KING KONG (1933) & GODZILLA (1954)

It's a clash of the titans this week, as The Unenthusiastic Critic sits down for her first viewings of two cinematic classics: King Kong (1933) and Godzilla (1954).

With Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) about to drop in theaters and on HBO, Michael thought it was a good time to introduce Nakea to the original appearances of these two venerable movie stars. Both films teem with subtext: The original Kong is a masterpiece of movie craft from special-effects pioneer Willis O'Brien, put in service of a questionable narrative about colonialist plundering and white supremacist fears. Meanwhile, Honda Ishiro's original Japanese version of Godzilla—unlike its more familiar American edit—turns out to be a surprisingly solemn and powerful working through of Japan's national trauma and fears following the Second World War.

But I think we all really understand is that there's only one important issue: Who'd win in a fight?


0:00: Prologue: from Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
01:11: Cultural Osmosis: Pre-Viewing Discussion of King Kong
17:07: Interlude: from King Kong (1933)
17:42: The Verdict I: Post-Viewing Discussion of King Kong
56:35: Interlude: from Godzilla (2014)
56:49: Cultural Osmosis: Pre-Viewing Discussion of Godzilla
1:04:48: Interlude: from the trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956)
1:05:37: The Verdict I: Post-Viewing Discussion of King Kong
1:30:07: Outro and Next Week's Movie

Notes and Links

—Movies Reviewed: King Kong (dir. Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack, RKO, 1933) and Godzilla (dir. Honda Ishiro, Toho, 1954).
—Movies Quoted: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (1956), Kong vs. Godzilla (1963), Godzilla (2014).
—Links and Sources: "Origin of 'Kong': The Unbelievable True Backstory of Hollywood's Favorite Giant Ape," Ray Morton, The Hollywood Reporter; "The Monkey and the Metaphor: What Every King Kong Movie Is Really About," Nathan Rabin, Vanity Fair; Godzilla on My Mind: 50 Years of the King of Monsters, William Tsutsui; 'Godzilla' Director Honda Ishiro Describes Seeing Hiroshima Firsthand In New Criterion Release, Andrew Whelan, Newsweek; Godzilla review by Roger Ebert,; Godzilla review by Mark Savlov, Austin Chronicle; "Godzilla: Poetry After the A-Bomb," J. Hoberman, Criterion; "Godzilla’s Conscience: The Monstrous Humanism of Ishiro Honda," Steve Ryfle, Criterion; "Why You Should Watch the (Actual) Original Godzilla," Christopher Orr, The Atlantic.
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1 thought on “KING KONG (1933) & GODZILLA (1954)”

  1. I give Peter Jackson's 2005 remake with Naomi Watts high marks for finally getting the character of Ann Darrow and her relationship with Kong right. DeLaurentis and company made an attempt with Jessica Lange in 1976 but blew it by making Lange act like a flake in all but one scene. A couple of key points: Watts' Ann refuses to participate in the exploitative unveiling of Kong in New York. Then, at the Empire State Building, when Kong puts her down in a safe place, Watts does the very thing that I wanted Lange to do, but Lange failed to do, and that was climb up the ladder and impose herself between Kong and the airplanes. Background on the making of the film revealed that the scene was Watts' idea when she and Jackson were visiting the Empire State Building to get the logistics and she saw the ladder. That her tactic to save Kong works for only about a minute (the pilots, having no honor, circle around and shoot him in the back) makes the scene more, not less, tragic.

    Merion Cooper in 1933 may not have viewed the director character based on himself as the villain, although we do, and Jackson in 2005 very clearly does. When Robert Armstrong's Carl Denham said "It was beauty killed the beast," much of the audience probably believed him. But when Jack Black's Denham says it, we know that he, like a certain former occupant of the White House, is evading responsibility for his own actions.

    Jackson's version also addresses The Unenthusiastic Critic's point regarding suspension of disbelief in make-believe creatures versus creatures that were real but shown in unreal ways. I've long had a pet peeve about the 1933 original showing a brontosaurus eating a man, which insulted my intelligence even as a child. The 1976 remake avoids the issue entirely by leaving out the dinosaurs. In the the 2005 remake, however, the men encounter the species in question peacefully eating vegetables, until raptors borrowed from Spielberg attack and start a stampede. I loved that.

    The one problem with the earlier versions that Jackson failed to fix was the natives. He did change them but not in a good way. They were over the top. It took the Monsterverse to do right by the natives. They are now South Asian, and they get on well with Kong without sacrificing people.

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