King Kong (1933) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

King Kong (1933) Review

Horrorific content by TE Simmons on February 15th, 2022 | Movie Review | Classic Horror, Creature, Military

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It’s about animal cruelty in the big apple.

Kong Kong was co-directed by Merian C. Cooper (The Last Days of Pompeii and The Four Feathers) and Ernest B. Schoedsack (Dr. Cyclops and Mighty Joe Young) and features special effects by Willis O’Brien. It stars Robert Armstrong (The Mad Ghoul and The Most Dangerous Game), Fay Wray (Black Moon and Doctor X), and Bruce Cabot (Smoky, Avalanche, and Divorce).  

Will beauty and her beast survive a crazy night in New York?

King Kong Review

In 1933, with the depression in full swing, escapist films were far more attractive to the movie-going public than gritty, realistic drama or overbearing social commentary. The tale of going ashore on an unknown island and encountering a massive ape, huge spiders, and dinosaurs was keyed perfectly to popular tastes. King Kong grossed $90k its opening weekend. The film’s stop-action special effects, perfected by Willis O’Brien, were stunning. They’re still stunning today. 

Film historians claim that Cooper’s inspiration for the film derived from a dream of a giant gorilla fighting biplanes from atop the Empire State Building. He plotted backwards from there. 

Fay Wray’s portrayal of Ann Darrow is perfect. Darrow is an out-of-work New Yorker hired by the fast-talking Carl Denham (played by Robert Armstrong) who whisks her off to Skull Island to star in his movie. Denham has heard of a prodigious prehistoric primate on the island and plans a sort of faux fiction, hoping the beast and the beauty’s spontaneous reactions to each other will be film worthy. 

The avaricious Denham is the perfect villain. He’s all about profits at the expense of the actors. In some measure, the film is a commentary on the predatory capitalism of movie making. 

But what really made King Kong resonate for many in 1933 was its racial symbolism – and its racist stereotypes – lying just under the surface. Consider: An enterprise staffed by Caucasians sails to a foreign land populated by nameless, dark-skinned, aboriginal savages. A big black character is captured and shipped back stateside in chains. He escapes, snatches a white girl, and flicks off her blouse. Worse yet, she has feelings for him!

The implications are pretty obvious. The film plays on racist anxieties about hypersexualized black men. 

The racist reading of King Kong is inescapable. But the film is more complex than that. Both black audiences and white cheered for Kong and booed the airplanes. 

Worth Watching?

Yes, it’s a masterpiece. 

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