Film Review: King Kong (1933)

Release Date: March 7th, 1933 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Written by: James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Edgar Wallace, Merian C. Cooper
Music by: Max Steiner
Cast: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot

Radio Pictures, 104 Minutes (with overture)


I’m pretty excited for the upcoming King Kong movie in March. So I wanted to revisit all the other King Kong films in preparation and to magnify my own self-manufactured hype. Granted, there are only a couple good King Kong movies out there. This, the original, is definitely the standard bearer.

For 1933, King Kong has absolutely stunning special effects. Sure, the style is outdated now, over 80 years later, but the stop-motion animation of Kong and the other creatures is a technique still used in Hollywood today. Hell, it became the primary method for creating giant monsters and other creature effects until men in rubber suits and animatronics became the norm. Even then, it still maintained a place in Hollywood. Nearly fifty years later, Ray Harryhausen was still using the practice in 1981’s spectacular Clash of the Titans.

The man behind the stop-motion effects of King Kong, Willis H. O’Brien, would later teach the style to the more famous Harryhausen. The two worked together on Mighty Joe Young.

But back to King Kong.

The film was absolutely groundbreaking in 1933. It opened the door for other monster movie makers and it allowed the creativity of others to flourish, once seeing what magic could actually be achieved on celluloid. Sure, there are magnificent films before King Kong but there was nothing quite like it in terms of scale, ingenuity and excitement.

King Kong isn’t just a special effects spectacle, however. It is a good movie, altogether.

Fay Wray did good as the female lead of the film, the apple of Kong’s eye. Bruce Cabot was solid as the hero and was a pretty believable manly bad ass, trying to wrestle Wray’s Ann Darrow away from Kong. My favorite person in the film was Robert Armstrong, who played the over-the-top showman, Carl Denham.

The island setting of King Kong was beautiful and lush. The cinematography was well done and it made the island locales have depth and character. The jungle itself was a sort of mysterious monster, all on its own. The other giant creatures were also a nice addition to the tale. The constant battles between the giant ape Kong and the other large animals were executed amazingly well, despite the difficulty in achieving these sorts of effects at the time the film was made.

King Kong is, and will always be, a classic. It deserves its recognition, as being considered one of the greatest films ever made. No other Kong film has ever truly recaptured the magic and the heart of the original. As time went on, these effects became common place and no other filmmaker really put in the effort that the people behind the original did.

Rating: 10/10

3 thoughts on “Film Review: King Kong (1933)

  1. I must admit that I don’t look forward in the least to the upcoming reboot. Judging from the trailers it all just looks like a lot of pointless CGI action and stuff blowing up. Don’t get me wrong, I like stuff blowing up, but I don’t think the trailers at least promise anything else. However, I do like your review of the original. 🙂

    • I like the cast. That is the main thing that gives me hope. I’m sure it’s a CGI-fest but I didn’t hate the 2014 Godzilla and this is eventually going to lead to those two monsters throwing down, while opening up a much larger kaiju universe. Especially with other classic Godzilla monsters showing up in his sequel. It’s the potential of what’s to come that has me most excited, honestly.

      • Yeah, the cast is good, I’ll give you that. I actually did like Peter Jackson’s King Kong, even though I thought it was 45 minutes too long. Kong was beautifully rendered.