The movie "King Kong" is 80 years old this week. Declared "culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress in 1991, the movie was also named one of the country's top 50 films by the American Film Institute (AFI) in 1975. Additionally, in 1998 the AFI ranked "King Kong" at 43rd on its list of the 100 greatest movies of all time.
Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack — both military veterans — conceived the idea of the fantasy-adventure film in 1932, basing the story on the ancient Arabian proverb of "The Beauty and the Beast."
The film centers around the character Carl Denham, an independent filmmaker who is known for shooting films of exotic animals in remote locations. Denham wants his agent, Charles Weston, to recruit a beautiful young woman for his latest project.
Weston is played by actor Sam Hardy — a Connecticut native and Yale grad. Hardy was born in New Haven on March 21, 1883. He died from surgical complications at age 52 on Oct. 16, 1935.
In the movie, Weston refuses Denham's request: "I can't send a young pretty girl such as you ask on a job like this without telling her what to expect ... To go off on a trip for no one knows how long, to some spot you don't even hint at, the only woman on the ship with the toughest mugs I ever looked at."
As a result of Weston's refusal, Denham wanders the streets of New York City to look for a beautiful woman who is willing to go on an adventure. He finds Ann Darrow, an unemployed, beautiful blonde who is down on her luck. Darrow, pplayed by the Canadian actress Fay Wray, agrees to join Denham.
They travel toward Indonesia by steamer and land on Skull Island. There they encounter a native tribe that desires to give Ann Darrow to Kong as a tribute. When the crew refuses to hand over Darrow, several natives kidnap her, hand her over to King Kong, and the excitement begins, as the crew tries to rescue Darrow.
King Kong, a 50-foot-tall gorilla, takes a fancy to Ann. He kills a T-Rex that wanted Ann for lunch and then defends her again by killing a large snake. Meanwhile, the rescue squad has deadly encounters with both a stegosaurus and a brontosaurus as well as Kong himself. Finally subdued by gas bombs, Kong is transported back to New York City to be put on display for money.
While chained to a wall in the Big Apple, Kong spies Ann Darrow in the crowd and gets irritated by flashbulbs. He breaks free, grabs Ann, and rampages through the city, eventually deciding to climb the Empire State Building with Ann Darrow in hand. Kong swats down an airplane or two, but is eventually machine-gunned off the world's tallest building and dies, but Ann Darrow survives on a ledge of the building. As Carl Denham arrives at the scene, a policeman says to him, "Well, Denham, the airplanes got him." To this remark Denham replies, "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast."
"King Kong" runs about 104 minutes. Its total production cost was only about $672,000. Released at the beginning of the Great Depression 80 years ago this week, the movie, nevertheless, earned more than $1.8 million at the box office that year. It was re-released both in 1938 and in 1941, making about another $1 million. Two remakes were filmed — one in 1975; the other in 2005. Both had limited success. The original film of 1933 — with a key character played by Connecticut native Sam Hardy — remains the best and most popular version filmed.