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Produced and Directed by Merian C Cooper (1933)
No we're not talking about the Peter Jackson 2005 remake, it's the classic Fay Wray version of King Kong that really matters to movie buff and Rocky fans.
This was the the movie credited with saving RKO from bankruptcy, a nice touch that as the final scenes of Rocky climbing the RKO tower pay homage to King Kong climbing the Empire State Building.
The basic plot is explorers find a 50ft tall ape on a remote island and bring it back to New York as a glorified circus act. Of course the monster escapes and wreaks havoc, it also falls in love with Fay Wray along the way.
This DVD is a 60th anniversary version and comes complete with the It Was Beauty That Killed The Beast documentary.
This 60th Anniversary Edition of King Kong celebrates the excitement and the terror felt by moviegoing audiences for decades. Behold the discovery of the giant ape King Kong on Skull Island, his terrifying battle against the prehistoric creatures that live there, and his brutal murder of the ship's sailors that follow him. See Kong's voyage to New York and his fatal attraction to the beautiful Fay Wray, leading to death and destruction as Kong pursues Fay through New York City. Witness the awe-inspiring finale as Kong ascends the Empire State Building - only to be shot down by fighter pilots in a breathtaking display of 1930's aerial photography. This 60th Anniversary Edition presents King Kong in its finest version ever, using the most recent archival print from the 1933 original. Rediscover the classic Film King Kong and share in a piece of history that will entertain for many years to come.
It Was Beauty Killed The Beast celebrates the 60th Anniversary of King Kong with interviews from the pioneers of cinematography. It reveals how King Kong, an 18 inch puppet, was made to loom over 40feet high, terrorising audiences.
This special tribute includes interviews with special effects genius Richard Edlund (Star Wars, Alien 3); and author George Turner. KING KONG, THE EXCITEMENT AND VISION WILL LIVE IN THE HEARTS OF ALL WHO SHARE IN ITS GLORY.
All in all, the monster movie that started it all.
The finest monster movie of all time. I stayed up late with my dad to watch KING KONG on TV when I was about six or seven years old, and no film captured my young imagination like the original 1933 version of this classic tale; it was definitely the first of several life-changing movies that helped to shape who I am (STAR WARS and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW were still to come).
Everyone knows the story of course. Movie mogul Carl Denham (a gloriously hammy Robert Armstrong) sets sail aboard the good ship Venture to a remote uncharted jungle island, where he intends to shoot his version of the timeless Beauty and the Beast legend.
As hints of romance begin to blossom between Denham's leading lady, Ann Darrow (the original scream queen, Fay Wray) and the ship's square-jawed first mate, Jack Driscoll, played by Bruce Cabot, Ann is kidnapped by the island's primitive natives to be a sacrifice to their god, a gigantic ape named Kong.
Whilst rescuing Ann, many of the ship's crew are killed by Kong and the island's numerous prehistoric beasts, before the ape is captured by Denham and taken to New York to be exhibited on Broadway.
The climactic sequence atop the (then recently built) Empire State Building remains one of cinema's greatest finales, and still packs an emotional punch, no matter what generation you're from.
The film's direction by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack is faultless. The early scenes capture the feel of the depression era perfectly for future generations; while the forty minute build-up to Kong's unforgettable entrance is never boring, thanks to plenty of intrigue, snappy dialogue, great editing and Max Steiner's masterful musical score.
Once Kong does show up of course it's down to special effects innovator Willis O'Brien to work his magic. And magic it truly is. That the film's pioneering stop-motion techniques, rear projection, glass paintings, early matte shots and composites still hold their own against today's multi-million dollar computer generated imagery is testament to O'Brien's brilliance.
The performances too, although very much of their time, are never-the-less impressive. Robert Armstrong's old fashioned acting may be over the top, but he has lots of charm and his memorable line, "Did you ever hear of... Kong?" with that perfectly timed pause, can still send a tingle down the spine. Similarly, Fay Wray (who sadly passed away in 2004 at the grand old age of ninety-six) may scream her way through much of the movie, as did most horror heroines of the time, but she never loses her dignity.
KING KONG was an incredible success in 1933, playing at New York's two largest movie theatres simultaneously, saving R.K.O. studios from bankruptcy, and later becoming the first film ever to be re-released.
Of course, there have been various lacklustre attempts at remakes and sequels over the years; and, while it's not nearly as bad as everyone makes out, the 1976 version (produced by Dino De Laurentiis on an enormous budget) failed to recapture the magic or even the technical brilliance of the original. It didn't even have dinosaurs.
At the time of writing, we are anxiously awaiting Peter Jackson's interpretation of the story, but even a master like Jackson is going to have a tough job doing justice to this seventy-two year old masterpiece.
Today's film-makers owe it everything. KING KONG is the greatest.
Rob Bagnall (July 2005)
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