The ultimate monster movie and one of the grandest and most beloved adventure films ever made, KING KONG is a film that has given us one of the most enduring icons of American popular culture--a massively destructive but curiously sympathetic giant gorilla whose rampage through New York
City suggests, on a psychological level, the re-emergence of repressed desire. While Kong is, in most scenes, only an 18-inch studio model, the stop motion special effects are so intelligently accomplished and lovingly detailed that the animated gorilla often appears more expressive than the human
Hollywood filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) takes starlet Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to a mysterious prehistoric island in search of the legendary King Kong, a giant ape worshipped as a god by the local natives. They find the giant beast and it falls in love with Ann. Denham manages to capture
the monster and bring it back to New York City for display, but Kong breaks loose and wreaks havoc on Manhattan in his search for his beloved Ann.
As a monster, Kong is akin to Boris Karloff's interpretation of the Frankenstein monster--more victim than victimizer. Of course, Kong was a fearful monster who killed with abandon and could destroy entire cities given a chance, but the beast had desires, a temper, needs and fears, and could feel
emotions that audiences to this day identify with. No man in an ape suit could convey such a complex variety of emotions--only a fine actor or a master in the art of stop-motion animation, such as Willis O'Brien, who was able to create one of the cinema's most unique and memorable characters from
an inanimate 18-inch stop-motion model.
On its initial release, at the height of the Great Depression, KING KONG grossed $1,761,000 and by itself saved the studio that produced it from bankruptcy. In 1938, the studio decided to re-release its classic, but took several steps to tone it down. The film had been made before 1934 when the
Production Code began to be vigorously enforced. In accordance with the revised rules of the game, cut were the scenes of Kong chewing and crushing human beings. Gone was the scene in which a curious Kong strips Fay Wray of her clothing. In fact, RKO made the new release prints several shades
darker in an effort to tone down the incredible detail of O'Brien's work (dying dinosaurs bleeding, etc.) that made everything seem so realistic.
This travesty practically obliterated the steps O'Brien took to ensure that his creations would live onscreen. Generations of moviegoers and television watchers were thus denied the true, uncut brilliance of the vision of Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, and O'Brien, until recently, when
restored prints of KING KONG began to circulate both in revival houses and on home video. It's probably best, for your viewing pleasure if not for your conscience, if you don't think too hard about the racist subtext.
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- Review: The ultimate monster movie and one of the grandest and most beloved adventure films ever made, KING KONG is a film that has given us one of the most enduring icons of American popular culture--a massively destructive but curiously sympathetic giant gorilla… (more)