Friday, September 10, 2010

Film #40: King Kong (1933)

Curious Kong, the curious giant monkey.
Oh what fun, to paw and sniff Fay Wray.
Furious Kong, the city smashin’ monkey.
Steal his bride, and you surely will pay!

So goes a cautionary limerick regarding the title star of this week’s film “King Kong.”
Like most possessive males, Kong doesn’t like it when you try and take away his young blonde plaything. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we. First, the beginning.

Movie director Carl Denham is frantically searching for actors to star in his next big picture, an action/adventure/monster flick that will be filmed on location at an uncharted tropical island. Known for putting his cast and crew in dangerous situations, usually involving exotic animals, both agents and actors refuse to work with him. But he can’t work alone and let the rumored outlandish creatures found on his mystery island be the sole stars. Pictures nowadays need purty dames, he laments. Oh blast those purty dames!

Given his reputation, Denham wonders where he could find an actress dumb enough to ship off on such a dangerous shoot. Then he has an epiphany: Desperate and willing to work in horrible conditions…. Got it, POOR PEOPLE!

Being the Depression, there are plenty of them around. Denham walks over to the local women’s homeless shelter looking for his next leading lady. Clean off the bugs and vomit, and I’m sure one of these lovely ladies will fit the part.

Then he spots the perfect girl nearby, starving small-bit actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), just as she is caught stealing an apple from a vendor. In swoops Denham with an apple dime, and after a convincing talk that features the promise food, glamorous clothes and worldwide fame, his beautiful leading lady decides to join him on a voyage. Probably not a good idea though, seeing as Denham’s own sailors are streaking their drawers over the adventure. But he assures her that he’s “on the level, no funny business.” So, you know, it's cool.

Denham got wind of his exotic movie location from some Dutch sailors, who encountered the island while lost at sea. The place is a Lost World of sorts, with thick jungle and high volcanic cliffs stretching across the island.. up until a giant man-made fence portioning off a peninsula. Legend says ancient descendants of the current natives built the wall to keep beasts of unimaginable size and ferociousness out of their village. The main beast is worshiped by the natives, and said to be “neither beast nor man, but a monster!” His name: JOHN GOODMAN. Wait, that isn't right... Actually, his name: KONG!

When Denham’s cast and crew arrive to the island, they interrupt a native bow-and-arrow wedding (you know, instead of a shotgun wedding…oh, nevermind!). My stars, a wedding! How adorable! We always cry at weddings. Accept at this wedding, it is the bride who is sobbing, since she is being forcibly offered as a “wife” to the colossal giant monkey man known as KONG. The legends are true!

The native bride doesn’t have to worry though, Kong is fickle and as soon as the next hot thing struts onto the island, she is chopped liver. Once the native leader spots golden haired stunner Ann Darrow among the visiting white-bread group, he claims she must be offered to Kong instead!
Well, not if dashing sailor John Driscoll has anything to do with it. He intends to be the only hairy ape that marries Ann!

But, the natives win in the end and Ann is offered up to Kong as his new bride. Time for the honeymoon at the top of the volcano (hmmm, that bird is too big for that bee!), but not before Kong has to fend off other horrific prehistoric creatures also after his new mate. Thrilling fight scenes abound, as do Ann’s screams for help! Kong is one curious lil’ monkey, who in-between snapping dinosaurs' heads in half likes to strip off Ann's clothes and smell them. A curious monkey indeed!

Driscoll and his crew give chase after Ann, and in the process rescue the poor woman from Kong’s exploratory touch. In the process, they even use some handy gas bombs to knock out the big ape. “I got it!” Denham exclaims! “Instead of a movie about Kong, let’s bring the sweepy monster back to New York for a stint on the stage. Kong will be a Broadway smash!”

Well, he is right, Kong does smash Broadway.
A colossal manlike wild monkey is brought back to the middle of America’s most populated city and constrained by mere chains? Then dis’d in front of his “wife.” Is this a good idea?
You called it, it’s not, and everyone, including KONG, finds that out the hard way in the 1933 monster movie classic, “King Kong.”

RDHP Ratings and Reviews

C-Rating: 5.0
Chris Dimick kongs:
“What would you do for love? If you are Meatloaf, you’d do anything but that. But if you’re Kong, you’d climb the tallest skyscraper, battle the meanest dinosaur, and chomp down the greasiest New Yorker just to be with your one true “love.”

Oh yes, I busted out the 5.0 just now. The perfect. It is a Kong-sized rating for a Kong-sized quality picture. Whoa, Chris, isn’t this just a monster movie about a big chimp running around the Big Apple. On the surface, yes. But King Kong is about so much more than that. In addition to the messages, the acting is enchanting, the dialog delicious, the special effects dazzling, and the fun delivered by the dump truck. There was a smile on my face throughout the picture… it was captivating. In short, there aren’t many better ways to spend 1h 40 min.

And even if one doesn’t choose to read into the subtle messages of the film, I offer this. King Kong is a monster movie, but it is the greatest damn monster movie in history.

