Filmsite Movie Review 100 Greatest Films
King Kong (1933)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

As they reach a pre-determined point in the middle of the ocean, somewhere in the Indian Ocean "way west of Sumatra," Denham has promised more information about the voyage. He explains to the Skipper-Captain and his First Mate their destination to the southwest. Englehorn protests: "Well there's nothing...nothing for thousands of miles!" Denham unfolds and reveals a secret, primitive map of an uncharted island in the East Indies. "You won't find that island on any chart," Denham explains about the map's history:

That was made by the skipper of a Norwegian barque...A canoe full of natives from this island was blown out to sea. When the barque picked them up, there was only one alive. He died before they reached port, but not before the skipper had pieced together a description of the island and got a fairly good idea of where it lies.

Denham describes the island from the drawing. The main island has a long sandy peninsula, the only possible landing site or entrance through a reef. The rest of the island's shoreline has sheer, steep precipices, hundreds of feet high. A wall cuts off the base of the peninsula from the rest of the island. Denham explains that there's an ancient, monstrous wonder "that no white man has ever seen" on the mysterious island:

Denham: A wall...built so long ago that the people who live there have slipped back, forgotten the higher civilization that built it. That wall is as strong today as it was centuries ago. The natives keep that wall in repair. They need it.
Driscoll: Why?
Denham: There's something on the other side of it, something they fear.
Captain: A hostile tribe.
Denham: Did you ever hear of...Kong?
Captain: Why, yes. Some native superstition isn't it? A god or a spirit or something?
Denham: Well anyway, neither Beast nor man. Something monstrous. All powerful. Still living. Still holding that island in a grip of deadly fear. Well, every legend has a basis of truth. I tell you, there's something on that island that no white man has ever seen.
Captain: And you expect to photograph it?
Denham: If it's there, you bet I'll photograph it.
Driscoll: Suppose it doesn't like having its picture taken?
Denham: Well, now you know why I brought along those cases of gas bombs.

On the deck, Denham prepares for Ann's preliminary costume and lighting test, noticing: "Oh, you've put on the Beauty and Beast costume, eh?" Ann thinks it's the "prettiest," but is nervous about not photographing well. Denham is confident of his unknown actress in her alluring costume: "If I hadn't been sure, I wouldn't have brought you half way around the world." Denham directs her film test, shooting the film himself from behind the camera:

Well, we'll start with a profile. When I start cranking, I hold it a minute and then turn slowly toward me. You see me. You smile a little. Then you listen. And then you laugh. All right? Camera.

During the test, Denham explains why he now does the filming behind the camera after an unfortunate filming trip to Africa:

I'd have got a swell picture of a charging rhino but the cameraman got scared. The darned fool, I was right there with a rifle. Seems he didn't trust me to get the rhino before it got him. I haven't fooled with cameramen since, I do it myself.

To set the scene, Denham describes the island's mysterious presence and asks Ann to react to it:

Now Ann, in this one, you're looking down. When I start to crank, you look up slowly. You're quite calm. You don't expect to see a thing. Then you just follow my directions. All right? Camera. (Denham starts cranking.) Look up slowly, Ann. That's it. You don't see anything. Now look higher. Still higher. Now you see it. You're amazed. You can't believe it. Your eyes open wider. It's horrible, Ann, but you can't look away. There's no chance for you, Ann. No escape. You're helpless, Ann, helpless. There's just one chance, if you can scream. But your throat's paralyzed. Try to scream, Ann. Try. Perhaps if you didn't see it, you could scream. Throw your arms across your eyes and scream Ann, scream for your life!!

Ann lets loose a blood-curdling, ear-piercing shrieking scream into the wind. Jack ominously comments on the ship's impending, mysterious voyage: "What's he think she's really gonna see?"

They reach the vicinity of the uncharted, fog-enshrouded island after making their way through the unmapped territory in the high seas. Ann wonders how they will know if it's the right one. Denham says the island will have a formation called Skull Mountain: "A mountain that looks like a skull" - a forbidding landmark for a place. A lookout reports breakers ahead. Anchor is dropped in a cove. Driscoll says grimly, "that's not breakers. It's drums!" They hear the muffled sound of drums and chanting in the distance. When the fog clears during daybreak, Skull Mountain and the wall come clearly into view exactly as described, "just like on my funny little map," Denham says.

