a completely different type of dinosaur altogether, so nyah) is definitely the least scientifically accurate, as he actively attacks, chases, and munches on the sailors, despite the fact that this species was a herbivore. It's also interesting to note that he's one of a couple of other creatures besides Kong that was brought to life through a combination of stop-motion and other techniques, namely a mechanical model use for when he first emerges out of the swamp. My favorite dinosaur in the film is the Tyrannosaurus that Kong battles when he threatens Ann. He may not be accurate in the way he stands upright, dragging his tail (and, admittedly, he looks more like an Allosaurus but I'll just keep calling him a T-Rex) but it doesn't matter, as I think he's really cool and I love those kinds of dinosaurs anyway. When I was a kid, I liked him so much that I hated seeing Kong mutilate him the way he does. He definitely has the most memorable scene of any of the dinosaurs and has the most distinctive vocalization of any of them with his hissy snarl (Murray Spivack created the vocals of all the dinosaurs by combining the sounds of an air compressor with croaking sounds made by his own voice). Besides dinosaurs, there are also some enormous birds on the island, like these big vultures that can be pecking at the T-Rex after Kong's finished him off. I used to think that the Elasmosaurus that threatens Ann in the cave was just a big snake and it wasn't until I watched the documentary on the DVD that I heard it was meant to be a plesiosaur. After I heard them say that, I paid closer attention and I could see the flippers when it attacks Kong. Finally, you have the creature I feel the most pity for, which is the Pterodactyl that makes the mistake of trying to carry Ann off, only to get attacked badly by Kong. Aside from the stop-motion puppets, they also created a mockup for the Pterodactyl's feet when he tries to fly off with Ann.




The amazing stop-motion effects aren't the only technical advancements that the filmmakers made with the film. They also did a pretty impressive job of combing the live-action footage of the actors with the effects and the matte paintings. Not only did they make use of rear-screen projection, such as in the scenes with the sailors and the Stegosaurs and when Ann watches Kong fighting the T-Rex from the top of the tree he set her on, they also used two types of compositing to blend two elements together, such as during the village rampage scene where you see natives running in the foreground while Kong is battling others atop some scaffolding in the background and the log scene (the difference between the two processes is how much work was required to make them look good and the types of shots they could be used for, among other variables). Willis O'Brien and his crew also created little stop-motion people to stand in for the actors in certain scenes and also managed to put real actors in the midst of otherwise wholly stop-motion scenes by building tiny screens into the miniature sets and projecting live-action footage of the actors one frame at a time along with the animation. This is how they pulled off the shot of Jack Driscoll ducking into the hole in the side of the cliff while Kong reaches in for him and for when Kong places Ann in the tree, the lead-up to which involved switching from a puppet Ann in Kong's hand to real footage of Fay Wray in the tree when he motions putting her up there and the effect is surprisingly seamless. The most ambitious section of the entire film, one that combined every one of the techniques, is when Kong fights the Elasmosaurus in the cave while Ann and Jack watch on opposite sides of the screen. Here, they combined stop-motion animation, a miniature set, a matte painting for the background, real water for a pool in the center, real smoke, foreground elements like rocks, and two tiny rear-projection screens with live-action footage of Wray and Bruce Cabot. It is a completely flawless image and one that has confounded modern day effects artists! These techniques work so well and, more often than not, are as perfect that they can be that it's amazing to think that O'Brien, his crew, and the other effects artists didn't receive any kind of awards. Awards for special effects didn't exist back then but you'd think someone at the Academy would've seen this stuff and made an exception. In fact, producer David O. Selznick did try to talk them into giving the effects artists a special Oscar for their accomplishments but he was turned down.