Even before we see Kong, the movie grabs the audience by their suspenders. Snappy 30s-esque dialog and excellent performances from Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong (Denham) help build enormous tension and excitement leading up to the crew’s landing on Kong’s Skull Island.
Like water building behind a dam, this tension is unleashed with fury when main star Kong eventually bursts out from the jungle to claim his blonde-haired prize. What follows is thrilling action/adventure/horror, with realistic-even-for-today special effects showcased through Kong/Dino, Kong/Snake, Kong/etc battles.
Kong looks like a masterpiece, his stop motion skin sometimes even rippling in the wind. His facial expressions perfect that of a colossal man-ape, and best of all his mannerisms elicit awe, humor and empathy from the viewer.

Empathy is what makes this the perfect monster movie. Frankenstein came close to achieving empathy with its Monster, yet in the end this viewer felt Karloff’s freakizoid was more dead than alive.

But with Kong, you fall in love with him as fast as he falls in love with Fay Wray.
Kong has personality, and if we learned anything from Jules Winnfield, it is that personality goes a long way. This is necessary for a monster flick to be great. The most effective monster movies are those in which the audience not only fears the beast, but also kind of understands them… even feels a little bit sorry for them.

Yes, Kong is a murderous, destructive, perhaps bestiality-interested, surely manic beast. But he is also a confused, near-human animal completely infatuated with something that only returns his love with hate. In a way, King Kong is a story about unreturned love. Giving someone your all, and getting nothing but revulsion in return. It is about a misplaced outcast, torn from his land, a stranger in a strange world. These are themes and feelings we can all recognize.

And yet the movie balances these feelings with utter revulsion as Kong tears ass through both jungle village and metropolitan street. Fay Wray didn’t ask to be Kong’s bride, and New York didn’t ask for dumbass Denham to allow monkey rage to rain down on their streets. Kong seems to take pleasure in his destruction, and while you feel sorry for him, you also understand that he needs to put down his pretty little toy and stop the insanity! The viewer decides whether to love or hate Kong. And in the process everyone is treated to an amazing spectacle.

For me, I side with love, even the demented form of it possessed by old Kong.
Think about it. What would you do if a bunch of scrawny mini-apes came and took away the most beautiful woman you ever saw, drugged you, shipped ya across the ocean, chained you up on a stage for morons to gawk at, and then started taking your picture? You’d go on a rampage and f-up the city, right?! Well, so does Kong.

So take note, scrawny mini-apes of the Windy City. Should you ever decide to come steal away my blonde beauty of a wife, this ape will also be ready to tear you and Chicago apart for her return. You have officially been warned.
See you at the top of Willis Tower.”

Khris’ Kong Konnection
As an avid lover of classic horror movies, I was ecstatic when my then soon-to-be wife and I came up with the below Save-the-Date announcement for our wedding modeled after an old King Kong movie lobby card. This was mailed out in advance of our formal invitations, featuring me as Kong as Molly as Ann Darrow.

N-Rating: 4.7
Nick Rich kongs:
"What to say about King Kong? As one of our avid readers commented to me before our viewing, "I will be praying for both you and Chris as you tackle a tough challenge this week. I love the original King Kong, but, then, so does just about everyone else. The movie is a long established part of Americana. What is there left to say about it?"

What indeed.

Well, seeing as just about everyone and their mother (and their mother's mother) has already written about Kong (including Chris above), I thought I'd go off the beaten path and share some Kong-inspired randomy goodness from my noggin.

Nick's Random Kong Thoughts:
Well, that about sums it up! It goes without saying that you should check this one out if you haven't already - so get your B&W on!

The Skinny: This flick is a must even if you're not into older films... in fact, not watching it is downright un-American! Who knows? It may open you up to a whole new world of films (you know, old ones)!

Things We Learned from King Kong:
-People were really patient in 1933 (four minutes of orchestral “overture” music start this movie)
-“Tough eggs” walk up and tell lions to be quiet.
-When selling women, six brunettes equal one blonde.
-Kong has a great dental plan. Or, chewing natives keeps his teeth sparkling white.
-WWE moves come in handy when battling a T-Rex.
-Beauty can kill a beast.
-Like a 56-year-old woman, Kong hates having his picture taken.
-Nick and Chris would faint if placed on the top of the Empire State Building.
-In the 1980s video game Rampage, Chris liked Kong, Nick liked Godzilla.
-King Kong yet again confirms the RDHP theory: Monkeys want to be people.
-Kong is the 8th wonder of the world, not Chris’s feet:

Quote of the Viewing:
[Enraged over having his bride stolen away, Kong rushes a huge door in the middle of the native’s protective fence and breaks the lock, walking through the oversized gates]

Chris: “There is something I always wondered about this, Nick. If you are building a giant protective wall to keep Kong out of your village, why, WHY, would you build a door in the middle big enough for Kong to walk through!?”
Nick: “Maybe they were holding out that one day they’d achieve peace.”
Chris: “Ahhh, that’s nice… they are dumb.”

