‘King Kong’ captures New York City: 1933 review

(Originally published by the Daily News on March 3, 1933. This story was written by Irene Thirer.)

“King Kong,” as spectacular a bolt of celluloid as has thrilled movie audiences in a couple of sophisticated seasons, is the product of a number of vivid imaginations. The late Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper conceived the idea of the story. James Creelman and Ruth Rose elaborated on it in the screen treatment. Ernest B. Schoedsack, who always works with Cooper on adventure films, contributed various suggestions. And David O. Selznick as executive producer of the picture spoke his say during the filming of the piece.

Yesterday’s crowded houses at Radio City — the talkie is on view at both cinema palaces — were held thoroughly engrossed for an hour and a half. No hysterical screams were heard by this movie reporter however; not even as the eeriest episodes were unfolded. The folks took “King Kong” good-naturedly, and without fright. They were obviously awfully interested, and often guffawed with sheer delight at the exciting, preposterous situations.

They applauded the movie as something different and singularly amusing, rather than something weird and awe-inspiring.

And yet we’ve got to admit that there’s a certain tenseness about “King Kong” which defies you to glance away from the screen before the entire tale is told. It fascinates, to be sure.

The human cast of characters takes direction well. But the chief role, of course, is essayed by the 65-foot prehistoric monster gorilla, constructed by RKO mechanical experts, who stalks and groans and gnashes his enormous teeth as though indeed he were a giant sized beast of flesh and blood.

He’s encountered in the forests of a far-off island, the gorilla god who’s worshiped behind high stone walls by a band of frenzied, painted natives. The reason such folks as Robert Armstrong, Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot come in contact with King Kong is that Armstrong portrays a movie director who is renowned for the thrill films he brings back from the jungles of the world. On this particular mission he employs Ann Redman (Miss Wray, plus a quite becoming blonde wig) as star of the movie. And Driscoll (Cabot) is the first mate on the boat which conveys the cinema party of the island, many week’s journey from New York’s skyline.

"King Kong" starred Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot.
“King Kong” starred Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot. (RKO / Photofest)

The savage natives won’t be friendly with the camera outfit. They capture Ann and offer her as a golden-haired sacrifice to the great King Kong. And he lifts her between two fingers, waves her to and fro, never really harms her, but causes the poor gal to shriek with terror. Don’t know how she manages to be as brave as she is throughout the run of the film. We’d have passed out from dread of the horrible monster! Anyway, Driscoll, practically singlehanded, rescues Amy and, with the aid of gas bombs, the ship’s crew dazes Kong, chains him and takes him back to New York to be exhibited at what looks something like Madison Square Garden.

Disaster! King Kong breaks loose! Mad throngs tear out of the Garden. Kong grab the beauteous Ann once again and eventually reaches the top of the Empire State Building. And then the United States airplane forces come to the rescue!

You don’t for one minute have the feeling that there’s anything real about “King Kong,” but you’re being constantly entertained while the picture’s on view. And when you leave Radio City, you know you’ve had a mighty good time — which is just what the imaginative men responsible for the movie meant you to have! Photographically, by the way, “King Kong” super-excellent.

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