Taking a small party of about a dozen ashore, along with ammunition, guns, bombs, and Denham's camera, they approach the native village. The first thing they notice is the imposing wall. [This same wall was burned six years later during the filming of the scene of the evacuation of Atlanta in Gone with The Wind (1939). The great gate was originally constructed for the Biblical epic The King of Kings (1927).] In the captain's words, the stone wall is "Colossal! It might almost be Egyptian." The village seems deserted, but then, they hear the drums again and see a strange, tribal ceremony in progress, with natives chanting "Kong, Kong." In the direction of the wall, the heathen natives are costumed as gorilla-apes while circling a naked, nubile young girl garlanded with marital regalia (flowers, shells, and feathers) and crouched on the altar. She is a human tribal offering to a behemoth killer gorilla, "the bride of Kong," draped by white-costumed attendants. Behind them up stone stairs are grotesquely-painted witch doctors and the tribal chief. Louder and louder they chant: "Kong, Kong."

While the crew hides behind a large native hut, Denham exclaims upon first seeing the sight: "Holy Mackerel. What a show!" He sets up his movie camera out in the open to film the spectacular ceremony, in which the natives both respect and fear their god. But the tribal chief notices them and quickly and angrily halts the festive ceremony. Denham's crew moves into the open as a show of force. The fierce, dark-skinned native chief, with his restless retinue of witch doctors, approach the intruders.

The ship's captain, who knows the native language, explains that they have come in peace, but the tribal chief motions them to leave immediately. One of the witch doctors cries that the ceremony is spoiled because the white men have witnessed it, and demands their destruction. Denham steadies his men with their rifles ready to shoot. Then, the chief sees and points out the blonde-haired Ann, the "golden woman," who holds onto Driscoll for security. Obviously, he has never seen a white woman before and is intrigued and struck by her beauty. Under his breath, Denham comments: "Yeah, blondes are scarce around here." The tribal chief demands that she be purchased and offers six of his native women in exchange for the white woman. Denham refuses the offer, thinking they might substitute her for the sacrifice. The crew slowly backs up and makes an orderly retreat to the safety of their moored ship.

Aboard ship that night, Driscoll, who has been fighting an attraction to Ann, now expresses his anger at Denham for bringing her along: "I think Denham's off his nut taking you ashore today...Denham's such a fool for risks, there's no telling what he might ask you to do for this picture....He's crazy enough to try anything." No longer inhibited, Jack uses his protective concern for Ann as a way to express, with clumsy stammering, his growing love for her:

When I think what might have happened today. If anything had happened to you...I'm scared for you. I'm sort of, well I'm scared of you too. Ann, uh, I, uh, uh, say, I guess I love you...Say, Ann, I don't suppose, uh, I mean, well you don't feel anything like that about me, do you?

Ann expresses her feelings for Jack by letting him kiss her. While she is still on deck, basking in the glow of her love for Jack, he is called to the bridge. The determined natives row out to the ship in an outrigger canoe and silently sneak on board. They seize her and carry her away in an outrigger to the shore. They prepare her for the marital sacrifice - a beautiful girl to placate their god, Kong. From the ship, Denham notices torches on shore and the continuation of the drums. When Ann can't be located on deck, the ship's cook finds a native bracelet that has been dropped by one of the natives during their struggle to kidnap her. They suspect the worst, that she has been abducted, and a rescue party heads for the island to rescue her.

In a frenzy of excitement, the natives have prepared Ann as the new sacrificial bride - in a scene filled with rape imagery. The witch doctors open the tall gate (by drawing back the huge, phallic-like bolt) in the enormous wall and drag her to the top of a high stone altar at the edge of the jungle. Her wrists are spread and bound to two great pillars or altar stakes (each decorated with a human skull) as a sacrificial gift - the "bride of Kong." After the witch doctors hurry back, the gates are closed and re-sealed with a huge wooden bolt. All the natives then climb to the top of the wall or gate where they gather to watch, torches lighting the sky. The chief halts the dancing, raises his staff, offers prayers, and then two half-naked assistants strike a giant brass gong above the gates to signal Kong. Left invitingly open to attack, Ann sobs helplessly on the altar.

