King Kong (1933)

Because “Why not?”, and as it makes picking viewing easier, Trash Or Treasure is going through every movie in “Science Fiction – Double Feature”, the opening song for that trash culture classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

This week

Then something went wrong
For Fay Wray and King Kong
They got caught in a celluloid jam



“Damnit Fay, stop trying to steal my scene!”


I’m unlikely to be able to add anything profound to all the words that have previously been said about King Kong, as it’s a monumental moment in film history and its plot, symbolism, and presentation have been pulled apart in every possible way in the 90 years since it came out. It was a monumental breakthrough in the art and in the medium: the 1930s equivalent to Avatar, but with decent storytelling and a tight script. It’s one of the few films from that era that people still know the basic plot to, which to both a testament to the surface simplicity that made it memorable and the thematic complexity that has kept it a vivid watch to this very day.

“I just saw the electric bill for this week”


It still holds up as an entertainment, with surprisingly little effort from the viewer. Yes, the effects look dated, but the directorial style used and their careful placing within the story means that they are far more watchable than some efforts I’ve seen in the last ten years. Whilst they offer the watcher a spectacle, they do so with a focus on the tale being told. So, whilst you can see the inevitable flaws in the stop-motion and large-prop effects, you will just ignore them because it can still keep you far more interested in the overall composition.

“Now, remember: the safe word is “crayfish” “


The only bit that doesn’t sit well is how rushed the final act, with Kong rampaging through New York seems. The first act -¬ which introduces the filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), his darling starlet Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), the grumpy ship Captain Jack (Robert Armstrong), a crew of assorted stuntmen who make nautical jostling noises instead of speaking, and Charlie who’s there to be an old oriental (Victor Wong) – is a steady, character building affair. The second act, with their adventures on Skull Island, is similarly well-paced. Kong doesn’t appear till 40 minutes in and then shares the screen with a variety of other cryptids So the 20 minutes in The Big Apple whips by at a somewhat jarring pace.

…no subtext here, honest


Also jarring to the modern viewer is the substantial amount of violence you get to witness, with several characters dying horrific deaths directly on the screen. People fall down chasms onto the solid rock, they get chewed in half by terror-toothed dinosaurs, and they get crushed to death by the pure body weight of their fellow passengers on derailed trains. None of this has extensive details or close-up that would make it a gore film by modern standards, but it is all shown rather than implied.

“Bad Kong! Put down the islander!!”


there are several subtle bits of foreshadowing and misdirection woven into the story that modern filmmakers could learn from. An early scene has Darrow being comedically inept at acting scared for Denham’s camera on the boat, which then helps sell the absolute terror of her screams when she comes face to face with Kong later on. It helps sell the reveal and convey the outlandish horror unfolding before us.

“Take the damn tablet!!”


For the misdirection, the boat crew is able to intimidate the island’s inhabitants with their superior technology, and are able to down the first dinosaur they come across (which just happens to be a herbivore) when they charge into the jungle mob-handed. You would expect this to become a jolly Jurassic hunting trip, but they are soon overwhelmed by the terrifying monsters within. We are sold a quick and simple rescue mission, and instead, become interacted with a fight for survival.

“I STUBBED MY TOE!!!”


Inevitably, there are parts that will cause consternation with a modern audience. The only female character is essentially stuck in a love triangle, with both suiters being overly possessive brutes with communications problems. Then there is the representation of anyone who isn’t white European as somehow backward. However, the main instigator of the trouble is an entrepreneurial filmmaker (which means this is a film about a film, 1930s post-modernism!) killing hundreds to make a buck, Darrow is presented as having some agency at the start of the film, Charlie The Oriental gets to raise the alarm and only doesn’t go on Operation Certain Death because he’s old, and the islanders… well, that could have been done far worse (as shown by any number of films made this century).

“Did I leave the gas on?”


The main thing is that this is still a Treasure to watch, and that is said with no major qualification or conditions. It’s surprisingly modern in many aspects, and its dedication to keeping the thrills coming does it proud. The main cast do a grand job of selling their characters, their determinations, and their pants-wetting terror when needed, and it’s short enough to know when to quit (unlike the interminable remake). Go, grab a copy, and settle in to go ape!

THe Raggedyman

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