E Street Cinema’s Capital Classics showcase, which has now become one of the best locations in D.C. for classic films on the silver screen, will be presenting the original gigantic monster movie, King Kong (1933). The film was released before there was even a category in the Academy Awards for special effects. It certainly looks dated, but there’s something timeless about its title character’s heaps of foam rubber and latex.
King Kong is the original. The inventor of a genre that spawned countless serials, monster movies copies, parodies and remakes. The sight of a giant ape scaling the Empire State Building was surely something amazing to behold back in the 1930s. Looking at it now, particularly after the achievement of Peter Jackson’s excellent 2005 remake, it inspires laughter. But not the kind of eye-rolling, dismissive laughter that plagues so many melodramatic dramas from that early era. There’s something rather charming about its rough edges.
The story is simple. A film crew goes to shoot a movie on a mysterious island in the Indian Ocean. On the boat ride there, the film’s lead actress Ann (played by scream queen Fay Wray) becomes smitten with crew member Jack (Bruce Cabot). Once the crew reaches the island, Ann is kidnapped by feral natives and offered as a sacrifice to King Kong. Ann is rescued, and apparently they decide it is a good idea to have Kong be displayed as an oddity on the New York stage, so they take him back. Unfortunately, while on display, he breaks loose, kidnaps Ann again, and climbs the Empire State building.
The genesis of the idea was perhaps birthed from the same curiosity in human beings that would later inspire Mondo cinema. Many exotic jungle films set in South America or some other tropical island would often capture the American public’s taste for foreign locales and customs. So why not add giant monsters into the mix? It’s the adage of chocolate + peanut butter. What madeKing Kong a step above the rest (aside from its effects), was that it found a way to bring its exotic concoction stateside to reek havoc in downtown New York. The climax is what most people remember from the film, with fighter planes spraying Kong with bullets, they tend to forget the earlier part with the stop-motion dinosaurs.
Despite being important in the annals of cinema for its special effects, King Kong still has a measure of unadulterated fun to it. You still feel like you are watching a relic, for certain, but it has great moments of excitement in it. Most elder films are, too be blunt, boring. They require a change in perspective on behalf of the viewer to enjoy. But King Kong is different in that has a broader scope to it. Since it’s a creature feature wrapped inside an adventure film, it doesn’t require deep contemplation or analysis. It’s just fun. Whether you’re laughing at it or surrendering your disbelief to the adventure, King Kong is still a classic.
King Kong will play in E Street Cinema’s Capital Classics showcase on December 9 and 10 at midnight, with an addition screening at 11:00 a.m. on the 11th. The theater’s website can be found here. The film has been restored several times over with most versions that are available on Blu-Ray feature a 100-minute cut of the film. Several DVDs contain longer 105-minute full cuts. Many of the older VHS copies are colorized, so be forewarned.
Note: This is a review of the 105 minute version of King Kong, however, there’s no information on which cut the theater will be showing. Given E Street Cinema’s record, they’re assuredly getting a great copy.