The brutish Kong makes an extremely memorable first appearance. The mighty ape is first heard as he comes angrily thrashing through the jungle, bending nearby trees. Horrible roars, growls, and sounds are heard from an indistinct shape. When he comes into view, he is tremendous - a thirty-foot tall giant ape, much bigger than a gorilla. As she sees the demonic, strong Beast-lover approach the altar, Ann struggles to free herself. She lets out shrill screams in absolute terror, just like in the practice session. Her eyes signify complete fear and helplessness. With raw sexual impulses that have been incited and aroused by a rolling-eye view of the white girl, Kong flares his teeth and snarls, beats his chest and lets go mighty roars. As he comes closer to leer at her, he releases her from the stakes, and she slumps into a faint. Kong picks her up with his giant paw, as the natives cheer enthusiastically at Kong's acceptance of the valued sacrifice (worth six black native girls). She succumbs to the naked Beast's dark libido. Rather than devouring her, the hairy colossus carries her off into the jungle as she continues to scream. [Denham's practice session on shipboard is fully realized.]

Denham and the crew, with Driscoll in the lead of the rescue party, go in pursuit into the village but arrive too late to save her from Kong's grasp. [Both Denham and Driscoll are competing to win Ann back from the Beast, and to rescue her from Kong.] The captain and half of the sailors remain to guard the gate, while the others enter the open gate of the wall and start their trek into the thick jungle. The rescuers are quickly no match for the primitive, long-lost world of the island. As dawn breaks, they view and follow Kong's huge footprint track, Denham exclaiming: "Look at the size of the thing. He must be as big as a house." Skull Island's strange landscape is marked by foggy swamps, tangled growth, twisted vines and prehistoric dinosaurs. In a clearing, they encounter a prehistoric creature - a Stegosaurus. The armor-hide of the reptile reflects their rifle bullets as it charges toward the men. The beast has to be brought down with a knock-out gas bomb. As they approach the gigantic dinosaur on the ground, it rises up again and lashes around with its spiked tail. After more gun shots, it falls again, and Denham puts a fatal bullet into its brain.

Then, the crew reaches the edge of a fog-covered swamp, and they hear Kong splashing across ahead of them. To keep in close pursuit, they perilously cross on a hastily-constructed makeshift raft. Suddenly, a rampaging long-necked Brontosaurus [technically an Apatosaurus] emerges from the water. Its ugly face glares down at the men, and then submerges to escape a volley of rifle fire. The dinosaur rises again directly under the raft, throwing the men into the water. It snatches, chews up, and hurls away a number of sailors - one hapless man in the water is seized head-first. The survivors who have struggled to the shore race ahead of the creature. A sailor who has fallen behind in the chase through the swamp climbs a tree to escape, but is viciously grabbed from the tree branches by the menacing jaws. [This scene is scientifically dubious, since the Brontosaurus didn't have chewing teeth - it was a plant-eating herbivore with grinding stones in its gut to break up food.]

Kong, carrying Ann, crosses a log bridge over a deep chasm. In a clearing, he hears the approaching pursuit so he places Ann high in the fork of an upright dead tree. He returns to the location of the pursuing search party to do battle, finding Driscoll and seven of the surviving sailors crossing the deep ravine. (Denham has dropped back and hasn't reached the bridge yet.)

In the frighteningly horrific log sequence, Kong picks up, shakes, and overturns the chasm-bridging log as the men cling for their lives. All the sailors on the log roll off and are sent screaming to their deaths deep into the gorge. [This was the point in the film where the 'spider-pit' sequence was located.] Driscoll has managed to cross the bridge and has climbed down a large plant vine to hide in the small hollow of a cave under the side of the cliff wall. Kong reaches over to grope and grab for Driscoll, but the sailor, in a deadly game of cat and mouse, defends himself with his knife, and Kong withdraws his paw, angry and puzzled. Below the cave, Driscoll is nearly seized by a lizard-like reptile that has crawled up from the ravine on a vine. But he cuts the vine on which the creature is crawling.

The giant ape tries to reach for the annoying Driscoll one more time but he is interrupted by Ann's screams of terror. She has just seen a vicious, flesh-eating dinosaur approaching in the glade in the background. As she delivers a piercing scream, the Rex scratches its ear. Kong leaves his prey, hastily leaps over a fallen log, and returns to his golden-haired Ann just as the huge, monstrous creature is ready to put his large jaws on her. [It is one of many rescues that Kong performs for his new beloved.]

