'King Kong,' 1933

It's got two epic antiheroes: the mythic dinosaur-sized ape and the famous jungle-film director, played by Robert Armstrong. At the beginning, Armstrong complains that pundits say his movies would have more draw if they contained some romance. So he scours the New York City soup lines for a woman needy enough to join his biggest and most mysterious adeventure -- a secret journey to Skull Island in search of the fabled King Kong. He recruits Fay Wray after he sees her lifting an apple from a sidewalk stand. Even before he knows that Kong lusts for human female flesh, he test-screams Wray and photographs her modeling a "Beauty and the Beast" costume. "King Kong" is the story of the luckiest director who ever lived. Wray turns out to be a plucky leading lady with a powerful set of lungs, and Kong is, if anything, overly cooperative in filling out Armstrong's love story, especially when he gently strips away Wray's clothing. But like any huge star, the ape is uncontrollable -- especially when he viciously chomps and tromps his victims in closeup. Armstrong starts out making a film-within-the-film -- he talks of having to shoot before the monsoon season, he lugs a camera along with his rifles and gas bombs. Then he turns Kong into a one-ape Broadway spectacle. Armstrong's showmanship helps give the movie's horrifying adventures their harum-scarum zest. This "King Kong" is both gorgeous and brutal. The show-biz frame cushions the bone-crushing. You see the action through Armstrong's let's-put-on-a-show eyes, and it becomes a grand excursion into impure movie magic.
Turner Classic Movies
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