Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper
Written by James Creelman and Ruth Rose based on an idea by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace
I had an idea that I’d seen this film before but maybe I just *meant* to watch this before the Peter Jackson version. The story line is essentially the same but PJ takes much longer to do everything. What I mean to say is that I don’t think I’ve seen this before and it felt like watching it fresh even though it’s familiar from the PJ version. Fay Wray is stunning, luminous in black and white and absolutely captivating.
I read that the director/creator Merian C Cooper was an American fighter pilot who helped the Polish movements against Soviet Russia, he was shot down and spent around 9 months as a Prisoner of War. It sort of brings a bit more weight to this story about a big destructive force and trying to control things you don’t understand.
Carl Denham is collecting up a huge crew for a small ship and won’t tell anyone where he’s going or what he’s doing for the film. Everyone knows that he’s a daring film maker who goes right up to lions apparently. After an interesting talk with two of the other men about the dangers a woman may face on their trip and the dangers to women in New York he goes and collects Ann Barrow who is faint from lack of food. In a totally non creepy way he picks her up and takes her to the boat to star in his film. She hits it off with Jack Driscoll, one of the sailors who had initially been unhappy about having a woman on ship and they make their way to dreaded skull island.
You can kind of forgive the portrayal of the Island Natives in this film since it is the thirties – but one wonders why they used the same kind of caricatures in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies so much later. Then there’s Charlie the Chinese cook although he is much less of a racist caricature than Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and he’s an important member of the crew.
The reveal of Kong, after we’ve heard the stories and seen the extent that the natives go to in order to placate him is quite powerful. I found myself looking at the screen wondering how they patched together the stop motion Kong and the live action Ann, but then was distracted by the expressiveness Kong displays. He has a very sweet face and you can tell exactly what the emotions he’s feeling are.
I was quite excited about the animation of the dinosaurs as well. Wayne did point out that the dinosaurs that attack them are all herbivores which is a bit of a strange thing to happen. The kill count in this movie is very high, which for some reason surprises me even though it was the same in the PJ version. The deaths of Kong shaking people off the tree branch and into the ravine are particularly nasty – using little miniature doll people to show the bodies hitting rocks. The King Kong vs T Rex fight is pretty damn great.
It starts to stretch credulity a bit when every single monster and beast on the island seems to exist just to steal Ann and be killed by Kong but I just started thinking of it in terms of a Geiger Counter game and it made more sense.
The final sequence in New York has become so iconic it’s hard to imagine cinema without the homages. So many giant animals or monsters storming cities, so many climbing to the top of a tall building, damsel in hand.
Does it make me love the people? Yeah, you immediately feel for Ann – she’s innocent and vulnerable, and she’s a victim of so much. Jack Driscoll is a pretty great action hero, dedicated to saving his lady love. It’s harder to enjoy Carl Denham when he’s such a selfish ego maniac but hey, the guy learns some stuff right?
Bechdel test: Two women talk to each other about what they get at the women’s shelter at the start of the movie but they’re not named. Ann is the only named woman in the film so that’s a fail for this film.
Jack: Hey, I guess… I love you Ann
Ann: But Jack! You hate women!
Jack: I know…
State of Mind: Such drama. I mean, super melodramatic ending aside, I really enjoyed that film. And hey, it wasn’t three hours long!