King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933) 🇺🇸

December 08, 2021

It all started with a misunderstanding. When Cooper told actress Fay Wray that she would be starring with the “tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood”, she had no inkling that she’d end up captured by a hairy monster who was nothing like Clark Gable at all!

The name is Kong, King Kong. All of us have a mental image of that amazing scene where the furious Kong, atop the Empire State Building, tries to fight off the planes as they attack him. The poster shows us Kong scaling a building one-handed, his other hand clutching his prey, reduced to a Barbie doll in his enormous paw. His huge face, looming in the window of a sleeping woman, has just triggered another wave of sheer horror. Hated, hunted, his fur shines as brightly as his rage. The beast’s anger is directed against the folly of the men who tore him from his native jungle to be exhibited on Broadway as “the eighth wonder of the world”. We may well wonder who is truly the “beast” here.

We have a bird’s eye view of the climbing scene from the summit of the building where we find ourselves, horrified spectators. On the bottom right-hand corner of the poster, three people who know already what awaits us tilt their mesmerized faces towards us. They have survived many horrors since the day they first set foot on the aptly named Skull Island. A lucky break for Carl Denham (a dead ringer for Cooper?), an adventurous filmmaker in search of exoticism and romance who finds the perfect bait for luring the monster in the form of Ann, scream queen Fay Wray. During the crossing he teaches her to scream, a talent she deploys unrestrainedly throughout the movie, in unison with the giant gorilla, whose roaring was created using recordings of tiger growls that were then played backwards at slow speeds, all heard against the musical leitmotivs of composer Max Steiner.

The terrified Ann is captured by natives who deliver her as an offering to the beast that lives on the other side of the wall (recycled from Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic The King of Kings), Kong’s magical lair where the play of light and shade conjures up the world of Gustave Doré. Tied to the sacrificial altar, her screams quickly attract Kong, who carries her off into the dark jungle. We’re now deep into the land of fairy tales. Leaves rustle, animals growl, the air is full of the din made by creatures of the night. The worst is to come. A group of men bravely set out to rescue Ann, tracking her captor’s giant footprints. They find themselves face to face with dinosaurs straight out of 1925 movie The Lost World, brought to life using the same “handmade stop-frame” animation. After fighting off the charge of a fearsome brontosaurus, they do battle with a slimy stegosaurus, not unlike the Loch Ness monster, that arises from the waters of a misty swamp. Meanwhile the man-eating ape is kept busy, protecting his prize from attack by crawling and flying lizards that he crushes and rips to shreds mercilessly with his powerful jaws. Strong enough to uproot trees and knock down fortified gates, humans seem to raise him to new levels of ire. Eating them alive, squashing them into the mud, throwing them into a spider-infested pit, Kong sees humans as nothing more than insignificant Lilliputians.

And yet, beneath this sometimes vulnerable, hairy carcass beats a wounded heart. The fearsome beast exhibits extreme tenderness towards his captive beauty. As well as being a fable, King Kong also carries erotic overtones that culminate in the scene where Kong is seen removing Ann’s satin clothing piece by piece, sniffing his giant fingers as he does so. We quite literally see Kong’s heart bleed in the final tower scene, where we also catch sight of Cooper himself firing a machine gun at the now vanquished king, an eloquent metaphor of the creator destroying his creation. According to Denham “it wasn’t the airplanes, it was Beauty killed the Beast”. My view is that sadly it’s actually down to supporters of shameless and unfettered capitalism. It’s really nothing to proudly beat your chest about!

But whatever the reason, you can still adopt your own gorilla if you like, they come in all sizes. Although it’s less of a hassle simply to rewatch the movie – it makes my cat purr with pleasure – and give yourself goosebumps by acquiring this terrifying poster!

Check out the French version of this article.

Check out these King Kong vintage articles from 1933.