Unlike the great white shark from "Jaws," which meets an explosive end and expected cheers from the audience, there's sadness when the ape falls to his death off the top of the Empire State Building at the conclusion of "King Kong."
We first saw the scene, arguably the most iconic in film history, in the 1933 version, which turns 80 on Saturday.
Happy birthday Kong, still as magnificent as ever.
Sure, "King Kong" might not hold up to today's standards, mostly because of its special effects, which many likely hold with such reverence because of nostalgia. A younger generation will chuckle at it. In 1933, though, Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation -- which brought life to an 18-inch ape puppet one frame at a time -- was as ground-breaking as the effects in Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park" and James Cameron's "Avatar."
There are other things to nitpick. Some of the dialogue is downright comical -- Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) tells Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), "Say ... I think I love you" -- and the racial overtones are so blatant it's best to chalk it up to the sign of the times.
Still, the original "King Kong" somehow works after all these years. Kong, Fay Wray, New York City, they're all synonymous with each other 80 years later. The classic beauty-and-the-beast tale, mixed with fantasy and adventure, still resonates. As Robert Armstong's larger-than-life character Carl Denham tells Darrow, "It's money and adventure and fame. It's the thrill of a lifetime!"
The plot centers around a giant island-dwelling ape that is served up a beautiful blonde (Wray) as a sacrifice by the island's natives, then captured and taken back to New York City, where the beast eventually dies in an attempt to re-possess his beauty.
Wray's role as Darrow dubbed her the first scream queen, but make no mistake the star on screen was Kong. Off screen, it was the work of director and producer Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, O'Brien and composer Max Steiner that produced film history. Their efforts humanized Kong, an astonishing feat considering the era and the fact the ape was a figurine made of aluminum, foam rubber, latex and rabbit hair.
The stop-motion animation called for moving the Kong figure one frame at a time. In doing so, the figure's rabbit fur moved as well. Played back on screen, Kong's fur gave the illusion it was constantly moving, thus giving it a more realistic look.
The articulation of Kong's face also produced several unforgettable scenes, the most iconic on top of the Empire State Building. Moments before he falls to his death, Kong gazes one final time at Darrow with affection.
The 1976 and 2005 remakes do their best to rekindle that emotion in Kong, but it's not the same. Efforts over the years have secured the original's place in history. In 1991, "King Kong" was deemed "culturally, historically an aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United State Film Registry.
Other interesting facts about the film:
--"King Kong" opened on March 2, 1933 at the 6,200-seat New York City's Radio City Music Hall and the 3,700-seat RKO Roxy. Reportedly, on the first four days, all of its 10 shows a day were sold out.
--Ticket prices were 35 and 75 cents, and the film grossed $89,931 over its first four days, a record at the time.
--It was the first film to have music scored specifically for it.
--Kong was so convincing, many critics insisted he was played by an actor in a monkey suit.
--Before settling on "King Kong," other titles considered were "The Beast" and "The Eighth Wonder."
--The battle between Kong and the pterodactyl took seven weeks to complete.
--The film was re-released four times in theaters in 1936, 1942, 1946 and 1952.
--During the 1960s and 1970s, "King Kong" became a Thanksgiving Day tradition on TV in cities such as New York and Cleveland (on WUAB Channel 43)
--In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked "King Kong" No. 41 on its 100 greatest movie list.
--The film's most famous quote is Denham telling a police officer, "Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast."
The mighty Kong is 80. Long live the King.