A Pictorial History of the Movies: 1933 – King Kong
I can’t even count the number of films where this film is shown on screen to represent a cultural benchmark in a child’s life. This was the film of a lot of people’s childhoods. The way Wizard of Oz is that way for a lot of us. This was the film that was thrilling and exciting for a whole generation of kids. The Spielberg generation. It’s movies like this that got Spielberg to start making movies. I don’t even have to look it up. I know it is.
This was the biggest movie of 1933 and remains one of the most iconic in all of cinema. If anyone was compiling a list of the most iconic shots in all of cinema (which you know this blog is going to attempt to do one of these days), the image from the Pic of the Day would be on it. It’s not even a question.
If you’re looking for a film that defines 1933, you don’t really need to look past this one.
It’s notable that “jungle” films existed long before this. Hell, just two years before this, Trader Horn came out, and was nominated for Best Picture. Plus there are all of the jungle adventure serials that became the influence for Indiana Jones.
But because they were known to be popular, that gave Merian C. Cooper the idea for this movie. Which… this film was based on an original script and not an existing novel. Which is pretty great. I like when iconic films like this one that feel like they’re always being remade were actually based on original ideas and not off a novel.
Anyway, Merian Cooper was brought to RKO as David O. Selcnick’s assistant, with the promise that he could make his own films. The first one he made was The Most Dangerous Game, which is pretty famous and influential (in both positive and negative ways… if you’ve seen Zodiac) in its own way. He then tried to make a movie called Creation, which was essentially Jurassic Park before Jurassic Park. But the film was never finished and went over budget anyway. So then what happened was, Cooper realized he could make a cheaper picture by using existing sets, not shooting on location, and setting the film in the jungle. And this led to the creation of the film we have here.
There’s a real interesting story about the shooting of this film. How they shot part of it on the sets of The Most Dangerous Game, and had hand-me down sets from other movies. Really interesting how pieced together this movie was, and yet how great it turned out.
The film is also notable for its use of stop-motion animation. Its visual effects were groundbreaking for its era. This movie is the reason why the Best Visual Effects category exists. David O. Selznick petitioned the Academy to give Willis O’Brien an Oscar for his effects on this movie. And, like all timely institutions, the Academy created the Best Visual Effects category five years later.
Not to mention, when figuring out the score, they thought they were just gonna use existing tracks from other films, but instead decided to go original. So they hired Max Steiner (always a good decision), who wrote what has become one of the most memorable film scores of all time. Which became a milestone for film music. He used leitmotifs and really used the music to tell the story, which had never really been done before in movies (remember, this is 1933). This score set the standard for all following scores, especially for big movies like this one.
The film has become one of the most famous films ever made, even if it still isn’t one of people’s favorite films. It’s more one we all hold in high regard. But still, it hasn’t lost much of its power, and is still a wildly entertaining film, and one that makes you still go, “Wow, this looks really good.” It’s clearly of an older era, but you can still appreciate how groundbreaking the effects were. And, as I said, you show this to a child of the right age, they’re gonna love it. And for all kids from the 30s to the 70s, this was a big deal. (And not four hours long.) And the climatic sequence is still one of the most iconic moments in all of cinema.
The other way you can tell a movie was really a benchmark of peoples’ childhoods is by how many times they try to remake it. And this film was remade twice, and will be remade every 20 or 30 years. It’s just that kind of story. You want your children to experience a story like this. That’s the beauty of it.