Tuesday, 6 October 2015

'King Kong' (1933) Film review

After 82 years, 'King Kong' (1933) directed by Merian, C. Cooper and Ernest, B. Schoedsack, remains an unforgettable film in the history of all movies. It was one of the first major blockbuster films of its time - and rightly so, too. With its pioneering use of special effects, it was one of the most successful and groundbreaking movies of all time. 

Fig. 1
'King Kong' (1933)
Movie Poster
Both directors were influenced by the original 'King Kong' book written by Delos W. Lovelace, that was initially published in 1932. Cooper's second influence derived from books written by Paul Du Chaillu, 'an African explorer, whose tales included battles with hippopotami and giant apes in the depths of the jungle' (Wilson, 2001). In addition, it is probable that Cooper's third influence originated 'while shooting location footage in Africa, for his first documentary: The Four Feathers (1929) when he became fascinated with gorillas' (Miller, 2005). His influences later contributed to the creation of the film, a world in which savage, prehistoric beasts roam freely in the deep jungles of  'Skull Island'. 

Fig. 2
'King Kong' (1933)
Ann Darrow
Like most films, 'King Kong' was greatly influenced by the society and culture of its time. It explores important social issues regarding racism and sexism, both of which were highly apparent in 1930's culture. The film first introduces Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) after attempting to steal an apple - an act which is in itself, highly symbolic and echoes the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man. Ann is the epitome of female beauty and 'fits the beauty ideals of American mainstream society: she is a fair skinned blonde, blue eyed with a perfect figure and a pretty face' (Lewis, 2004). The female protagonist is merely reduced to 'a pretty face' as displayed in Fig. 2 - when Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) asks the director: 'Why take a girl along?' the director responds: 'because the public, bless 'em, has to have a pretty face to look at....and this time I'm going to give them what they want.' This highlights their disregard for Ann as an actual human being, she is sexualised and only used for her physical attractiveness. Furthermore, she is entirely passive throughout the whole film, only screaming when in danger, only to alert a male to come and rescue her. To a modern audience, this is a very sexist depiction of the female gender, portraying them as vulnerable and defenceless. Of course, this is entirely what 1930's society thought of women and Cooper was simply trying to represent the social ideas of his era. 

Racism is another key concept represented in 'King Kong'. Many contemporary reviewers have suggested that Kong is a metaphor for a black man, 'forcibly taken from his land and brought to the United States in chains. He breaks free then meets his demise due to his insatiable desire for a white woman' (ABS, 2013). In addition, the native tribespeople from 'Pacific Island' are characterised as savage, brutal and lacking any human qualities. To a modern audience, this is an extremely shocking and controversial representation of race, but to a 1930's audience, racism was deeply embedded in society and so, it would likely have been less surprising for them. 

To 1930's cinema filmmakers and audiences, special effects was something new and exciting, it would later revolutionise traditional filmmaking practices. As Peter Jackson states: 'I think as a film, [Kong] inspired more people to become filmmakers than other film ever made.' Upon meeting visual effects pioneer Willis O'Brien, Cooper began exploring new and alternative filmmaking techniques. Willis O'Brien was one of the pioneers of stop-motion photography - a laborious task in which involved 'moving a miniature puppet an inch, turning the camera on, turning the camera back off to move the puppet another inch before photographing again until the images created a sort of live animation' (Fraley, 2012). This was also exactly how Kong was created. 

Fig. 3
'King Kong' (2005)
Ann and Kong
Undoubtedly, there are clear differences between the original 1933 version of 'King Kong' and the modern remake in 2005. Besides the shockingly realistic special effects used to portray Kong, there are clear differences in the way the relationship between Ann and Kong is portrayed. For one, Kong's love for Ann in the 1933 original film is clearly one-sided. However, the pair share similar feelings for one another in the 2005 remake, their devotion clearly visible in Fig. 3 with Ann going as far as trying to save him (but to no avail) and finally crying beside the gorilla, as she watches him slowly die. Interestingly, in the modern remake, 'it is not beauty that kills Kong, it is greed and fear that destroys him' (Fuchs, 2005). It is also vital to note that director Peter Jackson, portrays Kong's death as extremely poignant, the look of genuine loss and sadness in his eyes as he takes his final breath leaving audiences feeling deeply sympathetic towards the unfortunate beast as we realise that he is a sacrifice to human greed and cruelty. 


Text sources:

Wilson, Karina (2001) A Decade by Decade Guide to the Horror Movie Genre: 'King Kong' (1933) 2001[dated typescript] At: http://www.horrorfilmhistory.com/index.php?pageID=KingKong (Accessed on 06.10.15)

Miller, Frank (2005-2010) 'King Kong' 1933 in Turner Classic Movies (TCM) [online] At: http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/2690/King-Kong/articles.html (Accessed on 06.10.15)

Buck-Morss, Susan (2002) Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia In East and West. Massachusetts: First MIT Press. (Accessed on 06.10.15)

Lewis, Natalie (2004) Cooper's 'King Kong' (1933): Black Masculinity between White Womanhood and White Male Capitalist Structures. Whiteness in American Cinema. Berlin. pp. 1 [excerpt] At:
http://www.grin.com/en/e-book/56037/cooper-s-king-kong-1933-black-masculinity-between-white-womanhood-and (Accessed on 06.10.15)

ABS (2013) 11 of The Most Racist Movies Ever Made. At: http://atlantablackstar.com/2013/11/22/11-of-the-most-racist-movies-ever-made/3/ (Accessed on 06.10.15)

Fraley, Jason (2012) 'King Kong' (1933) [online] At: http://thefilmspectrum.com/?p=5407 (Accessed on 06.10.15)

Fuchs, Cynthia (2005) 'King Kong' (2005). At: http://www.popmatters.com/review/king-kong-2005/ (Accessed on 06.10.15)

Illustrations list:

Figure 1. 'King Kong' (1933) [Poster] At: http://www.thinkcreatedream.com/?p=1508 (Accessed on 06.10.15)
Figure 2. 'King Kong' (1933) At: http://hdbitz.org/movies-720p/3030-king-kong-1933-720p-bluray-dts-x264-avs720.html (Accessed on 06.10.15)
Figure 3. 'King Kong' (2005) At: http://www.nzvideos.org/kong.html (Accessed on 06.10.15)


  1. Fantastic review Sky, a pleasure to read ! :) Really in-depth analysis of the various issues, and it's great to see you searching out the inspirations for the film. Well done.

    Just don't forget to italicise your quotes!

    1. Thanks, Jackie. I have edited my review and italicised my quotes :)

      Also, not sure if you have seen it or not, but I posted my review of Caligari but I haven't received any feedback on it yet.
      Here it is: http://pyrobat.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/space-oddities-das-cabinet-des-dr.html