Novelization of the Original Movie

Author: Delos W. Lovelace

I’ve always loved monsters-on-the-loose stories, especially of the B-movie variety, so it’s a surprise that I have never seen any iterations of King Kong or read this, the original novelization that went with the first movie in 1932 as a sort of film promo. But, Audible had this offering free, and being more of a book than a movie person, I decided to give it a listen.

I knew some of the premise of the story – giant, monster gorilla gets loose in New York, chaos ensues. I didn’t really know the details of how Kong got to the Big Apple, or why he was enamored of a particular female (the blond, scantily clad one always shown in images with the ferocious ape).

The backstory is just as unbelievable as you would expect. Down-on-her-luck beauty Ann Darrow is turned into a starlet by a risky American filmmaker, Merian Cooper, who is known for putting his actors in danger to get the perfect shot. Cooper and Darrow are off to a mysterious island, and Darrow is too grateful to ask questions. Their plans may be thwarted when Jack Driscoll, the ship’s first mate, falls instantly for the pretty blonde and decides to save her from herself.

Of course, when everyone lands at Skull Island, chaos erupts, Ann ends up in Kong’s clutches, adventure ensues, and eventually the impractical survivors decide to bring their wonder-of-the-world home to America for a little exploitation and fame. This, too, goes wrong.

What really, really worked (and wasn’t part of the original movie apparently) was the scene where the nameless sailors at Driscoll’s command (think of Strek Trek’s ill-fated redshirts) scamper to Ann’s rescue and are confronted by both King AND giant man-eating spiders. Oh, and Skull Island has dinosaurs! This land before time is a truly interesting and a fun adventure space, leaving readers to wonder why the fascination with the giant gorilla (come on . . . we’ve seen apes before) and not the dinosaurs (come on, bring back the T-Rex in the style of The Lost World). Unfortunately, these fun and imaginative (and utterly carnage filled moments) are all too brief, and we’re back in the clutches of the hapless lovers and the irritatingly impractical director.

None of the characters are especially noteworthy or interesting. You have the babe with zero personality who literally spends the entire story in a faint (really, Ann, you didn’t deserve to be rescued). You have the handsome, risk-it-all man who falls in insta love. You have some bloodthirsty villagers (racist, much?), and you have bad, bad, bad decision making (yes, by all means, take the unknown uncontrollable monster that just killed everyone and bring it home.)

Here, there is some sympathy for Kong seen in the end, although the famous Empire State Building scene is surprisingly short. The idea, more than the production of it, is where the merit lies. It was a fun read, and yeah, I guess I’ll watch the movie someday, but the telling is distinctly B-movie, and the few moments of true creativity are dwarfed by the stereotypes and the race-for-a-finish ending. It’s ok, but not brilliant.

Note – for fans, the Audible edition has an entire hour at the end dedicated to various actors and writers who talk about Kong, including Ray Bradbury.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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