Sunday, July 10, 2011

It Doesn't Get Much More Epic, or Influential, Than This Classic

If you were to compile a list of quintessential films of the last one hundred years, which films would be on it? My list would include "Singin' In The Rain", "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", and the original three "Star Wars" films, to name a few. This film would certainly be near the top of my list. It's epic in scope, and influenced generations upon generations of filmmakers. The film I'm speaking of is a classic, made in 1933 by RKO pictures. It's none other than "King Kong".

The story begins with a New York filmmaker named Carl Denham, played by Robert Armstrong. He's found a remote island (under mysterious circumstances), and has decided that he must find a female lead for his film. During a scouting mission, of sorts, in Manhatten, he walks by a fruit stand. There, he finds his leading lady, in the form of a beautiful, but nearly destitute woman named Ann Darrow, played by Fay Wray. They board a ship set to sail for the mysterious Skull Island. With them is a full crew, led by Captain Englehorn, and a man soon to become young Ann's love interest, Jack Driscoll. When they reach the island, which they believe to be uninhabited, they hear the mysterious sound of drums in the distance. With Denham in the lead, determined to finish his film, he and his crew, with his young actress, venture deep into the jungle, and discover that they are not alone. They soon encounter a tribe, native to the island. While their language is foreign and their rituals bizarre, one thing becomes clear. The tribe has come to worship one singular being on their mysterious piece of earth. This creature is only known to them as "Kong". Ann soon falls into the clutches of Kong, and it's up to the crew to save her. After a fatal trip deep into Kong's territory, only Denham and Jack survive. While he's deadly to everybody else, Kong is protective of his new love. Ultimately, Ann is saved, and the beast captured. What happens next, as they say, is history. This film is truly cinematic history at its zenith.

I'm always hesitant with films of such an epic scope. Films such as this have no doubt been held with such high regard, with such esteem, that it's hard not to go into a film like this for the first time with very high expectations. I've often found that if I enter into something with high expectations, I often end up disappointed, or even angry that what I've just seen didn't live up to the hype. So I went into seeing this film with trepidation. From the very beginning of the film, I knew that I would not be let down. The suspense builds, literally, from the opening overture. The film's score adds a aura of suspense, even though the first few minutes of the film are simply a gray screen with the word "Overture" written across it. And then the actors appear. Armstrong plays Carl Denham as somewhat of a cliche by Hollywood standards (or what we have come to know as standard). Carl is a famous (in his own mind) filmmaker that can do no wrong. Now, he's making a film that will make him millions. He believes he knows how to make this film, but those employing him want something that he's not sure if he can work with; a woman. Enter Ann Darrow. What can I say about Fay Wray? She was a stunning woman. She had large, gorgeous eyes, and flowing blond hair. Her acting wasn't campy and over the top like some actresses of the same era were guilty of. She was quiet and reserved, but when it was called for, she could be robust and dramatic. And perhaps, most famously, she was dubbed "The original Scream Queen". And rightfully so. She had a scream that could curdle milk and shatter crystal.

Of course, we can't forget to mention the star of the film, the big ape known as "King Kong". He begins as a mysterious figure, one whose very name conjures up the deepest of all goosebumps. This is a complex film. With the exception of Jack and Ann, all other characters act as both good and evil. For instance, Carl is a very strongly opinionated man. His opinion of using a woman in his film is, to say the least, unfavorable to the opposite sex. However, when Ann is kidnapped, and Jack ventures into the jungle to rescue her, Carl quickly turns from curmudgeonly filmmaker to a concerned friend. He tells his crew, "If we don't get Jack's signal by sunrise, we'll go ashore anyway." Another example is, of course, Kong. On one hand, he's a terror to the film's crew, and later, to the native villagers on Skull Island. However, he's willing to fight for Ann, fighting members of the "dinosaur family" as they're ignorantly called by Denham, and keep her safe by any means necessary, even at the cost of his own life.

I'd be remiss if I didn't briefly acknowledge the special effects in the film, which are spectacular, especially for a film made in the 1930s. The scenes in which Kong is fighting various predators, such as vicious dinosaurs and large snakes are stunning. The final scene (and one of the most famous in cinematic history)in which he sits atop the Empire State building to fight off the planes, and to protect a cowering Ann, is absolutely amazing. Not to mention it's the first time in the film that you feel a substantial shift in the film. No longer is Kong feared, but as he falls from the building to the street below, you can almost feel the emotion begin to build. The film then culminates with the shift from evil to good complete.

I LOVED this movie. Everything about it was stunning, all the way down to the sets, extras and lighting. And the final scene, in which Carl is standing, with the policemen in the street among a throng of onlookers as Kong plummets to earth, is spine tingling. And then there's the final line spoken in the film. The policeman leans in and says, "The planes got him." Carl returns with, " was beauty that killed the beast." It's powerful and deep. It's truly a beautiful culmination to a spectacular film.

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