Say... I Guess I Love You... [The Ballad of Kong Pt. 2]
[Before plodding forward, read Part 1 of this article here.]
But then the strangest thing happens during that seemingly endless twenty minutes while you wait to finally see the monsters and dinosaurs of Skull Island again... you fall in love with Fay Wray.
You don't forget about the island or the dinosaurs or the pterodactyls or the plesiosaur or the giant prehistoric gorilla that you know are waiting to be rediscovered on that mysterious place... no, they are the reason you came and you will make damn sure to get your money's worth (even if it's free). But there's this girl on the ship, you see, and she's beautiful and blonde and sad and lonely, and one look into her dewy, longing eyes and you are lost. Hell, you were lost before anyone even made it onto the ship and took to the sea. Her presence on the ship merely added extra paper to the package as she wrapped you up forever. What's that? Land Ho? Oh... are we there already?
I'm no Jack Driscoll, but I'm a damn sight closer to Jack Driscoll than I am to Kong. Despite the differences between the two male corners in this tragic love triangle, they both shared a passion for Miss Ann Darrow, and I came to understand very quickly everything that those two big lugs go through for that love in the course of this adventure. Because, after the destitute and shivering Ann looks up helplessly into Carl Denham's eyes on that fateful encounter on that New York street; after viewing the hope and excitement that fills every feature of her face in that coffee shop as Denham takes her into his company; after she stands on the deck of the "Venture," defending herself against Jack's bluff-filled tirade against women on ships; and especially after her on-camera full-dress rehearsal, glamour-dolled up and gorgeous, as she screams to shocked alertness (and erectness?) Driscoll and the rest of the crew, I found myself fully caught in the grip of deeply amorous feelings for this beautiful blonde innocent played by the eternally underrated Ms. Wray.
To sell the basic conceit of the story, that a big ape is going to go even more ape over the heroine of the picture, and to not sell it as a basic jungle picture, with a mere gorilla-girl-hero storyline, but as an epic adventure spanning half the globe, with her honor and safety constantly being fought for against giant dinosaurs and monsters, and with Kong meeting his doom at the top (and then the bottom) of the Empire State Building, all due to this girl... well, that girl had better be pretty incredible. And in the short time, of which I thought would be an unwanted eternity as it was the first time that I saw it, I was given a re-introduction to that girl, and it was like I had never seen her before. It may be the difference between my concerns when I was ten and how I felt as I nearing thirteen, but Ms. Wray sold that girl to me so solidly that I was ready to follow her for the rest of my life, and not just across that imaginary island. Even today, in my head, I am married forever to a girl with that face: Ann Darrow's face; Fay Wray's face.
But, there wasn't just innocence in that face. I picked up on this even as a youth: Ann and Jack are finally pitching woo to each other but then Jack is called away for shipboard duties, and just seconds before she is captured by the scheming Skull Island natives, the look on her face, flushed with her excited breathlessness and contorted ever so slightly with her lip curling in anticipation -- Woof! What that shot still does to me even thirty years later! Down, boy! I know that such scenes were a common trope of romantic films in earlier eras, with even the toughest female becoming all weak-kneed and swooning the instant the hero touches her, (and I personally prefer my movie heroines to be a lot less damsel-in-distress and far more tough on their own terms), but in this film, Wray nails down the lid on that traditional scene forever,. Those deep, lustful, post-buss gasps emanating from her breast meant that, from that point on, I was severely hooked. Everything that either of the males vying for her affection do in the film was completely understandable to me, and sold the film to me outright... before I had even seen monster or dinosaur one!
There are far more legendarily risqué scenes in the picture: the filmmakers' unprecedented nerve on display in Kong's gentle but forceful disrobing of Ann's garments, which leads to his tickling of her (which, sadly for the big boy, only results in her screaming even louder); Ann, clothes torn and writhing almost orgasmically, as she is bound to the top of the sacrificial altar to meet her would-be groom; and in a scene for which I would have killed for VCR remote control to have been in my twelve-year old hands, Ann's fall off of the cliff and into the river, where she emerges from the water in her now-shredded garments, only... let's just say that the clinginess doesn't really allow you to notice her garments. Despite all of this, it is still that shipboard scene that gets to me the most, and the one that will keep me returning to this film year after year, just for another taste of that introduction to that delightful woman.
So, go ahead, critics who wish to reevaluate this picture with today's critical standards and "modern" sensibilities. Mock the hammy acting, when it was played exactly the way it was meant to be played; rip on the racism inherent in the film, as in nearly Hollywood picture of that era, because while it is indefensible, it was part of the times and can't be avoided without avoiding the film altogether (and shouldn't be avoided if we are ever to learn anything from that unenlightened time); and go on and take a hot, steaming squat on the "primitive" special effects, when in fact they were "state-of-the-art" for their time and for many years hence, and will continue to shock and thrill for many more generations to come, even after many of today's more "advanced" pictures will be forgotten, along with your reviews.
And go ahead and rag on the fainting and screaming Fay Wray, because despite all of the post-feminist critiquing of the character (and, as stated earlier, I, too, wish she were a little more quiet and proactive in her behavior towards the big guy, a situation I am sure will be amended in the remake), Ann Darrow is actually the one in charge in this picture. Even with all of Kong's killing, rampaging, roaring, rending, and his great and terrible gnashing of teeth, Ann is the one ultimately in control.
After all, according to that Denham guy, she is the one who kills the Beast...
[To be continued in Part 3...]