Top 250 Tuesday: #171 – King Kong (1933)

Continuing to wend my way through the Sight and Sound Top 250 Greatest Movies of All Time. This week, it’s #171 on the list, Merian C. Cooper‘s King Kong. For a longer introduction to this series and a look at the full list, just click here. And if you want a heads-up on what I’ll be watching for next week in case you want to watch along, just head on over to the Facebook page or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are in the sidebar) where I’ll generally be posting that info later in the day.

kkThere are a lot of movies on this list that are what I call “once and done” movies”. You know the ones that I mean. Those movies that you watch, and even though you may enjoy them, you know you’ll never watch them again.

Then there are movies like King Kong.

And yes, I’m well aware that Kong will fit into the above category for some people. I’m also aware that there are some people who – for whatever reason – have never actually sat down and watched the original Kong at all. Perhaps it’s an aversion to Black and White films. Perhaps it’s that feeling of “I’ve seen bits and pieces, and I know the plot, so why bother?” Perhaps it simply the idea that it’s so old that it can’t possibly be anything but boring. Or maybe it’s just one of those “I’ve just never gotten around to it” movies. There are certainly plenty of movies on the list that fit into that last category for me. Which is one of the reasons I started doing this series of posts in the first place – to make myself finally cross a lot of those films off that list by saying “Well, now I have to watch it.”

And then, as I noted above, there’s King Kong.

I can’t recall right off the top of my head exactly what year it was that I first saw the original Kong, but I do remember the situation. It was in the early 70s when a lot of classic films were being re-released to theaters. Yes, I know that for a lot of my younger readers who have grown up in this incredibly fortunate era for cinephiles where it seems almost everything they could possibly want to watch is available at pretty much the touch of a button, but there was a time before the VHS/home video revolution when we movie lovers really only had two options for seeing older films. One was hoping that it might come on television, often times as part of a package of films that local stations would buy to strip across late afternoon / early evening slots before their local newscasts, or late at night or on weekends when they had timeslots to fill.

kk2(Yes, this was also a time when television itself was very different, before the advent of cable, when local stations actually had much more flexibility in their programming because they weren’t all controlled by huge national conglomerates and there weren’t all the nationally syndicated talk/reality/let’s show the worst side of people shows fighting for space on the airwaves and it was economical for those stations to run older movies in those slots. And we rode dinosaurs to school. But really all of that is grist for another post sometime.)

The other way that we got to see what we now call “classic” movies was for them to get re-released to theaters. This was something that would happen fairly frequently, and oftentimes without a lot of fanfare, especially in cases where the movie wasn’t really that old and the differences between them and the newer movies coming out weren’t as great as the ones being released at the time. I know, for instance, that it was because of these re-releases that I got to see a lot of the old Ray Harryhausen movies such as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad on the big screen as a kid without any idea that it had actually been made in 1958, six years before I was born. To me, it was just another exciting adventure flick that was showing at the theater.

kk3Anyway, it was because of one of these theatrical re-releases that I was able to see the original Kong on the big screen as a young child.

Another reason that that particular movie-going experience has stuck with me is that this particular re-release was touted as being “Kong as you’ve never seen it before” or some such wording like that, and I remember my father stating that that couldn’t be true because he had seen the whole thing in theaters way-back-when himself. (Yes, it’s true I owe a huge debt to my father not only for my love of, but my openness to not only older films, but all things vintage, and it’s a legacy that I’ve done my best to pass on to my own children.)

No, this isn't the particular ad that would have caught my father's eye at the time, but it is reminiscent of the kind of ad that would have run in the newspapers during that period.

No, this isn’t the particular ad that would have caught my father’s eye at the time, but it is reminiscent of the kind of ad that would have run in the newspapers during that period.

