King Kong is an iconic adventure film directed by Ernest. B. Shoedshack and Merian. C. Cooper. The film tells the story of Kong, a gigantic ape captured from the mysterious Skull Island by successful film directer and entrepreneur Carl Denham. After trying to possess the beautiful young star Ann Darrow, Kong is hunted down and killed in barbaric fashion by the supposedly civilised people of New York which begs the question 'Who is really the animal in the film?'
A recurring concept in King Kong is that of race and white peoples attitudes towards black people during the 1930's which can be unsettling to modern day viewers. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Times observes "Modern viewers will shift uneasily in their seats during the stereotyping of the islanders." From the behavioural traits of Kong to the native tribe of Skull Island the focus is on perceiving blacks to be a subhuman race and inferior to whites. Consider the manner in which the giant ape was forcibly taken from his home in chains by a gang of caucasians to become an attraction, essentially becoming a slave to benefit white people. Upon encountering Kong for the first time the people of New York respond with fear as well as seeing the creature as a means of cheap and distasteful entertainment. Arguably this relates to the influx of black people from rural to urban areas of America post World War One ". As many white people in urban areas had not previously interacted with those of other racial backgrounds there was a fear of the unfamiliar. This may also be the reasoning behind the perceptions of the black tribe of Skull Island. They are perceived to be a primitive and barbaric race of people who have no distinction between right and wrong. This can be an unsettling period of the film for a modern day viewer as the concept on analysis could be considered offensive.
Another racial faux par of this film is Kong's deep attraction to the stereotypical blonde bombshell Ann Darrow. The primitive manner in which he wishes to possess the beauty is suggesting the racist myth of black males exaggerated sexual virility. This desire to have Miss Darrow as his own ultimately leads to the ape being killed by his captures which came to a climax with perhaps one of hollywoods cheesiest lines "It was beauty that killed the beast."
The set design of King Kong was a spectacle and completely revolutionary for films of that era. The jungle was vast, swallowing and engulfing the characters into the undergrowth. The filmmakers clearly had the intention of making the scale of this film as large as humanly possible. This is apparent in the final scene where Kong with Ann Darrow clutched in his hand, climbs the Empire State Building perhaps the most iconic symbol of America's larger than life persona and incredible feats of engineering
Although the film does have its faults in terms of production and morality the sheer magnitude of King Kong along with the pain staking and revolutionary stop motion, entitles the film to deserve every bit of praise it has garnered in the 80 years since its release. "By today’s standards, the film’s special effects look primitive, but “King Kong” was the first film to pioneer the basic machinery and techniques that modern
filmmakers, later refined." (Levy:2011)
List of Illustrations
Fig1. Kong grasps the blonde bombshell
Fig 2. King of the Jungle
Fig 3. Kong scales he Empire State Building
Images extracted from http://classiccinemaimages.com/king-kong-1933/king-kong-1933/
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Times (Published Feb 3 2002) http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20020203/REVIEWS08/202030301/1023 (Accessed on 11,11,11)
Mark Bourne of dvdjournal.com (Published April 4 2006) http://www.dvdjournal.com/quickreviews/k/kingkong33.q.shtml (Accessed on 11,11,11)
Emanuel Levy (Published April 5 2011) http://www.emanuellevy.com/review/king-kong-1933-masterpieces-of-american-cinema/ (Accessed on 11,11,11)