King Kong
"This 1933 classic is still the big daddy of all monster movies."

With Peter Jackson's big budget remake set to open this month (Dec, 2005), now is as good a time as any to revisit the original Kong. And why not? It may be 72 years old and a little rough around the edges, but this 1933 classic is still the big daddy of all monster movies.

The story, a straightforward reworking of The Beauty And The Beast legend, follows American movie producer Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) in his search for a mythical giant ape on a remote Pacific island. Denham plans to film the ape and bring it back to New York to exhibit, but along the way Kong develops a crush on young starlet Ann Darrow (Fay Wray).

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So what's so special about this timeless classic? It's not the acting (which is hammy throughout) or the pacing (the first 40 minutes, pre-Kong, move at the speed of a snail). What's special is Kong himself, thanks largely to Willis O'Brien's excellent special effects. The set pieces involving Kong were spectacular in 1933 and they're still spectacular today - Kong going head to head with T-Rex, Wray writhing in Kong's giant fist, Kong on top of the Empire State building. These are iconic images and the stuff of great cinema, even if Kong does look somewhat mechanical by today's standards, and, in close up, no more threatening than the Honey Monster.

Denham, Darrow and her knight in shining armour, dashing sailor Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), are incidental, little more than cardboard cut outs compared to the more rounded Kong. He may be a 50 ft ape, with a penchant for biting the heads off hapless natives, but he still earns our sympathy. Denham brought the fight to Kong, not the other way around, and at the end, when Denham smugly announces it was beauty that killed the beast, you want to jump out of your seat and shout, no it wasn't, it was you, you egotistical fool. You were the one who caught him, you were the one who brought him back to New York and you were the one who killed him.

When the ending does eventually come, it's unsentimental and surprisingly moving. Riddled with bullets, Kong doesn't just fall off the Empire State building; he bounces off it on his way down. It's an ignominious end, perfectly executed.

The romantic sub-plot between Ann and Driscoll is less convincing. At the start of the expedition, Driscoll, a no-nonsense man's man, tells Ann that the ship is "no place for a girl". What does she do? Knee him in the balls and call him a sexist pig? No, she does nothing, except swoon at our square-jawed hero. All that swooning must have softened him up, because later, out on the deck, he cuts to the chase, and it's quickly apparent that he's not the most eloquent suitor in the world.

"Ann," he stumbles, "I, er, er, say, I guess I love you." They've known each other for all of five minutes, but Ann doesn't seem to mind. She swoons, they kiss, she swoons some more.

Generally, the script is hilarious, even when it's not meant to be. While searching for Kong in the undergrowth, Denham and Driscoll stumble across a dinosaur. A dinosaur, no less! A terrifying, once-in-a-lifetime encounter, or so you'd think. Not for Denham, though. His reaction? A jaunty, "Hey, look at that!", as if he's just spotted a rare flower, or noticed a rather eye-catching sunset.

Having finally seen off said dinosaur, Driscoll turns to Denham and asks, "What do you call this thing?"

"Something from the dinosaur family," Denham replies.

"A dinosaur, eh?"

"Yes, Jack, a prehistoric beast. Just look at the length of the brute."

They don't write dialogue like this any more.

Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2005
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Still the big daddy of all monster movies.
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Director: Merian C Cooper, Ernest B Schoedsack

Writer: James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose

Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Sam Hardy, Noble Johnson, James Flavin

Year: 1933

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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King Kong