King Kong (1933)

King Kong (1933), directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack.

The setup is a good one: a mysterious voyage by a maverick film director/adventurer who must find a leading lady before they put to sea just ahead of the law.

It goes slack for a while on shipboard, although we do have a funny bit of shooting some B-roll of Ann in her Beauty and the Beast outfit: "You look up... and keep looking up... until you can't believe what you see... you want to scream but can't... maybe if you cover your eyes..." That coaching will come in handy later.

When we hit Skull Island, the action begins, picks up and doesn't slack off.

Stop-motion animations by Willis O’Brien.

Score by Max Steiner. According to the wikipedia:


the first feature-length musical score written for an American "talkie" film, the first major Hollywood film to have a thematic score rather than background music, the first to mark the use of a 46-piece orchestra, and the first to be recorded on three separate tracks (sound effects, dialogue, and music). Steiner used a number of new film scoring techniques, such as drawing upon opera conventions for his use of leitmotifs.

Made concurrently with The Most Dangerous Game (1932), using the same sets and several of the same actors. Fay Wray worked on other pictures during production, including Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933).

The directors put themselves in the film in more ways than one: Carl Denham is very much like Merian C. Cooper, and he and partner Schoedsack are flying the plane that shoots down Kong at the end.

I just read Mark Vaz's biography: Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong. He was like something out of Kipling, a real adventurer from an earlier era: soldier, aviator, twice shot down and twice POW, a spy for a girlfriend, explorer, on the first board of Pan Am, and got into filmmaking through the back door as a way of financing his expeditions.

Once in film he rescued John Ford's career and partnered with him, promoted rear projection, Technicolor and Cinerama, and was the sort of producer who set his people up and left them alone. That's the way he liked to work on his own projects. A Major-General and Flying Tiger in China during WW2. A fierce anti-communist during the 1950s and 60s.

The films he directed are about the conflict between civilization and nature, and while his heart was with the untamed he was also fascinated with tools like cameras and airplanes. His final explorer's dream was to survey the Empty Quarter of Arabia from primitive airfields. Someone else did it first.

Available on Blu-ray with a commentary track by Ray Harryhausen and others.