Film producer/director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) invites unemployed &
innocent but spunky Anne Darrow (Fay Wray) to a boattriip somewhere to the East
Indies to star in his new, sensational(ist) picture.
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Still on the way to their mysterious destination, Anne falls for the ship's
first mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), while at the destination, the natives
(led by Noble Johnson) fall for the cute blonde, too. So the natives soon
decide to kidnap Anne & sacrifice her to the god that lives behind the
great wall that seals the natives' village off the rest of the island - &
that god of course is Kong, the giant gorilla. He soon takes a liking into Anne
as well (that girl really is popular around these parts of the world),
& instead of just eating her up, he defends her against a bunch of
dinosaurs & - as a reward for his efforts - undresses & fondles her.
The search party looking for Anne - led by Carl & Jack - runs into
dino-troubles of their own, & who isn't killed by the dinosaurs is killed
by Kong, until only Jack & Carl are left standing.
& while Jack manages to secretly steal Anne away from Kong, Carl, always
the showman, devices a way to drug Kong & drag him back to New york - but
not before the giant gorilla has laid the natives' village into ruins.
In New York, Kong is put on display to a paying public, all tied up by heavy
chains, but when he is frightened by the reporters' flashlights & driven by
jealousy after Anne & JAck announced their engagement, he breaks his
chains, runs on a rampage through the streets of New York, manages to find
& recapture Anne &, after causing some more havoc, climbs the Empire
State Building with the girl.
Only airplanes can shoot the ape down now (& they do), but when the
gorilla, fatally hit by a plane, hits the pavement, Denham remarks "It was
Beauty killed the Beast."
This early talkie stands the test of time remarkably well (in fact far
better than its 1976-remake)despite the fact that it has nothing really new to
offer - the creature effects are quite similar to those of 1926's Lost World,
also done by Willis O'Brien, while both story & characters are reminiscent
of those of any number of jungle movies & serials of its time (&
despite many film historians tend to say otherwise, there were darn many
What makes King Kong special though is its fable-like storytelling
& fairy-tale atmosphere, both of which it's quite conscious of, & thus
gives all its sexual undertones just the right amount of room, without - even
from today's point of view - being too overt or too restrained. So, in the end,
Kong is indeed not the evil monster (à la Godzilla)
he started out as but the tragic lover.
That the film succeeds on every technical level, especially Willis O'Brien's
stop motion animation (which would remain the ultimate technique for bringing
monsters to live for at least the next 40 years) & Max Steiner's moody
music does not hurt the film either, neither do good performances of the
central cast, especially Fay Wray's leading lady.
By the way, to cut costs at RKO, King Kong was shot back-to-back with
Most Dangerous Game, also starring Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong &
Noble Johnson, directed by Ernest B.Schoedsack & Irving Pichel, which would
become a classic in its own right.
& - to set the record straight - Edgar Wallace's input into King Kong
was rather minimal, he was hired to write a screenplay based on an idea by
Merian C.Cooper but died after only 3 days of work on the screenplay. James
Creelman would take up work where Wallace had left off, but in the end Ernest
B.Schoedsack's wife Ruth Rose did a complete rewrite of the screenplay, which
was then brought to screen.