The first major scene is Kong's introduction, and it's a doozy. After being kidnapped from the boat and taken back to the village, Ann is lead through the door of the Great Wall and both of her arms are tied to an altar on the other side. She's left out there after the door is closed and the natives gather atop the wall, looking down at her. They continue chanting until the chief tells them to be silent and, after giving a speech, two men standing on either side of him pound a large gong behind him four times. The villagers chant again and, after a moment of silence, the chief motions for them to strike the gong again. The chief and the other villagers look offscreen, as you hear snarling and the sound of trees being pushed aside. Kong then emerges from the jungle in front of the altar, pushing the trees aside and snarling as he looks at Ann for the first time. Ann was screaming already but when she sees the head of this enormous ape staring at her from behind the trees, she becomes hysterical and struggles to get loose. Kong pushes the remaining trees out of his way and pounds his chest mightily, while roaring as loud as he can (probably my favorite shot of him in the whole movie), before grunting at her again in an intrigued manner, which freaks Ann out even more. Appearing to smile as he walks up to the altar, Kong, having clearly done this before, is able to manipulate the little on one side of the altar, allowing Ann to free that arm. He waits for her to free her other one and when she tumbles down to the base of the altar, he promptly picks her up, roaring up at the villagers on the wall as they cheer their successful sacrifice. Denham, Jack, and others arrive on the scene, rushing the door, with Jack looking through one of the small openings on the bottom in time to see Kong carry Ann off into the jungle. They manage to pry it open and Denham and Jack rush through with a group of men, telling Captain Englehorn and the other men who stay behind not to let the natives close it. The chief sees them run through the door from his perch atop the wall and warns the other natives of what's going on but whatever happens next there is never shown.



After traveling through the jungle, following the trail of broken branches that Kong left behind, as well as his large footprint in the mud, the party stops dead in its tracks when they see a Stegosaurus roaming around up ahead. Telling the men to keep quiet, Denham then asks for one of his gas bombs as the dinosaur walks off to the left, only to reappear closer to them. Several tense seconds later, the Stegosaurus spots them and lets out an angry snarl before charging at them. The men fire on him but it doesn't even slow him down and only a gas bomb chucked by Denham right into his face stops him, causing him to turn around in circles before collapsing to the ground. The men cautiously walk up to the downed dinosaur, who's not quite out yet, as he moves around slightly on the ground. Jack tells Denham to shoot him again and he does, with the dinosaur screaming in pain and anger before he manages to get to his feet. They fire on him some more as he turns around and swings his deadly, spiked tail at them, only to collapse again from the gunfire. Walking up to the gravely injured but still kicking dinosaur, Denham gives him one more shot to the head, which finally puts him down. They then walk around the monster, remarking on his size and power, when his tail suddenly swings up. They're momentarily rattled but when the tail just flops up and down, they see that he's done for and move on.




Coming upon a swamp, the men are forced to build a makeshift raft, giving Kong ample time to get far ahead of them. They paddle carefully through the fog-riddled swamp, unaware that their movements haven't gone unnoticed, as a Brontosaurus spots them and dips down completely into the water. It isn't long before they heard a loud roar and see the Brontosaur rise up out of the water to the left of them. They promptly fire on him and he dives back down into the water, only to rise up again underneath the raft, sending them tumbling into the water and forcing them to swim for shore. The dinosaur then attacks, chomping on one sailor and lifting him up out of the water, his head in his mouth, before dropping him back down. He does the same to another one, flinging him off to the side, before doing the same to some other panicking sailors and apparently leaving others behind to drown (these foggy shots of the Brontosaur's back, long, curving neck, and neck head moving through the water bring to mind reports of the Loch Ness Monster; in fact, there are some theories that when people in the area saw the film, those images were imbedded in their brains that it was what they imagined seeing in the lake). The remaining men make it to shore and run in a panic, tripping and falling over each other, with the Brontosaur chasing after them across the marsh. Most of them make it into the jungle but there's on straggler who has the dinosaur hot on his heels and when he makes it to the edge of the jungle, he very stupidly climbs up to the top of a dead tree there. This puts him right in the Brontosaur's biting range, as he snaps his jaws at the panicking sailor, while the others continue running into the jungle. The dinosaur is eventually able to swing his neck around and grab the man, who screams in absolute terror as he's shaken around before being dropped down to the ground. The other men continue running in a panic, while Kong, meanwhile, crosses a large log lying over a deep chasm and comes to a clearing up past it. As they run through the brush, Denham gets his sleeve caught on a branch sticking out and tries to get free, as Kong hears the commotion behind him and places Ann atop a dead tree, leaving to take care of any intruders. Jack and the men come across the spot leading to the large log and run across it, unaware of the danger that lies up ahead.


