The original ‘King Kong’ on FilmStruck

Fay Wray in the ape's paw in the original 1933 classic

King Kong (1933) is the king of the jungle of giant creature features. The acting and the dialogue verges on kitsch, but the production from explorers, adventurers, and real-life adventure filmmaking pioneers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack is still awe-inspiring and the special effects of Willis O’Brien, groundbreaking in their day, are beautifully crafted.

In the days of modern special effects, the stop-motion giant gorilla Kong may not be realistic to contemporary eyes, but he is a fully realized character in his own right, brought to life with personality and passion. It’s what makes you care for the giant beast as he carries blonde beauty Fay Wray through the jungle (fighting off other giant predators in primeval battles) and wreaks havoc in the urban jungle of New York to find her once again. The finale, with Kong on top of the Empire State Building swatting at biplanes like they were bees, is an iconic image. Like Frankenstein’s monster, Kong was ostensibly the monster of the movie, but the power of his presence made him a tragic hero in the greatest beauty and the beast tale in the movies.

The cinema had seen nothing like it when it burst on to screens at the height of the depression, and there is still little that challenges Kong’s supremacy.

Bruce Cabot is the stalwart hero and Robert Armstrong the filmmaker/entrepreneur (and Cooper stand-in) who captures the beast and takes him to the city as a spectacle for gawkers, and delivers the classic eulogy: “Twas beauty killed the beast.”

Added to National Film Registry in 1991.

In black and white, not rated

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King Kong [Blu-ray Book]
King Kong: Two-disc Special Edition [DVD]
King Kong [DVD]

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On Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Bros. Home Video with the original 7-part RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World as the centerpiece of the special features, an epic 2 ½ hour plus original documentary (co-produced by Peter Jackson) that details the creation of the film in immense detail (from conception to production to visual effects and sound design) and features a one-of-a-kind offering: a recreation of the legendary “lost spider sequence” by Peter Jackson and his Weta Workshop crew using the same techniques that Willis O’Brien employed in the original film. As there is almost no photographic record of O’Brien’s work in progress, the footage of the Weta crew constructing, animating, and shooting their footage is closest we’ll get to a practical demonstration. Also features commentary on the film by visual effects veterans Ray Harryhausen, and Kan Ralston with archival interviews with producer Merian C. Cooper and actress Fay Wray edited in, plus the documentary I’m King Kong: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper (2005) from Kevin Brownlow, a profile of the adventurer, producer, and film pioneer, test footage from Willis O’Brien’s unfinished Creation, and Merian C. Cooper trailers.

On DVD only, King Kong: Collector’s Edition features a 20-page reproduction of original 1933 souvenir program and a collection of King Kong postcard-sized mini-posters in a collectible tin case. The King Kong Collection is a box set that also includes sequel Son of Kong (1933) and African ape adventure Mighty Joe Young (1949) in a collectible tin case.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears in Vulture, Turner Classic Movies online, Keyframe, and Parallax View.

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