Film Review: King Kong (1933) – 9/10

‘It was beauty killed the beast…’

Reviewing a film as iconic as King Kong is a fool’s errand. It’s simply too iconic and too massive to justify having anything new to say about it. As something of a fool myself, however, I must treat King Kong like every other infernal film I watch and sit and write a review about it. Why, I hear you ask? Nobody knows anymore. It just is…

A film crew led by the intrepid and unscrupulous director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) travel to Skull Island for a location shoot. Denham brings along his inexperienced leading lady Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) for the ride. Upon arrival, Denham and co. encounter a number of huge and terrifying beasts culminating in the appearance of the eighth wonder of the world himself – King Kong.

I think one of the things that has put me off watching King Kong is I worried that the archaic special effects would render it unwatchable. I needn’t have feared. The combination of stop motion and model work here is dazzling, and it is astonishing to think that this is a film that is almost 100 years old and one that arrived less than six years after the first ‘talkie’ film (The Jazz Singer in 1927). Indeed, the score and the sound design here are the film’s secret weapon. Whilst it would be tough to argue that King Kong is a ‘horror’ film in the modern sense of the word, the screams of the film crew being devoured by gigantic beasts are genuinely chilling and Max Steiner’s iconic score is perfectly suited to the carnage being wrought on screen. Another surprise for me was how little time we spend in New York City given that the film’s most famous moment involves the great ape scaling the Empire State Building. While that scene certainly provides one of the more memorable visual spectacles, most of the film takes place on Skull Island and there are arguably even more impressive aesthetic delights to behold there.

King Kong is rightly considered a masterpiece but it is more than just a landmark of technical achievement. No, this is still an exciting and swashbuckling adventure movie and it deserves its status as one of the most famous films of all time. Pure cinema.