The men make it to the other side of the chasm when they hear Kong roar and he appears out of the jungle. Panicking, they run back across, while Jack, who was ahead of everyone else, uses a vine to climb down the side of chasm wall and takes cover in a small opening there. Kong grabs the one end of the log and begins rolling it back and forth, the men trying desperately to hold on, when he lifts it up, causing one guy on his end to fall to his death. The same happens to a man at the opposite end and when Kong sets the log back down, two more fall off from the impact (they're clearly dolls when they hit the ground but the way their screams instantly cut off when they hit is quite effective). Two more men are left, one hanging off the side of the log while another has managed to keep his footing on the trunk. Kong swipes at him, trying to either grab him or knock him off, and becomes visibly frustrated when he can't reach him, pounding his fist on the ground. He swings his hand again but misses yet again and, growing frustrated, lifts the log back up and resumes rolling, causing the one problematic guy to slip off. The last one has a good grip on the bit sticking out of the log's side and Kong is unable to shake him off, so he simply sends the entire thing tumbling down to the bottom of the chasm, killing the remaining sailor instantly when it crashes. (For those wondering why the men simply didn't just get off the log on the other side, it's believed there was originally meant to be a Styracosaurus over there, thoroughly trapping them. You can see its head over there in publicity stills of this sequences.) Kong roars triumphantly but then sees Jack when he peeks his head out from the opening in the chasm wall and backs off quietly before reaching his arm down, trying to catch him out. Jack appears to smack his palm and Kong recoils slightly, only to stick his hand back in. Jack then pulls out a knife and cuts Kong when his hand gets too close for comfort, prompting him to recoil completely and look at his cut with a sad face. Jack waits for him to give up and leave, only to notice a bizarre, large lizard with only two front legs and a beak-like mouth climbing up the canyon wall towards him (this creature is believed to have been part of the infamous deleted "Spider Pit" sequence that originally occurred after Kong shook the men off). It almost reaches him when Jack quickly cuts the vine it's climbing up and sends it tumbling back down, the sound of which gets Kong's attention again and reaches back down after Jack.



Back at Ann, as she sits in the top of that tree, a T-Rex shows up in the background, hissing and growling, prompting her to scream. Kong immediately hears her and as she continues screaming, he decides to forget about Jack and walks off to save her, getting back to the spot right when the Tyrannosaur is almost on top of her. The two of them square off very quickly, circling each other, when Kong jumps on the T-Rex's back and puts his neck in a stranglehold. The T-Rex struggles around and manages to drop Kong onto the ground and leans down towards him, trying to bite him, but Kong manages to grab his snout and keep him at bay long enough for him to roll away and get to his feet. Standing right in front of the tree Ann's in, Kong dodges two attempts to bite his head and swipes at the T-Rex, the two of them ending up across from each other and growling. The T-Rex snaps at him and after Kong swings his arm, jumps at him and the two grapple, snarling loudly as they do. Kong then backs off to the opposite and throws a small punch, which the T-Rex responds to with another couple of snaps of his jaws. Kong then takes the chance and grabs his legs, pulling him around and forcing him to the ground, delivering some punches to him when he's got him pinned down. The T-Rex manages to shove Kong off with his leg and gets back up, sliding his tail back and forth across the ground while growling. Kong gets back up and roars again before charging at him, dodging some more bites, grabbing his right leg, and struggling with the T-Rex, who continues to try to bite him. The two of them do a flip (if you freeze-frame, you can see the rods used to hold the stop-motion puppets up during that bit of the animation) and once they both get up, Kong grabs the T-Rex's neck and manages to pull him along the ground, only for the dinosaur to shove him and send him tumbling backwards, right into the tree where Ann is. It crashes down, not hurting Ann but leaving her pinned and unable to escape (note that Kong and the T-Rex both freeze while this happening).




