King Kong
directed by Merian C. Cooper
& Ernest B. Schoedsack
(RKO, 1933)

I was just old enough to see King Kong in the theaters when it first came out.

Of course, I'm talking about the 1976 version starring Jessica Lange, an admission that will have many Kong purists turning up their noses and coughing into their hands. But come on, people, I was 10! The original King Kong came out before my parents were born; to me, it was one of those crazy black-and-white movies the networks showed on Saturday and Sunday afternoons for the few souls who weren't watching football. But taking my son to see the 2005 Peter Jackson remake inspired me to get all three Kongs on DVD for a movie marathon to compare them.

Finally, as an adult, I can see the appeal of this old classic.

Granted, Kong himself is not much to look at in this post-Star Wars age. But considering the range of special effects in 1933, the stop-action technique is ahead of the game. Watch and you'll notice the rippling of his hair caused by the hands of the animation team as they moved him. And sure, you'll notice variations in Kong's appearance, and even his relative size, as the film progresses. But I wish I could have been in a theater in 1933 to see less jaded eyes watching Kong for the first time, back when his fight with a tyrannosaurus would have been astonishing movie magic.

The acting, too, is dated by modern standards. But the bravado of Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), the quiet competence of Capt. Englehorn (Frank Reicher), the shy romantic side of Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) are all memorable performances. And it's just not possible to say enough about Fay Wray, the delicately beautiful Ann Darrow who is captured by and captivates her giant leading man. Her screams alone have inspired generations of movie fans.

Bottom line -- King Kong clearly shows its age to a modern audience, but it wears it with pride and smiles benevolently upon those successors who have followed in its massive footprints. Some classics should never be forgotten, and this is one of them.

by Tom Knapp
4 November 2006

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