Film Fridays – ‘King Kong’

Film Fridays is a project initiated by Sarah and I. After doing a daily music challenge for a month last year we talked about doing something similar for movies. The current global lockdowns give us the perfect excuse to start. Many of us are confined to home with only the TV for company so we thought we would start ‘Film Fridays’ so that we can talk about our favourite movies and hopefully give our readers some ideas for things to watch. If you join us please tag filmfriday and link back to one or both of us so we can read your own contributions!

We would be delighted if you would join us! We don’t necessarily want to talk about the nerdy technical details but more about why these films speak to us as individuals, why they have a place in out hearts, and any personal memories they evoke. 

Sarah and I have shared our lists and decided to tackle them as written – but in my case I have diverged from this plan according to my mood. We are now posting alternate weeks as we are out of lockdown and busy again.

‘King Kong’ (1933)

No trailer but here is a clip:

This is still not quite the oldest movie on my list!

I have loved this film since I first saw it as a youngster. It has the spirit of adventure that was recaptured by the Indiana Jones movies, amazing cinematography, visual effects that are still effective and were remarkable for their day – and a good story too!

The film opens in New York, where movie maker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) recruits Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to star in his latest exotic wildlife movie. They board a charter ship , the Venture, to head for the location – Skull Island. First mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) falls for Ann during the journey.

Denham tells the team the legend of ‘Kong’ a creature rumoured to live on Skull Island. Arriving at the location, they find a group of natives preparing to sacrifice a young woman to Kong, next to a gate in a colossal wall. The natives decide they would rather sacrifice Ann, kidnapping her from the ship that night. The rest of the movie follows her ordeal on the island with Kong and assorted other giant beasts, her rescue and the return of a captured Kong to New York. Of course that was going to end well wasn’t it???

Stop motion effects by Willis O’Brien are at the heart of this film of course. They are truly innovative and among those influenced by them were a teenage Ray Harryhausen who went on to be mentored by O’Brien and then produced those iconic stop-motion animations of the 50s and 60s in moves such as ‘Jason and the Argonauts’. Stop motion work is very time consuming and it must have galled O’Brien that a number of sequences were later removed from the movie before general release.

Performances are a little over the top admittedly, with a lot of the exaggerated gesturing a reminder of the style of acting familiar from the silent movie era. One of the advantages of going a bit deaf to high pitched sounds is no longer being able to ‘enjoy’ the constant screaming of the leading lady… (But I can still just hear them – unlike say ‘E.T.’ where young Drew Barrymore’s screams on first encountering said alien are no longer in my range – it is very odd watching her mouth open and no sound coming out!)

The stand-out portion of this movie for me is the sequence that starts with the kidnap of Ann from the Venture, though the sacrifice ritual, to the first appearance of Kong. The sense of dread is palpable.

This is a proper old-fashioned adventure story and makes refreshing viewing because of it. It is startlingly violent and gruesome for its time, though the black and white makes the gore less noticeable. Fay Wray wears a revealing costume in the jungle scenes with Kong, which gets gradually more so as it gets torn. All this indicates that it was made prior to the introduction of the Hays production code a couple of years later. Of course, looking at it today there are some very outmoded attitudes to women and to the island’s natives, not to mention its wildlife, but the movie can be seen as a product of its time and still enjoyed as such.

Ultimately, Kong is a very tragic figure. He just wants to be left alone on his island, and his aggression is aimed only at protecting Ann (or himself when provoked).

King Kong has had two ‘proper’ remakes. The 1976 version made a star of Jessica Lange but is otherwise pretty poor. Hot on the heels of his Tolkein adaptations Peter Jackson made a very faithful remake released in 2005 and his love for the original is clear. A rare remake that really is worth watching.