The T-Rex stomps up to Kong, who grabs his right arm and pulls him around again, before stopping to deliver a sucker punch to him. He gets on the opposite side and throws another sucker punch before jumping at the T-Rex, holding his neck with one arm and his snout with the other, while biting into the side of the top of his head. In a cutaway to Ann watching the battle, the T-Rex seems to have gotten loose but Kong is able to get the same type of hold on the opposite side of him, biting him again, and forcing him down to the ground. The dinosaur is hardly helpless, though, snapping at Kong and getting back to his feet, only for Kong to jump at him and climb up onto his back. He tries to shake him off but Kong is able to hold on and grab both of his jaws, prying them open and stretching them wide. You can hear a snap here and as Ann watches, the T-Rex rolls down onto the ground, sending Kong off, but before he can get back up, Kong is on him and grabs his jaws again. He forces them open and attempts to stretch them, only for him to get his head loose and snap at the ape's fingers. Kong is visibly frustrated by this but manages to quickly grab him again, slipping momentarily but gets another grip, and forces the mouth open, stretching the jaws, breaking them and bending the end of the top jaw to the left with a loud, sickening crack. The T-Rex goes limp and Kong proceeds to inspect his mouth, play with it a bit, drop the head and shake it, before realizing he's won and roaring victoriously while beating his chest. (That less than three-minute long fight took nearly two full months to animate.) Getting back to business, Kong turns his attention back to Ann, who, of course, screams upon seeing him approaching, and picks the tree up off of her before gathering her up, leering at her in a rather uncomfortable way (the look on his face is unsettling, to say the least), and walks off with her.




Kong, unknowingly followed by Jack, takes Ann up to his cave in Skull Mountain and momentarily sets her down up on a ledge and walks away. That's when a snake-like Elasmosaurus slithers his neck up the side of the rock towards Ann and almost grabs her, when her scream alerts Kong and he swings around and grabs the dinosaur (if you're wondering what he was doing, if you freeze-frame right before he turns, you can see that he appears to be picking up a flower for Ann!), which coils its snake-like body around the upper part of his torso and neck. Kong struggles and manages to get him off and down to the ground, having to wring his left loose of his tail, and swats his fists at him as he strikes. As Jack watches from nearby, Kong grabs the Elasmosaur's neck and forces him down, only for his tail to come up behind him and lasso his neck. When Kong tries to wrench the tail loose, the Elasmosaur squeezes around him and tries to bite at his mouth. He's able to shove him back down by the neck but when Kong tries to use both hands to strangle him, he chokes him with his tail again, forcing him to use only one hand to try to wrench the tail loose. There's one point where he manages to get it loose, only to get choked again and he has no choice but to use both hands. Eventually, the Elasmosaur tries to constrict his whole body around his neck but, after some struggling, Kong is able to wrench him loose with one hand on the neck, the other on the tail, and throw him down. The plesiosaur snaps at him again but Kong, having had enough, grabs the base of his tail and slams him hard against the rocks twice, killing him. Inspecting the body and realizing that he's dead, Kong again roars and pounds his chest triumphantly. He grabs Ann and walks up a path that leads to a ledge which overlooks the entire island. Once he's up there, he puts Ann down and, like a badass, looks over his land and beats his chest, letting out a mighty roar, as if to confirm to any doubters that he is king of the island. Ann looks up at him but before she has a chance to slip away, Kong walks in front of her, causing her to faint and leading into the scene where he curiously removes pieces of her clothing and sniffs them, before tickling her and then sniffing his fingers!


As he tries to climb up the walkway inside the cave, Jack dislodges a boulder that tumbles down with a loud crash. Hearing this, Kong realizes there's an intruder and puts Ann down, walking back into the cave, while Jack hides behind a large outcropping just feet away from him. Back on the ledge, the dazed Ann tries to crawl away but when she stands up near the edge, she catches the attention of a Pterodactyl, which swoops in and tries to carry her off in his claws. She manages to get free but is unable to escape, until Kong comes storming back out just as the Pterodactyl is about to make off with her. It's no contest as Kong grabs him, forcing to drop Ann, and brutalizes him, stretching his wing and biting him, the Pterodactyl unable to escape his grip. He grabs him by the neck and bites into him again, and while the Pterodactyl manages to bite his face, Kong bites him again and breaks his beak open. He finally stops moving and Kong picks the body up and chomps on it some more before dropping. Unbeknownst to him, Jack managed to slip Ann away while he was busy, the two of them climbing down the side of the cliff with the use of a vine. Kong is initially confused when he turns around and sees that Ann is gone but he soon walks over to the edge and sees them climbing down the vine. Undaunted, he grabs the vine and starts pulling them back up, forcing them to jump off and land in a river below. Kong shakes his fist and snarls in anger at this, and when he sees them pop up and swim away, he beats his chest and walks back into the cave in order to climb down the mountain after them.





