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Poster of the film.

A 1933 film about the giant ape King Kong

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King Kong 'It was beauty killed the beast....'

  • Aug 20, 2000
Pros: Unbelievability aside, the action was stupendous

Cons: Why did they try to improve on the best?

Where Godzilla failed as a love story, King Kong excels. If you have only seen the 1976 version by John Guillermin, you cannot imagine the genius behind this cinematographic wonder. You owe it to yourself to see the 1933 classic by Merian Cooper and realize the power behind it.

KONG 1933/1976 ~ the story
We are going on an adventure to Skull Island to meet a great warrior spoken of only in whispers. In both releases we have the winsome, breathtaking beauty (Fay Wray/Jessica Lange) going against the powerful Kong. In both movies we find the native tribe so taken with the blonde goddesses, they kidnap them for sacrifice to the mighty Kong. There is the love interest with fellow shipmates (Bruce Cabot/Jeff Bridges), who must go after his woman and save her from the beast.

Nothing can compare to the love between the smitten Kong and his beautiful captive. When he approaches the clearing with all that foreboding black jungle around him, the inky sky, the pulsating full moon and views his love for the first time - you hold your breath. Seeing this mighty beast confront this lithe creature entrances you. There is a collective sigh when you realize his heart his swollen, his blood is rushing, his mind can only focus on his love. Ah, first love, it is both painful and poignant.

This is followed by the obligatory chase scene through the jungle, the return of the woman, and the capture of Kong transporting him from his native jungle to a concrete jungle. When he again escapes in New York and finds his lady love once more, he approaches the only thing he can conceive in his ape mind as home (Empire State Building/World Trade Center), to climb these mountains - again victorious. Of course in the end Kong is killed ~ not by guns, not by planes, not by bombs. Not by those that feared him. "Oh, no, is wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty that killed the Beast......"

Comparison of style 1933/1976
For its' time the 1933 version was an amazing thing to behold (more info below) with the animatronics of the beast. By 1976, we have become more computer literate and our monsters more CGI graphic. The movements are more fluid and the photography much better. In 1933 we are just a few years away from the silent movies, so the storyline is still mainly played out with visuals instead of vocal acting. The speaking parts in 1933 seem stilted, jerky and corny. By 1976 we are all movie junkies, no longer using our imaginations. Movies are now relying on vocalization, believing (and rightly so for many) that our minds cannot encompass the unimaginable.

We have moved to color and blaring sound, taking another edge off the movie. We are using more blood and guts for shock factor but we have, fortunately, kept the overall theme of the movie intact. There were many tings that were powerful in each movie - in ‘33 the sound of Kong approaching the clearing was one of the most frightening aspects of the movie; in ‘76 the sound of his heart beating as he died brought tears to my eyes. Fay Wray appears absolutely terrified throughout the movie, Jessica Lange ranges from fear to erotica. The fight scenes between the monsters in ‘33 seem to be the set footage we get with all dinosaur attacks, in ‘76 our computers have made them a little more lively.

The face behind the fur
Kong was the brainchild of Merian Cooper (producer, director, writer) while viewing these majestic creatures filming a documentary in Africa. The true genius of the concept though is the timing and mechanics. It was the early 30's with limited money and technology. Kong was composed of miniatures - 18" tall - made from aluminum and covered with rubber, sponges (!) and finally rabbit fur. In turn, all the actors were also done in miniature to enact the scenes. The closeups were done with a huge head that held three men operating eyes, lips, nose, eyebrows and facial expressions.

This was designed by the wizardry of Willis O'Brien and Marcel Delgado, with the foresight of Cooper and David O. Selnick. The sounds were designed by Murray Spivak, actual recordings of live animals. He changed the speed of the recordings for dramatic effect and then played them backwards for chill factor (shades of the Beatles White Album). Kong was the first movie to have an original score written for a movie, previously existing music was adapted to the movie being made. Max Steiner, composer, in another first, synchronized the music to the action. When you think of the impact this movie made on future Hollywood productions, it is staggering. The movie introduced so many things that have been improved on over the decades but the concept in that era was astounding.

