With the release this Friday of the new Kong: Skull Island I thought it pertinent to finally see the original 1933 film King Kong, as well as kick off a long thought about project. For years now I have wanted to finally sit down and work my way through the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time, more importantly the 10th anniversary list. I love the movies, but didn’t grow up being shown the classics, so while I have a lot film knowledge, there are some significant gaps in what I have seen. So with 2017 being the 20th Anniversary of the AFI Top 100, I thought it appropriate to try to cross these films off of my list. Before beginning in earnest to see everything, I was already over a quarter of the way finished having seen 28 films over the course of natural viewing. Most of what I have seen are the newer films, with a few classics sprinkled in, including the number one film on the list, Citizen Kane, a movie I never really liked, though I do understand its importance. There are many films on the list that seem like they will fall into that category, ones that while a technical achievement, or groundbreaking in some manner, do not hold up as well over time. I am excited to finally begin this project, and will do my best to update my progress in the coming months in future installments of #ThrowbackThurday, but one thing is for certain, I know that I am in for a lot of quality entertainment and filmmaking.
Kong: Skull Island is the newest attempt to bring the classic King Kong to theaters, and if the rumor mill is to be believed, will kick off a new connected universe of larger than life monsters. So while I know the basic premise, and of course am familiar with the iconic closing moments, I have never actually seen number 41 on the Top 100, King Kong, in its entirety. The film for those that do not know, follows a famed director as he sets out to a mysterious island, in hopes of filming something that no person has ever seen before. He enlists the help of a young actress to star in his new film, and together they set course for uncharted waters. What they find once they arrive is a primitive village who worship Kong, a god and monster, who rules over an island of creatures the world thought long dead. The film for its time is a marvel in special effects, with Kong, and the rest of the creatures all brought to life using stop motion animation. The blending of both live action and animation was not nearly the same caliber of what we have today, with state of the art CGI bringing even the most largest than life characters seamlessly into our world, but was quite the success in 1930’s filmmaking. Of course the effects do not hold up over time, and actually ruin a little what is an overall really good film. The sense of tension that is created throughout the film, is severely undercut by how silly the different monsters look, especially Kong. Now it is unfair to criticize a film from early part of the century for its special effects, but I can see that if this film had a realistic monster, the other stellar elements of the film would be enhanced. Whenever I watch old movies I try to watch it with an eye from that time, but it is always hard to imagine a time where seeing effects like the one in King Kong, would not come across as inherently silly.
The acting in the film is ok, though not particularly memorable. Fay Wray’s Ann Darrow is enjoyable as the naive girl chosen to star in the film within the film. Some of the dialogue does her no favors, which is again a sign of the times, as she is seen as a bother by almost all of the men aboard the ship, by merely just being there. The star of the show is, and for as long as they continue to make these, always will be, Kong. Despite the limitations in creating the creature, the films actually does a pretty good job giving the beast personality. Throughout the film it is clear that Kong has an infatuation with Ann, and goes to great lengths to protect her from the various monsters that inhabit the island. There is no better example of the humanity given to Kong than the final moments, as the beast is attacked, and ultimately defeated by a small squadron of planes. The closing minutes of the film show Kong place Ann down to a safe spot on the top of the Empire State Building, before checking, and finally succumbing to his wounds. There is a sweetness to this moment, and it is the perfect ending to the story.
I am glad to have finally watched this early Hollywood classic, as it is every bit as good as indicated. The story is engaging, and the films’s score illicits the right amount of tension for a film about an island of monsters. While outdated effects make the menacing Kong seem a bit goofier than intended, knowing the historical significance of this film, and how it was created, puts the whole thing into context, which is why this film absolutely belongs on the list of greatest American films of all time.