Jack and Ann make it back to the village but they barely have time to catch their breath when, after Denham proposes trying to capture Kong alive, two sailors on the wall warn them that he's coming their way. Quickly, everybody gets inside the door and closes it, pushing the large bolt in place, while one sailor atop the wall begins hitting the gong to warn the natives of what's happening. They begin scrambling out of their huts, with one jumping down and turning over a small coop of chickens (if you look closely, you can see the actor's wig get pulled off by the coop!), and run towards the Venture crew as they're gathered at the door. Denham and Captain Englehorn encourage to come on, warning them what's happening, and they all gather up at the door, as Kong walks up to the other side. He begins pushing and pounding on the door, as everyone pushes back, desperately trying to keep him out. A match of tug-o'-war starts, with Jack leading Ann out of the village as everyone else joins the group at the door. Kong and the humans push back and forth against each other, with one shooting at him through one of the small openings in the door but it does nothing. After a lot of pounding, he begins pushing against the door with all of his strength, causing the center of the bolt to crack. Despite their best efforts, his strength is too much for them to keep the door shut and it quickly gives way, with everyone running in a panic when it swings open, revealing him (watch how he sticks out two fingers and appears to smack the ground with them; I always thought that was odd). Everyone runs off into the village, as other natives scramble out of their houses with their children, while Kong walks through the door, pounding his chest. He takes his fury out on the large hut in the center of the village, smashing it to the ground, and then picking up a large piece of it and throwing it, hitting two villagers with it. Denham tries to catch up with the panicked man who has the gas bombs with him, while a village woman just barely saves her little girl from being stepped on by Kong. He stomps up to an elevated walkway, where several natives throw spears at him, two of which hit him in the shoulder. He yanks them out, flings them down, then grabs a large branch and smacks one off to the left, throwing the branch at some running villagers ahead, before picking up the downed native and putting him in his mouth. The native struggles for a bit before dying from his waist being impaled by one of Kong's large fangs. He takes the native out and drops him, yanking another spear out of his shoulder and doing the same to one that hits the side of his head, actually biting it in half, before pounding the scaffolding down to the ground. One native spears him in the side of his lower back but he merely pulls that out and continues on.


He pounds a tall, thin hut to the ground and picks up another native and puts him in his mouth, when one dives out the window of another hut in front of him (it looks more like that person was shot out with a cannon!) Before the native can crawl away, Kong grabs him, trying to get him into a specific spot, but when that doesn't work, he picks him up, flings him down to the ground, and then stomps him down into the mud. He spots another villager in the hut and reaches in, grabs her (I do think it's a woman), throws her down, and stomps her thoroughly. By this point, the sailors have all run back to the beach and it isn't long before Kong arrives on the scene, as they try to use the rowboats to escape. Before he can reach them, Denham chucks a gas bomb that explodes right in front of him. It begins to take effect immediately, as Kong begins rubbing his eyes and his movements become slow and lethargic. He tries to stay up but is unable to keep his balance and collapses to the ground, trying to get back up but eventually succumbing to the gas, falling asleep. Realizing that he's succeeded in capturing him, Denham asks Englehorn for equipment necessary to build a raft to float Kong to the ship, exclaiming that the whole world will pay to see him and that he'll share the fortunes with them all.