Geeky notes:

  • The appearance of Kong is deliberately not a faithful model of a gorilla – it was always intended to have a more human posture.
  • The iconic fight between Kong and the T-rex in my clip above took 7 weeks to animate.
  • After the introduction of the Hays code the censors removed or trimmed a number of scenes. RKO did not keep an archive copy so these scenes were considered lost forever until an original print was found in 1969. Recent re-releases restored this footage.
  • One long scene, removed after terrifying test audiences before initial release, featured the Venture crew trapped in a box canyon and attacked by giant spiders and other beasties. This scene was lost forever but was lovingly recreated by Peter Jackson to include as an extra on the DVD of his version of the movie.
  • In the 2005 version it was intended to have Fay Wray make a cameo appearance to deliver the iconic final line of dialogue, but she sadly died before shooting started.
  • The giant wall separating the village from Kong was recycled from the 1927 movie ‘King of Kings’ where it was the Temple of Jerusalem.
  • Any Terry Pratchett fan will recognise the final scene as having been humorously referenced in his novel ‘Moving Pictures’, which is a satire on early Hollywood and the movie industry in general.

18 Comments

  1. I confess I haven’t seen this, though I have watched Peter Jackson’s remake, and I’m not surprised to hear he referenced the original so much. His work always seems to grow out of his reverence of original material.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It says a lot about him (and King Kong) that his remake was his project of choice after LOTR when he could have chosen any project he wanted. He is a true movie lover. He did a great job on the remake though it is twice as long as the original because he wanted to stick to the first draft of the story from 1933 rather than the shortened final movie. He also wanted to expand a lot of the setup.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. From what I know about him (my film studies lecturer was an early fan — when Jackson was practically still doing home-made splatter movies) he is a sort of archetypal movie fan who has the patience and skill (and budget these days) to create absolutely painstaking homages to his childhood memories.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m not a splatter movie fan, but I do remember enjoying Braindead, and his first film Bad Taste. I still think that Heavenly Creatures is my favourite Jackson film — probably because it has at
            Total absence of zombies, hobbits, elves and giant gorillas. And because the main characters are female.

            Liked by 1 person

              1. True. It does have the fantasy sequences that were done by Weta Workshop, but otherwise it’s quite different. The story it’s based on really shocked NZ, which was relatively murder-free until quite recently. The Kate Winslett chararcter, Juliet, is the crime writer Anne Perry. She was “outed” after the film was released and people started to ask questions about the women.

                Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Tracy. Yes – both movies always seemed be on TV when I was a kid so I guess most folks watched them as a family. My mother would have spoiled it with her racist remarks about the natives but I had learned to tune her out by then.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t watched this either but your clip has me convinced to do so as soon as possible!!! 7 weeks of work for that stop motion scene – just amazing!!! I really love artists as dedicated as that. And who minds a bit of over the top acting? As long as the story is good which it apparently is it can’t put a dent in it. And your reference to TP makes me so curious! It’s been a long time since I read Moving Pictures. 😀 Just last night I saw an announcement on my TV magazine for a 2017 film called Kong: Skull Island – have you watched this as well?
    Wonderful review Darren! (Even though my ears are still ringing from all that screaming! 😂) 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Sarah! You really should watch it as so much culture since then has referenced it.
      Moving Pictures ( and Soul Music) delighted me with all the geeky cultural references.
      Kong : Skull Island is actually pretty good. More of an action movie but well made and with a good cast. I found my DVD of it when hunting for King Kong and have put it aside to maybe watch tonight as I only watched it once.
      Hope the screaming has subsided?😉😂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Can I join you watching? 😁 Nope, my ears are still ringing though now it’s me who’s caused it: I was harvesting my rocket to make pesto from and a spider kept interrupting me every couple of minutes!😂 I can just hope it hasn’t landed in my pesto!!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating! I’ve never been big into monster movies, but I know the BF loves them, like Swamp Thing. I want to say it’s a boy thing, but these days you can hung for making such an old-fashioned remark and I’d rather not be strung up and labeled an enemy of the people. At least, not at this time. 😛

    But KK is probably one of those cinematic juggernauts that you fancy artist-types appreciate, you know, like Citzen Kane, which I’ve never seen yet! Egats. I’m really revealing myself as a Neanderthal, aren’t I?

    Well, thankfully, I’ve got the Cliff Notes from you 😀 and who can forget the iconic helpless maiden in torn dress trying to escape King Kong’s grasp?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Er. To be honest Lani – there is a great deal of my enjoyment derives from it being a big dumb monster movie…😉
      It definitely isn’t subtle. And I have never seen Citizen Kane either, or Casablanca. Other critics faves like The Godfather and 2001 bored me half to death… Don’t tell anyone😉😍

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s