Production costs were double the allotted budget, RKO was already in deep financial trouble. Several studios offered to buy the project at an inflated price to bail RKO out but the bigwigs held firm and released Kong on their own. The public was in awe of the special effects and ingenuity of the movie and came out in force, during the depression, to view this wonder - saving RKO from financial ruin. Was RKO grateful for Kong's success and for the prowess shown by his designers and idea men? Apparently not! When they re-released the movie in 1938 to pick up some more cash, they removed a good deal of the painstaking detail O'Brien had perfected. Fortunately, you can still get copies of the original, untainted movie.

In 1976, DeLaurentis held true to the original story of Kong. His film was horribly overpriced due to the times, he also proclaimed his monster would star in the entire movie. No miniature graphics for him. In fact, the 40+ foot monster barely makes an appearance. The majority of the filming is done around a guy in a monkey suit, actually the make-up artist, Rick Baker. In fact, keeping true to his con game on us, DeLaurentis does not even mention Baker in the credits of the movie.

Of course, the new release had smoother acting, beautiful color and more fluid dialogue. What it did lack though was creditability and suspense. Kong in this version (the big guy, not the guy in the suit) was more mobile and his reflexes weren't as jerky. A good production that I am sure garnered a nice penny but lacking the charisma of the original Kong. Besides, I don't like having the fur pulled over my eyes.

The Beauty and the Beast
A short bit of insight - the interaction between these two was of course the story. Fay Wray gave an outstanding performance. I would have loved to know what she thought to bring those emotions to surface when she first met Kong. She appears absolutely terrified (well, so would I!). Later, the love scenes between them are remarkable. Of course, the disrobing scene was cut from the 1938 release, considering it distasteful.

Jessica Lange was breathtaking. This is her first movie role and you certainly get a glimpse of the actress she would become. When Kong gives her the bath and them ‘blows her dry', well, honey, I had to have a cigarette and a cold shower!

Another interesting tidbit, the three main players in the older release - Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot - were filming a movie at an adjoining studio when Cooper was looking for his players. Anxious to get his production underway, he convinced them to begin shooting on his release at the same time, so you have these three actors shuttling back and forth between studios - and most importantly between characters - simultaneously. What wonderful acting ability! In the original Kong, the two pilots that eventually bring Kong down off the Empire State Building are actually producer/directors Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, wanting a piece of the campy action!

Wrap up finally, you say........
King Kong and Godzilla....two constants on the movie scene for 70 years. Despite the campy, outrageous idea of these themes, the animatronics alone make them worthwhile. Movies of this genre must be viewed in their original as well as their updated versions to get their full effects.

I remember every Thanksgiving, as soon as the meal was cleared away, gathering before the TV for King Kong, the original. Every year, even after I married, it became a rite of passage. Like the Wizard of Oz was for the spring, Kong was for the fall.

King Kong, one of the last true love stories of our time. ....when I fall in love, it will be forever, or I'll never fall in love........


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More King Kong (1933 movie) reviews
review by . May 19, 2009
King Kong is a classic tale of beauty and the beast. A ancient animal lives on a mysterious land (Skull Island) that is hidden from the rest of the world. A rich man and his crew travel to the island and try and locate the "Eighth Wonder of the World". This giant behemoth is dubbed King Kong, the man eating monster whom the natives fear. The explorers have one hell of a time trying to find the beast. They have to cross a land that time really forgot. Dinosaurs and other strange creatures inhabit …
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About this movie


A masterpiece and one of the top moneymakers of the 1930s. Fortune-hunters travel to Skull Island in search of the fabled giant ape "King Kong." Enticing him with the lovely Fay Wray they capture him and bring him back to New York where he escapes and ransacks the city searching for her.
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Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Horror
Release Date: 1933
MPAA Rating: PG
DVD Release Date: Warner Home Video (November 22, 2005)
Runtime: 104 minutes
Studio: RKO Radio Pictures
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