Classic Scene: Kong atop Empire State Building

“Kong atop the Empire State Building”

King Kong (1933)

Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack

The Scene: While this urban jungle may be new to him, it is still a jungle and Kong will exert himself as king in the face of those who would capture him. With the object of his affection, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in his mighty hands, the gorilla heads to the highest point of the city, the recently constructed Empire State Building. As King Kong ascends the building, airplanes are dispatched to try and bring the monster down. While they are aiming for him, Kong’s top priority is protecting Ann, and as the fighter planes make their attack he does his best to fight them off and swat them from the air. Despite a valiant battle from the King of Skull Island, the planes eventually prove too much and he plummets to his death. As Ann is reunited with her romantic interest Jack (Bruce Cabot) a crowd gathers to behold the spectacle of King Kong in his final moments.

The Breakdown: First and foremost, as any cinephile and film historian will say the visual fx in King Kong are still absolutely stunning even 90 years later. This is a testament to the genius of special fx pioneer Willis O’Brien who completely changed the game in cinematic visuals with his work here. Somehow he was able to transform a gorilla model and a scale replica of the Empire State Building into an absolute epic confrontation between modern man’s technology and a beast from another era. Adding to the grandiosity of the moment is the iconic score from the great conductor Max Steiner. While the ignorant masses see this rampaging giant as a menace upon the Big Apple, over the course of the film we as an audience have embraced Kong. He never asked for any of this, in fact he was quite content hanging out on Skull Island. Now he finds himself in a brand new world relying only on his primal instincts. What further endears King Kong to us as an audience is the fact that he puts the protection of Ann above even his own survival. Many have debated the feelings he held towards her, whether he sees Ann as a romantic object or something more along the lines of a beloved pet, either way he holds a special attachment to the scream queen. While she has little to do in this scene in particular, the legendary Fay Wray turned in her greatest performance in this landmark Pre-Code masterpice. She is the audience stand-in in a way, because she both fears his power but also has a fondness for the ape.

The Best Bit: As the crowd gathers around the dying Kong a police officer states the planes got him. But the filmmaker who started all of this Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) states “No, it wasn’t the planes. It was Beauty that killed the Beast”.