Review: ‘King Kong’

That it lends itself so freely and readily to 12-cylinder exploiting is "King Kong's" ace in the hole. If properly handled the picture should gather good grosses in a walk. Film appeals to the imagination, and the exploitation should follow the same trend. Highly imaginative and super-goofy yarn is mostly about a 50-foot ape who goes for a five-foot blonde.

That it lends itself so freely and readily to 12-cylinder exploiting is “King Kong’s” ace in the hole. If properly handled the picture should gather good grosses in a walk. Film appeals to the imagination, and the exploitation should follow the same trend.

Highly imaginative and super-goofy yarn is mostly about a 50-foot ape who goes for a five-foot blonde. According to the billing the story is ‘from an idea conceived’ by Merian C. Cooper (who produced and directed with Ernest B. Schoedsack) and Edgar Wallace. For their ‘idea’ they will have to take a bend in the direction of the late Conan Doyle and his “Lost World,” which is the only picture to which “Kong” can be compared. Doyle visualized the existence of prehistoric monsters in some far corner of the modern world. Cooper and Wallace ‘conceived’ an identical hunch. The two plots develop in a basically similar manner, although slightly different as to detail.

But “Kong” is the better picture. It has the added advantage of sound, which “Lost World” missed in 1925. It also has the additional technical knowledge and experience gained since then by Willie O’Brien and other offscreen manipulators. O’Brien served as chief technician for both films.

So purely an exhibition of studio and camera technology– and it isn’t much more than that–“Kong” surpasses anything of its type which has gone before it in commercial film-making. The work has many flaws, but they’re overcome by the general results. The errors will probably be overlooked.

It takes a couple of reels for “Kong” to be believed, and until then it doesn’t grip. But after the audience becomes used to the machine-like movements and other mechanical flaws in the gigantic animals on view, and become accustomed to the phoney atmosphere, they may commence to feel the power. As the story background is constantly implausible, the mechanical end must fight its own battle for audience confidence. Once won, it reaches a high pitch of excitement and builds up to a thrill finish in which the ape almost wrecks little ol’ New York. Brute is finally picked off by airplanes while doing a balancing act on the mooring mast of the Empire State.

There are times when the plot takes advantage of its imaginative status and goes too far. On these occasions the customers are liable to laugh in the wrong way. A most tolerant audience at the Music Hall broke down now and then, but on the whole was exceedingly kind. It seemed that while a few details were too strong to swallow the picture, as a whole, got them.

Neither the story nor the cast gains more than secondary importance, and not even close. Technical aspects are always on top. The technicians’ two big moments arrive in the island jungle, where Kong and other prehistoric creatures reign, and in New York where Kong goes on a bender.

Besides Kong in the jungle among other freaks to appear are a triceratops, a brontosaurus, a tyrannosaurus, a pterodactyl and a 60-foot snake. Kong battles three of them, including the snake. His first scrimmage is with the tyrannosaurus, which looks like the better known dinosaurs, and it’s a wrassling match the likes of which is never seen at the Garden. As an illusion it beats anything that follows, and there is plenty following. After Kong breaks them apart he picks up the pieces for a hasty examination and then beats his breast in token of victory. All he does with the serpent is slap it up against a rock a few times.

In New York, where he’s on exhibition, the giant ape breaks his bonds, bursts through the theatre wall and climbs the side of a hotel to recapture the blonde. He rips up the rest of the town, including an elevated track and plenty of the citizens with one hand. The girl is held in the other. He’s careful with the gal, and she’s never apparently hurt, but always frightened.

When Kong reaches the top of the Empire State he’s stuck. Airplanes snipe at him and finally get him, but not before he picks one out of the air like a mosquito and dashes it to earth.

In adhering to the proper perspectives the technical crew has never missed. The illusion of comparative size is splendid. The errors arrive when mechanical figures are obviously used in place of the ape impersonator.

As for a story, in place of Conan Doyle’s museum expedition, this one concerns an animal picture specialist, who downs and captures the huge Kong with gas bombs. But how the ape is shackled and brought to this country isn’t shown.

Fay Wray is the blonde who’s chased by Kong, grabbed twice, but finally saved. It’s a 96-minute screaming session for her, too much for any actress and any audience. With the blonde still screaming while in Kong’s palm atop the Empire State, after having screamed all the way from the first reel, another of the unbelievable facts is that Kong shouldn’t drop her and look for a non-screamer–even if he has to settle for a brunet. The light hair is a change for Miss Wray. Robert Armstrong, as the explorer, and Bruce Cabot, as the blonde’s other boy friend who doesn’t make her scream, are the remaining principal characters and snowed under by the technical end.

A gripping and fitting musical score and some impressive sound effects rate with the scenery and mechanism in providing “Kong” with its technical excellence.

While not believing it, audiences will wonder how it’s done. If they wonder they’ll talk, and that talk plus the curiosity the advertising should incite ought to draw business all over. “Kong” mystifies as well as it horrifies, and may open up a new medium for scaring babies via the screen.


King Kong


RKO. Director Ernest B. Schoedsack, Merian C. Cooper; Producer Ernest B. Schoedsack, Merian C. Cooper; Screenplay James Creelman, Ruth Rose, [Merian C. Cooper]; Camera Edward Linden, Vernon L. Walker, J. O. Taylor; Editor Ted Cheesman; Music Max Steiner; Art Director Carroll Clark, Al Herman. At Music Hall and RKO Roxy, N.Y. date and date starting March 2.


(B&W) Available on VHS, DVD. Original review text from 1933. Running time: 100 MIN.


Ann Redman - Fay Wray Denham - Robert Armstrong Driscoll - Bruce Cabot Englehorn - Frank Reicher Weston - Sam Hardy Native Chief - Noble Johnson Second Mate - James Flavin Witch King - Steve Clemento Lumpy - Victor Long

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