From the moment the credits start, King Kong impresses as being ultra-modern. This seems an odd thing to say about a film that is 77 years old. I do not mean modern for our times, but modern for 1933. The credits are drawn in bold Art Deco lettering, which reflects the design rage of the day. So many of the films of the early 30s were heavily influenced by Art Deco design, so having the credits so drawn makes it seem as if the film is saying ‘I am urgently of today’.
The contemporary cues pile up in the first part of the movie. Anne Darrow’s out-of-work situation clearly reflects the Depression that was only then being felt by the population at large. The repeated shots of a glittering New York, the most modern city in the world, are a good offset to that most modern of constructions: The Empire State Building. This building will, of course, figure in the climax of the film in the legendary fight between Kong and the biplanes.
Once this modernity is sufficiently set up, the true conflict of the movie comes to the fore. The romantic journey to Skull Island results in the arrival in the picture of the great, primeval Kong. He is as much a wonder in his world as the Empire State is in New York City. Where the Empire State is a cold, steel and glass phallic presence, Kong is raw sexual energy. The inevitable meeting of the two hastens the climax.
Anne Darrow is the link between these two forces: aspiring star of Manhattan and love object of Kong. This is especially apparent in the scene when Kong pulls her out of her room in the building as he makes his ascent to meet his doom.
Kong in New York is a dangerous, disruptive force not just because he is big, but because there is nothing of the modern about him. He is ancient. He is sexual force incarnate. There is no place for him in Manhattan. As they say in the old Western, the town ain’t big enough for the two of them.
Something has to give, and, alas, it is the mighty Kong.
The famous final line seems to be wrong. Beauty doesn’t kill the beast. Modernity does.