Tuesday, June 3, 2014

KING KONG (1933)

Sorry to up and vanish on y'all for a bit, but I was busy with arts & culture.  Regardless, it's now time to mosey along past one giant monster and travel back in time to 1933.   KING KONG is kind of a big deal for aficionados of fantastic cinema.  It's got market penetration in both genre and mainstream circles.  I mean, even your grandmother has heard of KING KONG.   Its place in the history of our beloved cinema is secure, and now I am going to rip on it a little.

First, we assemble the cast of characters.  Rakish filmmaker Carl Denham has built his reputation on films filmed in dangerous locales.  As the film begins, he's loaded a boat with plenty of gas bombs and explosives and is demanding that his underlings find him a woman.  If this were 40 years later, this might be some Hunter S. Thompson trip or end in a video for moms and dads to watch.  But Denham ends up locating Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in the line in front of a soup kitchen.  As seen above, she certainly looks like a girl who's down on her luck.  My favorite incarnation of Ann Darrow, though, is the one on the boat who resembles a Circassian version of Beyonce.

Truthfully, KING KONG is a spectacle movie, not a character movie, and a lot of these early scenes are sort of dry and featureless.  I did love the interaction between Darrow and Denham, especially when Darrow is acting out the part she'll play in Denham's proposed movie.  Very cleverly, the movie gives us tons of Fay Wray cringing and screaming, obv flash-forwards to later, when an ape will take advantage of her.  These scenes are paralleled much sooner, though.  The crew lands on Skull Island in search of a fabled monster called Kong, but end up interrupting a native ceremony.  The natives take a fancy to "golden woman" Darrow and offer to trade six of their women for her.  But Denham turns them down and actually DIRECTS Darrow while she's escaping ("Now look at Jack and smile").  Just superb.

Ann Darrow's a real character in some of the early scenes and shows quite a bit of fire and spunk.  She argues for her right to be aboard the ship and, in a not-that-convincing subplot, she falls for crusty sea salt Jack Driscoll.  But once we get to Skull Island, she quickly loses her agency and, after being kidnapped by Kong, she's basically just a prop (with tits).  Wray's acting entirely entails screaming and thrashing.  It's pretty clear that the actors are taking a back seat to effects at this point (and these effects must have been glorious for the theatergoers of 1933).  1933 was obviously a long time ago, as you will learn when you watch the scenes of menacing island people.

Perhaps not PC, but I dug these scenes.  One, because it actually looks like a mob of people.  We're told at one point that Denham's boat has thrice the normal crew, but they always just look like a couple of people when we see them. Put them on an average sidewalk and there would still be plenty of room.  Not so with the tribe.  Plus they're like the first step in the ladder of menace, clearly dangerous, even if not as destructive as Kong himself.  But, yeah, stereotypes, blah blah blah, although maybe offended people should be more offended at Chinaman Charlie and his lines about "eggs fahr blekfast".

I feel like the Skull Island scenes aren't really what to come to mind when KONG is mentioned.  But they're arguably the best scenes in the movie!  At this point, the movie stops worrying about character and such and just dives deep into outlandish adventure, like a movie version of Allan Quatermain or King Solomon's Mines.  The island is full of DINOSAURS, son!  Lots of which end up battling Kong over rights to beautiful Ann Darrow.  Ann Darrow is the Lisa of Skull Island and everyone wants to marry or eat her or simply rip away sections of her dress.

The effects have earned deservedly high praise.  I actually think the dinos look better than Kong, mostly because dinosaurs don't have millions of individual hairs to worry about, but the titular monster always looks pretty rad, too.  Modern movie-watchers might wince at some of the Claymation-y business when Kong is moving or bodies are falling, but the scenes in which a real Fay Wray is integrated into effects scenes are pretty convincing. 

I also dug the use of expansive sets, which almost dwarf the enormous Kong.  We get some slight issues with scaling and monsters that shrink or grow between scenes, but it's nothing that you can't overlook.  Pretentious dbag critics hadn't been invented in 1933, so there were no blogs full of CLOVERFIELD-style hate for KONG.  If you work to put yourself back into that mindset, these scenes are always pretty fun.

I even liked the goofy Kong kill scenes.  Even giant gorillas aren't carnivorous, I guess, but Kong loves to put dudes into his mouth for a single bite, then give them the big drop to the ground.  It always looks like he's grinning happily when this happens.

In mah opinion, the famed rampage through the city doesn't really have the character of the Skull Island scenes.  Kong attacks monorails and reattacks the immaculate Ann Darrow and it's all quite nice, but not really as compelling as stomping around Skull Island and wrestling T-Rexs.  So, yes, some flaws are visible, but obviously KING KONG is something that you need to watch if you care about cinema of the fantastic.  Arguably the point of origin for giant movie monsters, scream queens, and the Darrow Chemical Company, and it's still pretty fabu.  


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