100 Days, 100 Movies: King Kong (1933)

(This post is part of my mission to watch and review 100+ of the movies on the AFI Top 100 American films of all time.)

This film was #43 on the 1998 AFI list and  #41 on the 2007 AFI list.

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DISCLAIMER–I’m just gonna put this up front: if you like this movie you probably don’t want to keep reading this review.

King Kong tells the story of an arrogant movie director who ventures to a long lost, mysterious island to film an adventure movie. He uses the crew of the ship as his film crew and takes along a beautiful young woman to act as his star. But once on the island he encounters something he did not expect…a giant gorilla!!!

So…I hated this movie. I hated it a lot. I watched it with my mom and I spent large portions of the 1 hour and 43 minutes yelling at the screen because all the characters were so damn stupid! Yes, it was made in 1933 but there are certainly movies from 1933 that hold up well; this is not one of those. I should also mention I am a fan of “giant monster destroys shit” as a genre. I used to devour the old Godzilla films when I was a kid. And such cheesy monster flicks as The Killer Shrews and The Giant Gila Monster were much-loved classics in my house when I was growing up. But King Kong was just bad. And not even good bad.

First of all, the two young lovers, Ann and Jack, are just ugh. Early in the movie there’s a scene on the boat where they declare their love and my mother and I actually LOL’d. To quote some of that deathless dialogue from the scene in question, Jack stares deeply (blankly)  into Ann’s eyes and says, “Say…I think I love you.”

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To call the actor playing Jack “wooden” would be an insult to the fine grains and beauty in a piece of wood. This guy was just bad. Ann just screams a lot and flails. And wears see-through clothes. But really I couldn’t get over how spectacularly dumb everyone was.

EVERYONE.

There’s a part where Ann has been carried off into the jungle and she sees a t-rex happen along. Now, the dinosaur hasn’t seen her yet but what does ol’ Ann do? She starts screaming! ‘Gee, that dinosaur hasn’t seen me yet. I think I’ll scream to make sure I get his attention.’

Great idea, Ann.

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Jack tries (my mom wanted me to make sure I give him credit) but he’s still fairly incompetent. And he gets 15 or so of his men gruesomely killed on the island trying to save Ann. And, of course, all the cannon fodder crew members (I christened them “Kong Fodder”) make excellent survival choices once they’re on the island. Such as one brilliant crewman who is being chased by a long-necked dinosaur and he decides to CLIMB A TREE. That’s great, Redshirt#1, put yourself right at biting height so the dinosaur doesn’t have to bend over.

*headdesk*

Of course the character I hated the most was the film director, Denham, who is pretty clearly a self-insert by the film’s director Merian C. Cooper. Everyone follows Denham into danger and no one ever says, ‘You know that’s a really stupid idea and instead of listening to you I’m going to throw you overboard.’ I decided that Denham must have been sleeping with the ship’s captain because that is the only way I will believe that the man would keep deferring to Denham when the director keeps getting everyone killed!

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Also! Let’s talk about how many people are killed in New York. I really hope Denham’s ass got slammed with a ton of wrongful death suits because that whole mess was ALL. HIS. FAULT.

OK, enough bashing, even though I could go on and on about the repetitive nature of the plot, the shoddy pacing, the wooden acting, the totally unnecessary scene where Kong tears an L-train apart (apparently because Cooper the director grew up next to one and hated them) and…oh, I said I was done bashing, didn’t I? Some things that surprised me about the film were the level of gore and, well, nipples. Ann gets some very see-through outfits in the film and they don’t leave much to the imagination. This was the year right before the Hayes code was introduced so we also get some loving close ups of the dinosaurs bleeding out, we’re treated to several crewmen and villagers being mauled and stepped on, and then there’s the really odd scene where Kong peels Ann’s clothes off and sniffs his fingers.

I did think it was interesting that all the crewmen decided to charge off to save Ann from the giant gorilla without any hesitation or ‘You know, she’s probably dead why don’t we just leave’ dialogue. I can’t decide if that was lazy writing or actually representative of 1933 where most men would charge off unquestioned into danger to save a women. Maybe I’m cynical, but I lean toward lazy writing…

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In 1933 I can see why this film was ground-breaking. And it does have some great imagination with the giant ape and the t-rex vs. Kong fight. They did some really clever things that had never been tried before, like using the projector screen to film the actors in front of. And the stop motion was, of course, state of the art for 1933. This film was iconic for its time and it did have a lasting impact on popular culture. If that kind of thing interests you, give it a watch. Just ignore the bad pacing, the wooden acting and the fact every character in the damn movie is TSTL. :)

Can I see why this movie has become a classic? The special effects and some of the action scenes like Kong and the planes on the Empire State building. Honestly, that’s about it.

Favorite moment from the film? Favorite (for my mom too) just because it was so awkward and ridiculous was the clench between Ann and Jack after Kong dies:

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They’re on top of the Empire State. I think maybe get down first or swing your legs over or…I dunno.

Overall Rating: * (I hated it)

Fun fact from imdb: “The Great Wall was part of the Temple of Jerusalem set for Cecil B. DeMille‘s Biblical epic The King of Kings (1927). The Great Wall set was later reused in Selznick’s The Garden of Allah (1936) and finally redressed with Civil War era building fronts, burned and pulled down by a tractor to film the burning of Atlanta munitions warehouses in Gone with the Wind (1939).”

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