Halloween Endurance Test: King Kong (1933)
King Kong is one of my personal favorites. The film succeeds for the same reasons that made my reception of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre: the Beginning so lackluster. Rather than try to explain away the fantastic elements of his film, Merian C. Cooper instead revels in them.
Case in point: while seeking funding for his film, Cooper asked a Hollywood exec, ‘You know what a 50-foot gorilla would see in a five-foot girl? His breakfast!’
Here, in conversation, Kong is fifty feet tall. In the movie he stretches and shrinks from sixteen feet tall to just above twenty. Cooper made no attempt to define Kong’s height. Clearly the ape’s tall. Just how tall is determined by the scene (any scene!) at hand.
Despite this (looming) ambiguity, the film still works. You don’t wonder how Kong is the size of Skull Island’s giant barrier/fence one moment, and still able to fit into Carl Denham’s ship the next. This aspect of amorphous size doesn’t ever come up because you understand that you’re already watching a film about a giant ape. There’s no longer any time for queries; just sit back and enjoy the ride. Your disbelief is long gone.
Let’s be honest here, I have a lot of books covering the movie and its origins. In the film the character Carl Denham is a documentary director. In real life Merian Cooper had been a documentary filmmaker; filming places frequently not seen by the general populace at the time. (This was decades before spy satellites enabled us to watch our chubby neighbors make out in their backyard hot tub from the comfort of our computer desk.) The Depression put a crimp on Cooper’s film’s attendance, so he switched to a more escapist fare.
One fact of King Kong that I love is the utter contempt shown for love (stories). Supposedly the film shows how Kong’s love for Ann (Fay Wray) ultimately kills him. How beauty destroys the beast. While this makes for a capable book ending device, this structure is also clearly tacked onto the film itself.
Wray’s love interest, John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), barely exists in the story. Now if he barely exists, then it easily stands that their love is nonexistent. ‘Ann, I think I love you,’ John tells Ann in perhaps the most awkward coupling in film history. Just moments before, John was complaining to his shipmates about how having a woman aboard will ruin a ship. Now he loves her, before a first date! Either Ann works extremely fast, or being stuck on a boat loaded with other men for weeks on end can really change a man (or lower his standards).
King Kong‘s notion of love and/or dating is seriously perverse. It’s like when the high school band kids all gathered together to party and someone sneaked in some booze. After a sip everyone was blitzed (or at least acting that way.) That’s how quickly Ann’s and John’s relationship matures. It goes from still-born to mongoloid in 2.34 seconds. Setting the land speed record for hideous simplifications on the way.
(For all of you interested, the ‘experts’ (i.e. the obviously way-too lonely Ken Bernard) have calculated Kong’s penis to be two feet long. According to their research, a normal six-foot gorilla has a six inch penis. So a twenty-four foot tall gorilla would have… This explains why Kong is so angry and obsessed with climbing tall, phallic structures.
To date, there have been no known studies concerning Bernard’s own penis length, or the (possible) motivation(s) behind his own obsession. How bad is he? Here’s a sample: ‘Exactly how big is Kong’s penis? It is a matter of monumental cultural and psychological interest’ according to Bernard (126). (Emphasis emphatically his!)
If I ever get this far gone, someone please shoot me.)