Of course, again, this was the pre-internet days – I know, I know, that’s another one of those inconceivable concepts that is completely lost on some kids these days, but just take my word for it that there was such a time – when we couldn’t just go online and see what changes had been made or hadn’t been made aware months or years before that a new version of a movie with restored footage was on its way. For that matter, for most of us out here in the suburban wilderness that was Nashville at the time, news of things like restored snippets of old films just wasn’t really news, and even if we were aware of something like that at the time, perhaps because of a short article in the local paper or if it had made the evening news, there was no way of knowing if we’d ever get to see the movie until an ad showed up for it in the newspaper.

Anyway, here I am, over 1000 words into reminiscing about seeing Kong for the first time, and I still really haven’t addressed the movie at all. I suppose that simply speaks for the powerful hold that nostalgia for a classic film of this sort can hold for a person, and also perhaps why the movie is so high on my own personal list of all-time favorites, and one that I have watched time and again over the years, including once again just a week or so ago in preparation for writing this post.

Of course, as the years go by, even with these movies that we’ve seen over and over, there are always new things that strike us whenever we revisit old favorites. Well, maybe not always, but this time around there were two things that really stood out to me.

First of all, there’s simply the fact that this is simply a really action-packed movie. Unlike Peter Jackson’s overbloated and incredibly long remake from a few years back, this is a film that really wastes no time in getting straight to what it knows the audience came for. Oh, sure, director Cooper does what he needs to in setting up the situation and the characters, but he also only spends enough time on that to make sure that we actually care about what happens to and root for those characters. And even then he makes sure to keep our attention on the screen by featuring Fay Wray in a series of diaphanous dresses and gowns that are obviously designed to show off what the gorgeous Ms. Wray brings to the movie besides her incredible screams.

wrayAnd once we actually do make it to the island… well, from there on out this is nothing but an action film with Kong facing ever tougher creatures all along the way when it’s obvious that he, too, has been seduced by Ms. Wray’s charms and is just looking for a place to have a little “alone time” with her. Trust me, this is a film that definitely puts the lie to the idea that I mentioned above that there couldn’t possibly be a whole lot of action in a movie of this vintage.

Another thing that struck me during this particular viewing is a statement made by exhibitor Carl Denham just as Kong is being revealed to the world on a New York stage:

He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive – a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Yes, Kong has been brought to the new world in chains, and when he eventually escapes his captivity and goes looking through the New York city streets for his lost love, the only option that is even considered is that he must be put down.

900-7_king_kong_blu-ray_Now trust me, I feel fairly sure that Cooper had no designs to make anything but an adventure movie, and that he certainly had no intention of making King Kong into any kind of metaphor for slavery or for the fate of those who dared revolt against their captors/masters, but nonetheless, the statement is there, and it definitely stood out this time around in a sharp contrast to Denham’s final, summative line “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

Either way, it’s obvious that once he is put into chains and brought to New York, Kong’s fate is essentially sealed.

Of course, there’s a lot more that I could write about this film, but the bottom line is this: If it’s one of those movies that fall for you into the “I’ve never actually seen it” category, then I strongly suggest just sitting down and giving it a shot, and if it’s one that perhaps you’ve seen before but it’s been awhile, it might be worth revisiting with fresh eyes.

But whatever the case, this is one of the movies on the top 250 list that I definitely highly recommend.

So what are your thoughts on King Kong? Is it a movie that you’ve seen or would like to? If you have seen it, is it one that would make your own Top 10 list? Or would it not even crack your Top 250? Let me know below.

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3 comments on “Top 250 Tuesday: #171 – King Kong (1933)

  1. Beer Movie says:

    Great review. Love this film. Reviewed it not so long ago. Just so creative. I am not a fan of the Peter Jackson remake though.

  2. […] (154) – Once Upon a Time in America 170 (154) – Cries and Whispers 171 (171) – King Kong [10 votes] 172 (171) – The Werkmeister Harmonies 173 (171) – Star Wars 174 (171) […]

  3. […] (By the way, if you want to see what I had to say about Kong the first time around, that posting is right here.) […]

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