Second Reel

Women, Gorillas, and De-Evolution: King Kong (1933)

Plot Summary

On the night before embarking on a sea voyage to make what he says will be "the greatest picture in the world," adventure film maker Carl Denham is informed by his talent agent that he does not yet have a female lead. The agent explains to Denham that no woman would want to work on this film, given its mysterious nature and Denham's reputation for courting danger. Mysterious indeed — Denham has not even revealed the ship's destination to its captain, Englehorn, or the first mate, Jack Driscoll. Exasperated by the agent's news, Denham sets out to find a female lead himself.

When Denham stops at a Times Square grocery stand, a young woman is caught by the grocer and accused of shoplifting. Denham smooths things over by paying the grocer for the allegedly swiped items, and when he looks at the weak woman's face for the first time, he becomes elated with the idea that she could be his star. He brings her to a cafe, and as the woman regains her strength Denham tells her about his trip. He convinces the woman, whose name is Ann Darrow, to sail with him, promising her money, adventure, and fame.

The next morning, aboard the ship, Ann has her first encounter with first mate Jack, who accidentally hits her on the chin. He explains to her that women on a ship are a nuisance. Later in the voyage he tells her that a ship is no place for a woman, and that if he were in charge Ann wouldn't be on board. Eventually Jack warms up a bit and even tells Ann, "Aw, you're all right. But women just can't help being a bother. Made that way, I guess." Denham appears and tells Ann to get dressed for her screen tests, which will be shot on board the boat. When she goes to change, Denham teases Jack about his potential romantic involvement with Ann, to which Jack replies, "Think I'm gonna fall for any dame?"

Denham and Jack are called to the bridge, where Denham shows Jack and Captain Englehorn a map given to him by a Norwegian captain, and which shows a previously uncharted island. He tells the two that the mysterious island is their destination, and explains that the natives of the island maintain a giant wall to protect themselves from something called "Kong," something Denham says "no white man has ever seen," something which inspired Denham to pack his cargo of gas bombs. Denham tells the two he is determined to capture this "Kong" on film.

Back on deck, Denham and Ann begin the screen tests. Denham directs Ann to look up and imagine the appearance of something horrifying. He tells her to imagine that her only chance to survive this horrible thing is to scream, and directs her to do so loudly. As she does, a startled Jack asks Captain Englehorn, "What's he think she's really gonna see?"

The ship arrives at the island, which is covered with fog. The monolithic Skull Mountain looms over the shore, where Captain Englehorn spies the island's natives through binoculars. A landing party is prepared, and Denham insists that Ann come along, despite Jack's concerns for her safety.

On the island, Denham leads the party undetected to the native village. From behind the cover of a grass hut Denham and Captain Englehorn watch the natives dance and chant "Kong." Several native men are dressed in furry gorilla-like costumes and dance in circles in an ape-like way. A native woman kneels nervously on a platform as others put flowers in her hair. Thrilled by the spectacle, Denham sets up his camera to capture the ritual on film.

Before Denham can begin filming, he and the party are spotted by the native chief, who halts the dancing ritual and approaches the crew. Captain Englehorn is able to communicate with the chief, and learns that the native woman on the platform is the "bride of Kong." When the chief sees Ann, whom he calls the "golden woman," he offers to buy her as a gift for Kong. He offers six native women in exchange for Ann. After Englehorn refuses, the landing party retreats cautiously and returns to the ship.

That night, on the deck of the ship, Jack and Ann talk about the encounter with the natives. Jack tells Ann that he was worried about her on the island. He then confesses his love for her, and the two kiss. Captain Englehorn then calls Jack to the bridge, and he departs, leaving Ann alone. Immediately afterward, the ship is boarded by the natives, who silently abduct Ann and take her away in a canoe.

Soon after Ann is abducted, a crew member finds a native's necklace on deck. Jack, meanwhile, can not locate Ann. After a ship-wide search, the men arm themselves and head to shore.

On the island, Ann is forced into the same boisterous ritual the landing party had witnessed earlier that day. She is lead through the gate of the natives' giant wall and tied to a large platform. The natives leave her, retreat behind the wall, close its massive gate behind them, and assemble with the chief on top of the wall. The chief says a few words, including "Kong," and moments later a giant gorilla comes crashing through the trees. The gorilla, Kong, removes Ann from the platform, growls at the natives atop the wall, and disappears into the jungle as Denham and the rescue party enter the village. Jack leads the rescue party through the giant gate and into the jungle in pursuit of Kong.

In the jungle, the rescuers are confronted by a giant rampaging Stegosaurus (which Denham identifies only as "something from the dinosaur family"). With rifles and gas bombs the rescuers kill the creature and continue their search for Ann.

Through the dense fog, the men hear Kong sloshing through a lake. They realize they can't swim across, as they need to keep the gas bombs dry. They build a raft and begin to paddle across the lake. In the middle of their crossing, the rescuers' raft is dashed to pieces by another large dinosaur, which pursues the men to shore, even catching and devouring one of them.

The survivors continue to pursue Kong, who crosses a large chasm by walking over a fallen tree. When the rescuers attempt to cross in the same way, Kong sets Ann down, doubles back, and shakes them from the tree. All of the men fall to their deaths but Jack and Denham, who each escape to opposite sides of the chasm. Kong attempts to extricate Jack from his hiding place, but is distracted by a screaming Ann, who has been spotted by another dinosaur. Kong and the dinosaur fight, and after Kong is victorious he again takes Ann in hand and continues deeper into the jungle. Back at the chasm, Jack and Denham separate. Jack continues in pursuit of Kong and Ann, while Denham heads back to the village for help.

Jack follows Kong to the top of a huge cliff. A pterodactyl swoops in and tries to make off with Ann. Kong grabs the creature, which then releases Ann. Jack then sneaks in and he and Ann escape over the side of the cliff to safety. The two make it back to the village, followed soon after by Kong, who breaks through the giant wall and begins to stomp and eat the natives before Denham and his crew render him unconscious with gas bombs. Denham decides to take Kong back to New York — alive — and exhibit him.

Back in New York, on the first night of Kong's display, Denham tells the press how Kong was lured by Ann's beauty. He invites the press on stage, where a chained Kong is on display before a large audience. Denham announces that Jack and Ann are to be married the next day, and as the photographers begin to take pictures of Jack, Ann, and Kong, Kong, startled by the flashbulbs, breaks free and escapes onto the streets of New York.

Jack escorts Ann to a room on an upper floor of a hotel. Kong climbs up the building, locates their room, and once again abducts Ann. Kong carries Ann to the Empire State building and climbs to the top.

At police headquarters, Jack suggests using airplanes to attack Kong. The planes are called out and begin to circle Kong atop the Empire State building. When Kong puts Ann down on the roof, the planes open fire and Kong falls to his death. Jack rushes to Ann's rescue.

Afterwards, down on the street in front of Kong's dead body, a police officer says to Denham, "Well, Denham, the airplanes got him." "Oh no," replies Denham, "it wasn't the airplanes. 'Twas beauty killed the beast."