With good reason King Kong is considered one of the greatest fantasy films of all time. Although it has aged in some ways, the film still delivers the element of spectacle so fundamental to this type of picture.
Film director Carl Denham takes his cast and crew, including his new female lead Ann Darrow, to a mysterious island to film scenes for his upcoming movie. Unforeseeable to even Denham himself is that the giant gorilla Kong will take a shine to Ann…
Perhaps more emphasis has been placed on the special effects and set pieces of this 1933 film, however equally as significant is the narrative and pacing. The film excels at building tension, until the exciting moment of the reveal. Screenwriters James Creelman and Ruth Rose cleverly expose little about where the group are heading or what they can expect, initially. Though prior to their arrival on the island, Denham speaks about the myth of Kong, this does not detract from his colossal first appearance later in the film.
In building the anticipation, and sustaining tension, the score is an incredibly effective device. The ominous repetitive drum, and the rest of Max Steiner’s score, used in pivotal scenes drives home the precariousness of the crew’s situation. The pioneering stop-motion techniques used in the film, along with the other effects, must have been thrilling for the 1933 audience.
The relationship between Ann and John Driscoll is warming, despite his initial dislike of not only her, but all women. It serves as a sharp contrast to Kong’s affection for Ann; a tragic situation that only generates sympathy for the monster. As Ann, Fay Wray cements herself as the original scream queen.
The elements of misogyny and racism evident in the film may sit uncomfortably or amuse modern audience members, but serves as a reminder that this film was produced in a very different age. Nonetheless, even today King Kong stands tall as a classic, and as both an influence to many filmmakers and a benchmark that fantasy films of this nature should be measured against.
King Kong was shown at the British Film Institute, as part of the Screen Epiphanies season. It was introduced by Ray Harryhausen.