In the next spectacular sequence - one of the most exciting bits of stop-motion animation in the film - the primordial Kong and Tyrannosaurus Rex battle to the death, as Ann in horrible fascination watches the combatants from her treetop perch. To start the furious, titanic battle, the two first face off and measure each other. Then, Kong leaps onto the dinosaur's back and the creature viciously struggles and frees itself by shaking the ape off. The Rex affixes its huge, sharp-toothed jaws around Kong's protecting forearm. When they separate, Kong boxes and swings punches at the Rex's head. Like two collegiate wrestlers, the ape grabs the monster's tree-sized leg and crashes it to the jungle floor. As Kong pummels the creature's head, it furiously kicks its tail and legs, flinging Kong off.

In the wrestling melee, Kong reels backward against the tree where Ann is sitting. The camera follows the tree as it crashes down to the ground, pinning Ann there - miraculously, she is uninjured. From the ground-level perspective, the two creatures are even more frightening and awesome. At the end of their struggle, Kong leaps onto the back of the Tyrannosaurus and tears apart the gigantic, razor-sharp jaws of the dinosaur. Blood oozes realistically from its cracked-open mouth - Kong inspects to make sure his opponent is truly dead by moving the lifeless mandibles. With the Rex silent, Kong beats his massive breast in triumph.

Tenderly, the Beast frees Ann from the tree and carries her deeper into the jungle. By this time, Driscoll has emerged from the cave and reached the top of the gorge. He finds Denham, the only other survivor, on the other side of the ravine. He tells Denham to go for help, gas bombs and reinforcements back at the village and ship while he follows Kong's trail. Driscoll hopes to signal his friends somehow when he finds Ann. During his pursuit, Driscoll runs past the dying Tyrannosaurus, bleeding and already a feast for giant vultures. Back at the village, Denham tells the remaining crew: "Keep your eyes peeled. We leave at dawn, whether we get a signal from Driscoll or not."

Kong reaches his rocky, mountaintop lair, a cave atop Skull Mountain, with Driscoll following closely behind. Inside, he walks by a pool (a ripple in the pool foreshadows a coming attack) and puts Ann down on a ledge. When he leaves her for a moment, an Elasmosaurus, a snake-like lizard, slithers up from below and threatens to eat Ann. Kong is alerted once again by Ann's screams and he grabs the aquatic reptile. As steam rises in the background during the struggle, the creature coils its body around Kong's neck in a choking stranglehold. The convincing stop-motion animation captures the desperation in Kong's face as he gasps for air. Kong finally manages to dash its head against the rocks, breaking its neck.

Retrieving Ann, Kong takes her to the upper part of his cave, emerging on a ledge that overlooks the island. He announces himself with more chest-thumping, causing Ann to swoon into a faint. Sitting down, the Beast is fascinated and mystified by his bride's Beauty and doesn't intend to harm her. Fumbling with her like an adolescent teen, he holds Ann in his hand and examines her carefully, slowly peeling off some of her outer clothes and scrutinizing the flimsy material. When she awakens in his paw and struggles to get free, he strokes and teases her affectionately and then sniffs his fingers. Possibly he has fallen in love with her.

Kong rushes inside the cave after hearing a boulder crash, dislodged by Driscoll climbing up from the cave. Ann crawls to the edge of the ledge, looking for a way to escape. Suddenly, a giant winged Pteranodon (a type of Pterodactyl) swoops down and tries to snatch Ann into the air. Kong rushes back to rescue her, grabbing the flying reptile just as it starts lifting Ann. Ann falls back to the ground, while Kong struggles with the creature. Jack emerges from hiding and reaches Ann to save her. While Kong is distracted, Driscoll starts a descent down the face of the cliff wall on a large vine, with Ann clinging to his back. Kong has succeeded in killing the Pteranodon and disposes it over the ledge. There, he discovers their escape, and he grabs the makeshift rope and begins hauling them back to the top of the balcony. They kick helplessly at the end of the vine, both lose their grip and fall into the water far below at the base of the mountain.

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