King Kong (1933)
Revered as the quintessential monster movie, "King Kong" is a work in suspense, stereotypes, and action. It relies on the concept of the damsel in distress and it makes way too many references to beauties and beasts including the famous line that ushers the movie out.
At the movie's beginning, an agent informs a movie director—who has his head screwed on much more firmly that Fellini's take on the matter—that he is unable to get a woman to be in his film. This director doesn't take that news very well; but he's kind of stuck in a rut. A man whose movies are always set in exotic lands and usually only feature a male lead, he is wanting to shift the popular opinion of himself. But his audiences and critics tell him that he needs more women, so it's out of necessity and bitterness that he has to hire a....gasp...woman. But the hiring agents have all heard about what the director is like so he's been banned.
Taking to the streets, literally, the director saves the damsel from the long arm of the law. She was trying to steal an apple when she got caught and he steps in to save the day, only to notice that she's very attractive.
A lightbulb turns on inside his head.
He offers her to be an actress in his next movie, not telling her that he is going on a voyage, the destination of which he refuses to disclose until the crew is far out to sea. The crew is two times what the small vessel needs and a woman on board is the last thing that they need.
Every single male character is very high and mighty, they all look down on Ann (Fay Wray) and their smiles turn upside down. When she asks what she's going wrong she gets the best answer ever: you're not doing anything wrong, it's just your gender we hate.
In the Hitckcockian manner, one character even admits that he's very scared of her...because she's a woman. The film is so overtly anti-female that you get the feeling they're making a not-so-subtle commentary about the macho-dominated Hollywood.
In fact, the biggest male character is literally an ape.
But Ann has talent, and she lives the dream for a few short hours before things start to turn sour for her.
Arriving at the mysterious island, the director has heard ghost stories about an entity inhabiting the island that the natives fear. They have erected a huge wall to keep whatever is in the jungle away from the beach, their home.
When they get to the island, the natives are performing a sacrificial ritual where they will offer up one of their young girls, to be the bride of Kong.
Never once is he referred to as King Kong except in the title.
It's unfortunate that we all know what the monstrous beast is, because it would make the suspense all the more real to us if the huge ape wasn't so obvious. In fact, all the scenes from the movie are known very well, which is a testament to how popular the movie still remains.
What doesn't work in the film is the romance that the movie assumes we need; but the actual animation of the giant gorilla is pretty amazing even by today's standard. One of the best cinematic moments is a fight between two giants of millennium ago.
The ape doesn't lumber like "Godzilla" does. No, he is very agile...surprisingly so.
When you consider that this movie was made twenty years before "Godzilla" you have to respect its sheer risk taking. It's a visceral movie, even scary at times; and yes, it's corny.
But I think the odd commentary of beauty and the beast is just weird...it humanizes Kong which makes us kind of sad by how the movie ends.
"King Kong" is an essential movie, if only for the actual animation of the creatures which must have taken hours upon days.
But besides the actual revelation of the beast, "King Kong" uses the Empire State Building better than any film to follow, it is genuinely thrilling at moments, and it taps into the notion of the near-undefeatable monster untouched better than any film for years to come.
Posted by Micah Jones