King Kong is a film that is widely held as a classic of cinema – with some of the iconic monster photography in cinema. It is a film whose visual effects have held up very, very well, but narratively hasn’t held up quite as much.
So, the film’s plot is pretty much a classic. Carl Dunham (Robert Armstrong), documentary filmmaker, is deciding to make a film with a narrative due to popular demand, and is bringing a woman with him because people want women in films while Dunham is the kind of man who literally says “Dames, who needs them.” Dunham has put together a massive expedition together to go to this uncharted island that Dunham had found out about from a map that he’d bought from a Norwegian sailor. Dunham’s plan is to make up a plot for his film on the fly, with his actress, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), in the lead role.
However, on arriving on the island with the crew of the ship, the Venture, along with first mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), they discover Generic Savage Tribe #1, and an island filled with dinosaurs and a massive gigantic ape the natives refer to as “Kong”. After the natives sacrifice Darrow to Kong, Driscoll and the crew set out to get her back, capturing Kong in the process. They return to New York, Kong escapes and kidnaps Ann, the Empire State building is climbed, and we all know what killed the beast.
What I feel makes this film hold up in history is the visual effects. The stop motion photography in the film is amazing. Kong and the dinosaurs look great, though the film takes some obvious liberties with dinosaur behavior (Brontosauruses and Stegosauruses aren’t carnivorous, for starters). There is also some limited animatronic effects for close-up shots on Kong’s head, which give the Eighth wonder of the world a fairly expressive face. That said, director Ernest B. Schoedsack does a lot of shots with Kong’s animatronic head holding victims in its mouth, which doesn’t hold up as well in a “Bela Lugosi in Revenge of the Monster” kind of fashion.
All in all, what makes this film worth watching now is not the now cringe worthy plot and dialog, but the gorgeous effects by Willis O’Brien, for Kong and the Dinosaurs. I completely get why this film has inspired filmmakers over the years, and I look forward to seeing Peter Jackson’s remake, to see if he makes it (hopefully) less racist.