KING KONG is probably the most famous motion picture of all time. It’s also a film about filmmaking, about the need of the people for circuses, and about the dormant reality behind it.
Consequently, what Kong expresses is a kind of monstrous humanity outlawed by a Lilliputian World. He is the god-king returned to his kingdom, eventually suffering the fate of an outsized Christ, his Mephistophelean adversary Carl Denham a gratuitous self-portrait of MERIAN C. COOPER, his inventor.
Cooper knew the public’s need for vicarious adventure and dedicated his life to fulfilling it. In the twenties he progressed from fake documentaries to features, usually in collaboration with his old war buddy ERNEST B. SCHOEDSACK.
Of course, Gorilla Meets Girl was not an entirely new concept, even in 1933 – anyone with a starlet and an extra in a gorilla-suit could do it. Cooper’s idea was taking the plot of THE LOST WORLD – a box-office hit in 1925, mostly thanks to the wizardry of Willis O’Brien – and replacing the brontosaurus with a giant ape.
He consequently hired O’Brien to do the special effects and Edgar Wallace, the Stephen King of the twenties, to write the script. Unfortunately, Wallace died of Diabetes after having written only a rough draft.
The wife of Ernest, Ruth Rose, read it, seeing in it the potential of a love story and expanding the character of Ann Darrow. In Wallace’s version she was about to be raped by a member of the expedition, when rescued by the monster, only to suffer a similar fate at its hands.
Ruth added the idea of the starving extra whisked away by Denham, replacing the rape scene with the grandiose sacrifice sequence for Kong’s first appearance. Thus, magically, a giant freak show had been transformed into a compelling retelling of the fairytale of the Beauty and the Beast.
Much of the magic derives from the pairing of O’Brien’s momentous effects with Fay Wray playing princess in a blonde wig to his dragon, establishing her as an icon of almost equal stature as the monster bride. In 2004, when Peter Jackson was perpetrating his atrocious remake – Beast killing Beauty – she was wanted for a cameo appearance.
Mercifully, she died in her sleep, 86 years old. In her honour, all the lights went out on the Empire State Building.
In another travesty, made in 1976, the Empire, no longer the world’s tallest building, was replaced by the World Trade Centre. Of course, in the end it was King Kong, who brought down the Twin Towers in His 2001 Plus Ultra Statement.
This could hardly have been foreseen by the two ardently anti-Bolshevik producers, as mirrored by the Depression prologue. Apparently, starving people only make them more resourceful and adventurous, although one may perhaps question the morality of Denham’s “honourable intentions”, as he picks an expendable blonde off the streets of New York after having been refused by his usual agent – still, he’s a lot more likeable than the stodgy, misogynistic hero.
Also, there’s a real sense of adventure about the preparations for Denham’s mystery film expedition. The monster doesn’t appear until about halfway through the movie, and yet we are entertained and thrilled every step of the way.
EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE GREATEST MONSTER MOVIE OF ALL TIME IN BATHOS #71. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
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