Kaiju Tuesday - King Kong!
1933 was a big year for horror and comedy films. Universal Pictures released The Invisible Man; The Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy each put out a classic comedy that year too. Movies were still young at the time, but that didn’t stop filmmakers from achieving amazing feats when it came to having to blend storytelling and special effects. While films were still primarily black and white, (Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were filmed in technicolor but were not released until 1939) the character’s personalities we saw on screen brought enough color to the picture. No picture that came out in 1933 demonstrated that better than King Kong.
King Kong falls into a category of movies where the making of the film is just as interesting as the film itself. The filmmakers and special effects team had to invent new ways to bring the big lovable ape to life. Back in the early days of Hollywood there were no computers to digitally add an extremely large and lifelike ape to your scene. The way they had to have Kong interact with the actors was to film painstaking stop motion scenes, and splice it with a scene filmed with the actors. That means when you see Kong and some of the actors in the same scene, they were most likely filmed separately.
This movie is known for its groundbreaking special effects pioneered by Willis H. O’Brien, who later influenced other big names in the special effects department like Ray Harryhausen. Many fans may think that this movie would at least have received an Academy Award for Best Special Effects, but that category didn’t come into fruition until 1939. O’Brien would later receive the award (deservingly so) in 1950 for another amazing giant ape classic Mighty Joe Young. O’Brien’s mastery over miniatures and stop-motion is something to you can truly idle over. What they had to work with at the time was so limited, it’s amazing how it all came together so well.
While King Kong is absolutely known for its visual accomplishments, it has the classic tale of a beauty and the beast to get you invested emotionally. Fay Wray plays the lovable lead Ann Darro, Robert Armstrong plays Carl Denham, and Bruce Cabot portrays Jack Driscoll. These three while different in their personalities, blend together surprisingly well. The movie is about making a movie, before it was a cliché. The director of the movie Carl Denham finds a struggling Ann Darrow to star in his new movie filmed on a mysterious island. In order to get to the island, they take a ship which has our third main character Jack Driscoll, the first mate on the ship and love interest for Ann.
What makes King Kong an incredible story is how there is no main villain. While you can argue that Kong is the antagonist, the lines are definitely blurred here. Kong never wanted to hurt anyone, it wasn’t until the film crew landed on the island and got in contact with the natives that all the trouble started. Not only isn’t there a clear antagonist, but a love triangle is also in the works. Jack and Ann fall in love, but Kong takes a keen interest in Ann when he gazes upon her. He even defends her against a dinosaur, which is an awesome scene.
All these elements come together to one of the most epic conclusions to an American classic. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you know the iconic image of Kong on top the Empire State building. It’s fascinating how in 1933 they were able to perfectly balance amazing special effects, interesting characters, a classic story, and an epic conclusion. This movie is nothing short of brilliant and is arguably the greatest American movie ever made. Kong would later be used in other sequels, remakes, reboots, and crossovers. Nothing can top the original though. While not of Japanese origin, Kong has been one of the most popular monsters in the Kaiju film genre. He may be just as popular as Godzilla, which is a subject for another blog for another Tuesday.