Review: King Kong (1933)

I’ll say this now. No King Kong remake can ever top the original Merian C. Cooper version. This is more evident to me after watching the original twice this week.

Producer Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is in search of his next big picture and he decides that this picture needs a leading lady. Enter Anne Darrow (Fay Wray) and the greatest damsel in distress of all time is born. With the leading lady present, Denham and his crew set sail for an island somewhere in the Pacific.

When the crew reaches Skull Island they encounter the natives, who are preparing to sacrifice a young girl to Kong, the giant ape that lurks in the forest. But then the natives notice something new, something that King Kong will like even more… a blonde-haired beauty. At night they capture Anne from the ship and prepare her to be sacrificed.

Kong arrives and, instead of eating Anne, he falls in love with her. As he carries Anne back to his cave, he protects her from a T-Rex (a great action scene) and a giant snake. What Kong doesn’t know is that the ship’s crew, led by Anne’s real lover Jack (Bruce Cabot) has followed him.

Having seen King Kong in all his glory, Carl Denham decides to bring the giant gorilla to New York and put him on display. But Denham, being an idiotic and noncompassionate human, doesn’t understand the true strength of Kong. Kong escapes and causes mayhem in NYC, all to recapture Anne. He carries her to the top of the Empire State Building, where airplanes attack Kong to his death.


Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast

The best part about seeing this King Kong in the theaters was that there were two young boys in the audience. They were about 7 and 9. During the fight scene between King Kong and T-Rex, both boys were sitting on the edge of their seats. When the film ended, I heard one of the boys exclaim to his grandfather, “Cool!” See, there is no need for a remake. The magic of King Kong lives as long as someone is willing to share it.

Even though the dialogue, some of the acting, and most of the action scenes are outdated, there is something magical about King Kong. The best way I can describe it is that it shows a time when movies were great but the magic was greater. Today all of the high tech stuff is expected, but back in 1933 it was new and exciting. Just imagine watching King Kong in 1933. Big budget blockbusters with dazzling effects were a whole new concept, not to mention talkies were still young. King Kong was the start of something outstanding and mindblowing. We owe every current action movie to King Kong. That is something that should not be forgotten.

I’ll eventually see the Peter Jackson remake but I have this strange feeling I’ll just get angry while watching it.

Fay Wray, The Original Beauty

Fay Wray in King Kong

With the remake of King Kong, directed by Peter Jackson, opening on December 23, it seems necessary to recognize Fay Wray, who originated the role of “the beauty”. Naomi Watts will attempt to fill her shoes this winter.

The Empire State Building has a permanent exhibit dedicated to Fay Wray. Many tourists attend the exhibit every year because for many of them, King Kong was the movie that made them fall in love with the movies. Here is an excerpt from the NY Times article about Wray and the impact her signature role has had on audiences.

The Giant Ape Climbed Here. And She Was Why
By Shadi Rahimi
Published: September 22, 2005, The New York Times

It is a silent tribute to the beauty who screamed her way to fame in the clutches of a giant gorilla in love, created by a fan who collected stacks of movie memorabilia.

A permanent exhibit featuring “King Kong” movie posters and photographs of the film’s star, Fay Wray, is on display on the ground floor of the Empire State Building – a place that the actress once wrote “belongs to me, or is it vice versa?”

Miss Wray, who stood atop the building for the last time several months before she died at 96 in 2004, appeared in about 100 movies. But she was remembered best for screeching and writhing in the powerful grip of King Kong in 1933.

Two display windows, designed by a property manager and “King Kong” fan, Justin Clayton, 50, commemorate the link between the actress and the building.

For Samuel Renonoly, a 33-year-old tourist from Liège, Belgium, the old movie posters brought back the excitement of seeing “King Kong” as a 9-year-old living in Congo. “There were lots of gorillas everywhere, and I wanted to see a bigger one,” he said.

After hearing last week that she had been hired as an intern at City Guide magazine, on the 24th floor of the building, Dez Burstein, 21, said she bought a shirt bearing a 1930’s “King Kong” poster.

Stopping at the display, tucked in a nook around the corner from the escalators, Ms. Burstein gazed at a portrait of Miss Wray as the damsel-in-distress Ann Darrow, with tousled hair and a tattered robe. “She was just so beautiful,” she said.

Mr. Clayton, who said he befriended Miss Wray in 2003 and spent many weekends with her watching her old movies, said he chose the “most dramatic and attractive” of his hundreds of articles of memorabilia for the display.

“Now she is forever enshrined in this legendary building that she helped make famous, and vice versa,” he said.