The Other Seven Wonders of the World
For his stage debut, Carl Denham billed Kong as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” That got the RDHP thinking, ‘what are the other seven wonders?’ Not wanting to take the academic route, we acted like the South and just made up the answer for ourselves. Here, our list of wonders:

1. The Deepest Hole in the World
And if that doesn't do anything for you, behold in the video the two biggest d-bags in the whole wide world.

2. Christina Hendricks
Jessica Rabbit come to life. They just don't make women like this Mad Men actress anymore.

3. The Worlds Largest Chest of Drawers
Speaking of large chests... here we have an 80 ft tall clothes cabinet celebrating High Point, NC as the "Home Furnishings Capital of the World." I hear at the back of the bottom draw, under some socks, you can also find the worlds largest dirty magazine.

4. The Corn Palace – Mitchell, South Dakota
Yep, an entire building made out of corn…. Not much to do in South Dakota.

5. This Guy’s Backnae
Don’t look directly into the backnae, your mind will never return.

6. Frankemuth, Michigan
Wow! Christmas all year around! Endless days of agonizing over a gift for Uncle Bernie, awkward family gatherings, heart-stopping foods…maybe this isn’t so cool after all.

7. The Barbed Wire Museum
Ahh, the olde "Devil's Rope" Barbed Wire Museum in McLean, TX. Because nothing screams “family fun” like snagging your privates on barbed wire.

Kong Thoughout the Movie Ages
Monkey see, Monkey do. This original 1933 masterpiece spawned an army of remakes and based-on films over the last 77 years. Below a sampling of some Kong inspired knock-offs.

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
The battle of the monster masters! A pharmaceutical company captures King Kong and brings him to Japan, where he escapes from captivity and battles a recently released Godzilla. Is there any type of evil pharmaceutical companies WON'T do?

King Kong Escapes (1967)
King Kong is brought in by an evil ruler to dig for precious gems in a mine when the robot MechaKong is unable to do the task. This leads to the machine and the real Kong engaging in a tremendous battle that threatens to level Japan.

King Kong (1976)
This one had Kong tearing ass around New York searching for Jessica Lange, before eventually attacking and climbing the, yikes, World Trade Center. Awkward.

APE (1976)
A crappy Kong rip-off by South Korean filmmakers. A newly discovered 36-foot gorilla escapes from a freighter off the coast of Korea. At the same time an American actress is filming a movie in the country. Chaos ensues as the ape kidnaps her and rampages through Seoul.
Read a full review of APE on the Atomic Monsters Web site by clicking here.
(Photo courtesy of Atomic Monsters) 

King Kong Lives (1986)
A giant ape King Kong, which was shot and fell off the Empire State Building, appears to be alive, but is in coma for 10 years and desperately needs a blood transfusion in order to have an artificial heart implanted. Suddenly, in the rain forest, another gigantic ape is found - this time a female. She is brought to the USA, and the heart is successfully implanted. But then King Kong, having felt a female ape, breaks loose...

King Kong (2005)
A noble attempt at updating the 1933 version, helmed by Kong-fanatic Peter Jackson. Action packed, visually dazzling, it is a great movie – but Jackson gets a little heavy-handed with the Kong love, throwing audiences out of balance with their love/hate of the beast.

King Kong Kulture
This monkey’s persona has reached Kong size. Below, a few bits of Kong pulled from pop-culture. Drink in the Kongy goodness! Jia!

"Olde King Kong" by George Jones
One of Chris's favorite country songs, by one of his favorite country artists.

Universal Studios King Kong Ride
Chris nearly cried when he heard the original was destroyed in a 2008 fire, but this new 4-D attraction just opened in the park and is based on the 2005 movie remake, taking folks through a dangerous tour of Skull Island. Ooo, oooh! Mommy can we go!

Hurley’s Nickname
On Lost, Sawyer lovingly referred to Hurley as “Kong” after getting a bear hug from the oversized castaway. One of the few “nice” names a-hole Sawyer dished out.

Donkey Kong
What is up with this game being named Donkey Kong. Maybe something with the way Mario "punches"? We don’t get it. However, who didn’t love this 1980s Nintendo video game that had a whittle Mario man jumping over barrels to save Kong’s bride.
Here is the backstory for this game, according to the Internets. “Eponymous Donkey Kong is the game's de facto villain. He is the pet of a carpenter named "Jumpman" (a name chosen for its similarity to "Walkman" and "Pac-Man"; the character was later renamed Mario and made a plumber, rather than a carpenter, when Mario Bros. was released). The carpenter mistreats the ape, so Donkey Kong escapes and kidnaps Jumpman's girlfriend, originally known as the Lady, but later named Pauline.”
So, once again, it is man’s fault that Kong rages on.

The Simpsons' Spoof King Kong
This bit was part of the Simpsons' season 4 "Treehouse of Horror" Halloween episode. Homer as Kong, perfect.

And other random Kong krap:

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