Kong's Broadway debut several months later, in a large theater where he's chained by his hands, feet, and waist, goes well at first, as Denham presents the mighty gorilla to a huge crowd of amazed guests, along with Ann and Jack (I like how Kong curiously watches each of them as they walk out). Denham then prepares to tell the audience the full story of their adventure (does he really expect Kong to stand still for that long?) but first, allows the press to come out and take pictures of Kong. They set up for the first picture, with Ann standing in front of Kong by herself, but when they start using the flashbulbs, Kong begins roaring and snarling in anger while struggling in his chains. The audience becomes visibly nervous at this, with one guy in the middle scrambling to try to escape, but Denham assures them that the chains can hold him. They then try to take pictures of Jack with his arm around Ann and they start shooting their flashbulbs again, enraging Kong even more and prompting him to struggle more violently. Denham tries to warn them that he thinks they're attacking Ann but the reporters shrugging it off, with one saying that the roaring makes for a good picture. They continue flashing the lights in Kong's face until he manages to break the chain holding his right arm. The audience panics and scrambles out of the theater, screaming, as he quickly rips his other arm loose. Denham, Jack, and Ann run backstage as Kong pulls the chain off his left foot and manages to tear the other loose and jump onto the stage, ripping off the large one around his waist. As the crowd fall and run over each other while trying to escape, Kong smashes through the wall of the theater and walks out into the streets, causing more panic out there, with people running and screaming and a car crashing into the side of a building. Jack and Ann flee inside said building, while Kong stomps through the streets, picks an unlucky Manhattanite up and into his mouth, chomping on him before ripping him out and throwing him down into the street. He then rips off an awning and throws it into the running crowd, while a police officer calls in for the riot squad and ambulances. A woman in a window above him screams down at Kong, which catches his attention and, thinking it was Ann, he climbs up the side of it. As the riot squad is deployed, Kong continues up the building and comes upon an apartment where a woman is in bed, sound asleep. Mistaking her for Ann, he reaches in, grabs her, and pulls her out the window upside down, screaming and kicking her legs the whole time. Once he gets a good look at her, he sees that it isn't Ann and drops her down into the horrified crowd below before climbing on up (that woman went on to marry Gary Cooper, by the way).




Up in his apartment, Jack tries to calm the hysterical Ann, assuring her he'll stay there with her. Neither of them notice Kong's face appear outside the window and this time, he's sure that it is Ann. After looking down at the crowd below, he smashes his large hand through the window and Jack tries to fend him off with a chair, smashing it against his hand, but is knocked to the floor and blacks out. Kong grabs the foot of the bed, which Ann has fainted on, pulls it to the window, grabs Ann, and pulls her outside. Jack wakes up but is unable to do anything and watches as Kong continues up the side of the building with her. Desperate to keep track of them, Jack runs out into the hallway, where he meets Denham and tells him what's going on as they then run up to the stairs to the roof. Fire engines are deployed through the streets as Kong reaches the top of the building, momentarily putting Ann down as he climbs over the edge and looks down at the street below. Ann tries to crawl away but Kong picks her back up and walks to the left edge of the roof. He growls when he hears running footsteps approaching and climbs over the side. Jack and Denham show up only to find that they've missed them and come up with an idea of using searchlights to keep Kong in sight. Elsewhere, a crowd of people clear the streets, trying to find shelter, as Kong rounds the corner of a building and swipes at anything he sees, including a train that runs behind him on an elevated track. Smashing into the side of the track in fury, he then lifts himself up on it and sees another train coming. He gets up under the track and pushes up before getting out and tearing at its side some more, going right through it and reaching the center. The conductor sees both Kong and the hole in the tracks at virtually the last minute and hits the brake, but is too late to stop the train, as it goes over the edge of the tracks, hanging off and throwing the commuters inside off-balance. Kong is quickly upon the train, peering through the window at the frightened commuters, who are scrambling over each other, before pulling the train car down off the tracks and onto the street. Everyone's falling on each other and some are able to escape out the bottom of the now inverted car but others aren't so lucky, as Kong beats on it again and again. Once he's satisfied, he climbs up the side of the building behind him.





The climax is, without a doubt, the most famous scene in the history of monster movies and one of the most famous movie scenes period. Kong climbs up the right side of the Empire State Building, stopping to swipe his arm while looking down, for some reason, as airplanes that were seen taking off earlier approach, while a crowd of people gather around the base of the building, Jack and Denham among them. Kong continues climbing until he reaches the very top of the building, just as the planes fly in from the right as well. He snarls at them when he sees them as they come around for a pass around the building, the pilot and gunner of one plane discussing what to do. Looking at Ann and realizing that he's going to have to fight to keep her, he sets her down on the side of the domed top of the tower and climbs up to the tip of it himself, beating his chest and challenging the planes. The attack then begins, with one plane swooping out of formation towards Kong, firing at him, and then turning up into the sky above him. The second of the four planes does the same, followed closely by the other two, and Kong looks up at them, waiting for them to come in for another pass. He swipes at the one that does but is unable to reach it, and the same goes for another that comes in at him on his left. Another plane comes at him from the front and he's unable to reach it as well, but the next one isn't so lucky, as he manages to grab it and send it tumbling down the side of the building. The attack increases in intensity, with one plane flying towards him and firing very quickly, making sure to stay out of his range. It's after this pass that Kong realizes he's been injured, seeing the left side of his chest bleeding and looking at his blood-covered fingers. The planes fly in again and Kong tries to grab two of them that get close but he can't reach them and is unable to defend himself as the other comes in for a pass. He's growing visibly weak by this point, slagging on top of the tower and rubbing his eyes.


