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.
- 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.