Movie Review – “King Kong (1933)”

The original edition is being reviewed as a part of our King Kong week. Remember, Peter Jackson’s remake is due out this coming Wednesday, December 14.

Cast, Crew, and Other Info

Fay Wray as Ann Darrow (who got top billing; very rare for women in those days)

Robert Armstrong as Carl Denham

Bruce Cabot as Jack Driscoll

Frank Reicher as Capt. Englehorn

Written by Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace, James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose
Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack

Complete information is available from the IMDB.

Buy from: or Note that these links are to the collector’s edition. It’s also available in a regular two disk edition and in a box set with the two disk version, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young.


A film crew tracks down an uncharted island in hopes of getting some good footage. Instead, they find the world’s largest primate, and it likes their female lead.

High Point

The battle with the Tyrannosaurus.

Low Point

Character A hits character B with a chair, and character A falls unconscious?

The Scores

This was original. It’s the first big special effects blockbuster, blowing away the Universal monster films at the time, in which monsters were people in make-up. This was to the 1930s what Jurassic Park was to the 1990s, or what Star Wars was to the 1970s. Some portions still wouldn’t get done today, such as the restored “peeling the dress” scene present on the DVD. I give it 6 out of 6.

The effects were absolutely spectacular in the day, though today it’s easy to spot the stop motion and split screen work in many cases. (Not all cases, though; I still can’t see the line when they’re on the Broadway stage with Darrow in the foreground and Kong in the background.) They don’t hold up perfectly, but they do hold up well. Given the age of the film, I think it still deserves a 5 out of 6.

The story isn’t Shakespeare, but it’s done well enough. We’ve got some clear characterization here, and an ongoing “even the strongest are weak before beauty” theme. (Look at Denham; he regarded Kong as a thing of beauty, and made the mistake of bringing the monster to New York.) I give it 4 out of 6.

The acting is done effectively enough. There’s still much of the early overacting going on, but that’s just the 1933 norm. It’s irritating, but not the same magnitude of problem it would be today. I give it 4 out of 6.

The emotional response is still strong. There are some very cool moments in this film, and I can easily see why Peter Jackson was inspired to make an updated version. The script is there, though the technology to truly integrate Kong into the movie wouldn’t exist for decades. Still, it’s a fun and entertaining ride today. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production is well done, with some very nice camera angles and shots. There are some grainy moments in which frames were blown up when the cameras couldn’t get close enough to film things at the proper angle, but they’re not completely obvious. I give it 5 out of 6.

Overall, the past 72 years haven’t hurt this film very much. Check it out before the Jackson version comes out, so you can be amazed by both. I give it 5 out of 6.

In total, the 1933 original King Kong receives 34 out of 42.

One reply

  1. Overall, the past 72 years haven’t hurt this film very much.

    Definitely see this one, if you haven’t already. I have no doubt that Jackson’s will be spectacular– quite possibly a better film–, but it cannot recapture the groundbreaking nature of this film, nor entirely recreate the late Victorian/early 20th-century sensibilities and concepts into which the original taps. King Kong works both as a period piece and as an enduring classic.

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