Film Review - King Kong (1933)

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King Kong (1933) 

King Kong, 1933, was the original and predecessor to the 2005 remake. It certainly was a trademark of the time for better or worse, featuring a dashing damsel in distress and a gargantuan-sized Ape. A real story of Beauty and the Beast.
Fay Wray plays Ann Darrow, a naïve and somewhat desperate New Yorker in need of any glimpse of a job. You get the impression from her carelessness and over trusting behaviour that she’d wind up in a bad situation if in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thankfully, Carl Denham and his “thrill of a lifetime and a long sea voyage that starts at six o'clock tomorrow morning.” arrives swiftly. Although Ann’s almost too sudden approval of the opportunity seems a little too much like fast-paced movie fantasy the rest of King Kong does not follow suit. But before we get into that, a final point. – It is interesting that the “love interest” expected does not come from Denham himself. Infact he seems completely removed from the idea of having a woman on the set of his movie. This perhaps correlating with the ever present sexism that was current at the time of King Kong’s release; however subtle that may be.
When watching King Kong today, the sexism, racism and off-putting animatronics all seem to generate a certain type of tongue-in-cheek type of humour. “"King Kong," which, in this age of technical perfection, uses its very naiveté to generate a kind of creepy awe.”(Ebert, 2002) As that was not the intention at the time you have to wonder if in 1933 people were nodding along gratuitously, amazed and captivated by this massive Ape whisking away the “Queen of Scream” in what all they know to be defined by an over-dramatization of real life identification.
It would be more appropriate to focus on set design and the methods they used to create the ever-so mysterious “Skull Island” rather than racism and sexism all too common for the time and thus arguably being forgivable. With uses of stop-motion, matte paintings and an extreme sense of sleight-of-hand King Kong is a marvel of “home-made” special effects. “home-made” mainly for the physical premise they hold in King Kong unlike of which today where close to everything is digital. It is a lot less forgiving.
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King Kong has the strangely “twitchy” style similar to that of Dark Crystal (1982) and The Never-Ending Story (1984) of which both used animatronics. King Kong however, does not have the same level of fantasy and instead replaces it with action. “But this is King Kong! The second you remember this movie was made in 1933, awe washes over you.” - (Telsch, 2014) As I mentioned earlier, towards the beginning of the film Ann’s decision to go along with Denham has almost zero doubt associated with it apart from her questioning if she would be the plight of a sexual favour.  (Women, huh? Always assuming everything...) Apart from this she hastily accepts Denham’s request and hops on a boat with him the following morning. Whilst this is ridiculously “at the last minute” and with no reluctance the rest of the film does not pan out this way. Infact, we are carried through a metronome of King Kong’s appearance as he appears and disappears trying to keep Ann for his own.  Unfortunately it seems every breathing inhabitant of Earth is trying to get hold of her and thus Kong must slowly fight his way through several almost seemingly too well placed enemies. (There’s that Hollywood coincidence!) The fight scenes after a while become monotonous with sporadic punch after another becoming seemingly less exciting each swing. In terms of direction, this is the largest asset that lets King Kong down.
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I wanted to make a comparison to the 2005 remake of King Kong as in an essence it becomes a completely different movie. There is a large amount of empathy from the viewer for the large Ape and his desperate attempts to keep the seemingly frail blonde woman in his grasp. Whereas in the 1933 version Kong is much more brutish. Maybe the lack of “sparkly CG eyes” is the cause, coupled with no moments of reflection, but it still remains that Kong is much more animalistic and emotionless than the 2005 remake. “The throbbing heart of the film lies in the creation of the semi-human simian himself, an immortal tribute to the Hollywood dream factory's ability to fashion a symbol that can express all the contradictory erotic, ecstatic, destructive, pathetic and cathartic buried impulses of 'civilised' man.” - (Time Out London, 2010)
Emotion does not come from budget, of which the 2005 version had 207 million USD to spend compared with the measly $672,000 then of the original.

The original King Kong is a more primitive take on Beauty and the Beast, infact, more realistic because of how unforgivingly brutish and disconnected from sympathy and hope from Kong’s part. Beauty killed the Beast, but if the ever-present movie magic was not there, the Beast would have killed Beauty far sooner than we would have liked whether that be an accident or not. Maybe then we would have seen Kong’s true aggression in a much more ruthless Kingly way.


Illustration List:

Figure 5 - Jackson, P. (2005). King Kong 2005 Photo. [image] Available at: [Accessed 14 Oct. 2014].

Figure – 3 Petersen, W. (1984). The Evil Wolf from The Never Ending Story. [image] Available at: [Accessed 14 Oct. 2014].

Figure 1 - Schoedsack, E. (1933). King Kong Poster. [image] Available at: [Accessed 14 Oct. 2014].

Figure 2 - Schoedsack, E. and Cooper, M. (1933). King Kong Film Still 1. [image] Available at: [Accessed 14 Oct. 2014].

Figure 4 - Schoedsack, E. (1933). Kong Fights Pterodactyl. [image] Available at: [Accessed 14 Oct. 2014].


Ebert, R. (2002). King Kong Movie Review & Film Summary (1933) | Roger Ebert. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Oct. 2014].

Telsch, R. (2014). King Kong (1933) DVD Review. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Oct. 2014].

Time Out London, (2010). King Kong. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Oct. 2014].

Further Reading (FYI):


  1. Hi Ella,

    You have discussed some very valid points here, but I do feel that you have looked at the film very subjectively...that is, purely with 2014 eyes instead of 1933 ones. Your comment for example, that the budget was a 'measly $672,000' - I have had a look on an inflation calculator, and according to that, in today's money it would be $12,258,526.15 ! Not a measly sum, by any means!! You should try and get yourself into the head of the audience of the time; this film would have been both amazing and terrifying.

    The quotes that you have chosen all suggest that the film is still capable of creating a sense of awe in the audience; it is valid that you are arguing against this point, but you need to provide evidence for both sides of the argument, not just dismiss it because you found it tedious or unbelievable.

    1. Ah gosh I did try to infer I was thinking of the film in 1933 but now that I re-think about my ideas I'm sure most of it would not have crossed the audience's mind in 1933. I used the word "then" after the $672,000 to imply I knew about inflation costs though I should have been less subtle about it.

      It's hard to review something in a different mindset when you weren't originally there at the time, that's for sure! My Grandfather said he had seen it the year it came out but perhaps I could have asked for his insight a little more!

      I'm stuck for a key term to base "what makes a good review" off of. Is it one that allows the reader to form their own opinions of the item being reviewed or one that simply explains the story. - Or maybe a mix of both? Sorry, many questions! I think I'm struggling to get the balance of a "personal review" and not being subjective just right.