Another pass causes him to slump down on the side of the building's top and the two pilots in one plane can see that it won't be long now. Watching them in the distance, Kong touches his bleeding wounds again and, appearing to understand that he's dying, picks Ann up and watches her struggle in his hand for a little bit before setting her back down. He keeps looking at her when a plane swoops down and fires at him, causing him to recoil in pain and grab for his neck, as he continues to slump against the tower. He looks up with an expression that shows he knows he's done for and he begins to lean back, losing his grip. Another pass by an airplane delivers the killing blow, as Kong recoils and grabs at his throat again until, after some brief struggling to hold on, he lets go, falling down the side of the building to his death, smacking into one of the top edges on his way down. The film ends with Jack arriving to the roof of the building and climbing up to the tip to comfort Ann, after which Denham walks up to the edge of the ring of people gathered around Kong's body, telling the police officer there that it wasn't the airplanes but, rather, "It was Beauty who killed the Beast."

In keeping with everything else, even the film's music score, composed by Max Steiner, was also groundbreaking in that it was the first feature-length movie score since talkies came around and was also thematic rather than simply being background music. All that aside, it's an awesome score and is the best of any movie of the 30's in my humble opinion. It hits every single note and emotion possible: ominous, exciting, mysterious, peaceful, humorous, and so on. There's honestly not one piece of it that I think is bad. Among my favorites are the opening theme, which starts out menacingly and leads into a spectacular, exciting as hell orchestra piece, the mysterious, low drumming piece that you hear when the ship is traveling through the fog (the documentary on the film made really good use of it), the really exciting theme that plays during the native ceremony Denham and the others see when they first reach the island, the constantly driving, exciting music when the sailors are being chased by the Brontosaur and end up getting attacked by Kong on the log, the similar music you hear during the train scene near the end, and the music during the latter part of the Empire State Building sequence that starts out soft and poignant and crescendos into a sad and tragic bit when it becomes clear that Kong is doomed and he falls. Kong and Ann in particular have distinctive leitmotifs all their own, with the former having three descending notes, as well as variations on the ominous, opening bit of music (it's re-orchestrated to sound tragic when Kong is fatally shot by the planes), and the latter a nice, melodic piece that's often re-orchestrated to sound very cheerful or distressed. There's a lot of what's known as "Mickey Mousing" in the score, which means when bits of music are used to emphasize actions, like the ominous notes that play when the native chief spots the intruders and marches down towards them, crashing notes when Kong bashes the Elasmosaurus against the rocks and punches the train, and odd, vibrating sounds when he tickles Ann on the cliff. Some people may not like that, thinking that it sounds corny, and it is a reason why I usually don't like 30's music scores, but the rest of this score is so great that it doesn't bother me.

Have I mentioned how much I love King Kong? Hopefully, I've made that abundantly clear in this long-ass review. This is one of those movies that I think deserves every bit of the classic and iconic status that it has because, other than Ann Darrow's constant screaming and her not being one of its best aspects in my humble opinion, I have no problems with it at all. Everything works: the story is straightforward and set up well, starting at a leisurely pace and becoming a rousing adventure once King Kong makes his first appearance; the characters are memorable, likable, and well-played, especially Carl Denham; it has a feeling of sophistication and technical superiority that separates from other films made at the same time; the island is a great setting, especially the jungles; the stop-motion animation and how it makes Kong a fully-realized character is amazing, as are the optical and compositing effects used to blend them with live-action elements; there are many iconic and exciting sequences, most involving some cool, old-fashioned dinosaurs; and the music is just as awesome as the movie it accompanies. There's nothing else to say other than it's the original giant monster movie, one of the greatest of its kind, and, ultimately, one of the greatest movies period.