Cast & Crew
Merian C. Cooper
Because he refuses to disclose any information concerning the exotic location of his upcoming movie project, Carl Denham, a renowned adventure filmmaker, is forced to search the streets of New York to find a lead actress. At a fruit stand, he stumbles onto the beautiful but broke Ann Darrow as she is about to steal an apple for her dinner. Anxious for work, Ann eagerly accepts Denham's part and agrees without question to make the long sea voyage the next morning. During the trip, Denham, who has refused to disclose his final destination even to the captain, Englehorn, makes screen tests of Ann, coaching her on how to scream and look terrified for the camera. At the same time, the mysogynistic first mate, Jack Driscoll, chides Ann for being a woman on a man's ship, but soon falls in love with her. As the boat enters tropical waters, Denham finally shows Englehorn a map detailing their exact destination--a tiny island dominated by a peak called Skull Mountain. When the boat reaches the island, Ann, Denham and the crew go ashore and discover natives engaged in a frenetic religious ceremony that features men dressed in gorilla skins and a young woman tied to an altar. While Englehorn attempts to make friends so that the camera-wielding Denham can shoot the scene, the native chief eyes the blonde Ann and states cryptically that she would make a good bride for "Kong." Nervous about the chief's interest in Ann, whose presence on the island Jack has vehemently protested, Denham orders his group back to the boat. That night, Ann is kidnapped from the ship by natives and tied to stakes outside the huge village walls. At the sounding of a gong, King Kong, a gorilla-like ape of enormous proportions, emerges from the primeval jungle and grabs Ann, carrying her away like a tiny doll in his huge hand. In close pursuit of the ape are Denham, Jack and a handful of the ship's men. They follow a trail of broken branches left by Kong and soon stumble on a dinosaur, a horny-tailed stegosaurus, which they kill with gas bombs. They then construct a raft and cross a river, where they are attacked by a brontosaurus. After the group loses several men to the brontosaurus, the survivors scramble to the river's shore and are spotted by Kong. Kong kills several more men by tossing them off a giant log into a treacherous chasm and attempts to kill Jack, who is hiding in a protected alcove. When he hears Ann, whom he has left in the nook of a dead tree, screaming, however, Kong abandons Jack and rushes to her rescue. While Kong saves Ann from the jaws of an allosaurus Jack and Denham, the last two crew survivors, reunite. Denham decides to return to shore for help and wait for Jack to signal when he has rescued Ann. Jack follows Kong and Ann into a cliffside cave and there Kong kills a giant snake. He then gently tickles Ann and plucks off and sniffs her outer clothes. When the hidden Jack inadvertently makes a noise, the ape goes to investigate, leaving Ann unprotected. A pteradodon swoops down and almost flies off with Ann, but Kong once again comes to her rescue. Distracted by the flying reptile, Kong fails to see Jack and Ann escaping down the cliffside via a ropelike vine until they are out of arm's reach. Although Kong snaps the vine in his attempt to retrieve Ann, the couple fall unharmed into the river and make a dash for the ship, closely pursued by Kong. When they finally reach the shore, Ann and Jack are met by Denham and the crew, but must still face Kong, who is rampaging through the village, killing its inhabitants in his search for Ann. To stop Kong, Denham hurls a gas bomb into his face and knocks him out. Seeing Kong unconscious, Denham decides to carry him on an enormous raft back to New York, where he knows the ape will make him a fortune. In the city, a heavily chained Kong, billed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World," is a sellout attraction at a fashionable theater. When photographers' flashbulbs start popping in Ann's face, however, Kong believes she is in danger and breaks free in a protective frenzy. Ann flees with Jack, but Kong storms the nearby streets, destroying an elevated passenger-filled train and tossing a woman he momentarily mistakes for Ann to her death. Finally Kong spots Ann in a hotel room and, as a helpless Jack watches, snatches her once again. Then, as though still in the jungle, he scales the Empire State Building with Ann in his hand. At Denham's urging, the city authorities call in airplanes armed with machine guns to stop the ape, and after Kong is shot repeatedly by the gunners, he drops Ann gently on the rooftop and falls over the skyscraper's edge to his death. Upon viewing his conquered prize, Denham retorts to another onlooker that Kong was not downed by airplanes, but "twas Beauty that killed Beast."
Earl "hap" Hogan
H. R. Warwick
Bill Van Vleck
T. C. Jacks
T. J. Rankin
A. J. Prather
Annie L. Johnson
Etta Mae Allen
Etta Mae Henry
John L. Johnson
Merian C. Cooper
Merian C. Cooper
Byron L. Crabbe
E. B. Gibson
Archie F. Marshek
Ernest B. Schoedsack
David O. Selznick
Johnny St. Claire
J. O. Taylor
Earl A. Wolcott
King Kong - The Essentials
Carl Denham, an arrogant documentary filmmaker, organizes a trek into uncharted territory in the hopes of discovering a unique animal that he can capture, bring back to civilization, and exploit for profit. After hiring Ann Darrow, an attractive blonde, to help him on his mission, Denham leads his crew to mysterious, fog-enshrouded Skull Island where they encounter something tall, dark, and very hairy.
Director: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Producer: Cooper & Schoedsack
Screenplay: James Creelman, Ruth Rose
Based on a story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace
Cinematography: Edward Linden, Vernon L. Walker, J.O. Taylor
Editing: Ted Cheesman
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Al Herman, Van Nest Polglase
Music: Max Steiner
Cast: Fay Wray (Ann Darrow), Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Bruce Cabot (John Driscoll), Frank Reicher (Capt. Englehorn), Sam Hardy (Charles Weston), Noble Johnson (Native Chief), Victor Wong (Charlie), Jim Thorpe (Native Dancer), Madame Sul-Te-Wan (Handmaiden).
Why KING KONG Is Essential Though he was just a series of animated models given life through special effects technology, Kong, with his doomed loved for Ann Darrow, has become one of the most famous of all movie characters, revived in remakes, sequels and rip-offs. He has become a part of contemporary culture as a symbol of both unleashed savagery and nobility brought down by greed.
King Kong was the first of any kind to become a hit with an animated leading player. Willis O'Brien's pioneering stop-motion animation would inspire such later special effects artists as Ray Harryhausen and Jim Danforth and pave the way for contemporary CGI effects.
King Kong is often credited as the first to use miniature rear projections to create special effects sequences. Footage of the actors was projected on a small screen, one frame at a time, behind the models as they were animated.
The film also was one of the first to use Linwood Dunn's newly created optical printer to matte together shots of the animated models and live actors.
King Kong was one of the first films to have a musical score composed specifically for it and one of the most influential. The film was one of Max Steiner's first Hollywood assignments, leading the way to a long career in which he would write music for everything from Casablanca and Now, Voyager (both 1942) to the teen romance A Summer Place (1959). His use of themes in the film, including a love theme for Ann and Kong, was extremely influential.
The success of the film's 1952 reissue, in which it out-grossed many current A pictures, inspired Warner Bros. to make The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), the film that triggered the giant monster film genre of the '50s.
by Frank Miller
King Kong - The Essentials
Pop Culture 101: KING KONG
For King Kong's first reissue, in 1938, some of the original violence and sexuality had to be cut to satisfy the film industry's Production Code, which had not been strictly enforced at the time of King Kong's original 1933 release. Among the lost shots were Kong's removing Fay Wray's clothes, natives being crushed in close-up by the giant ape and a horrifying scene in which he casually drops a woman picked up by mistake during his search for Wray in New York. The footage would not be restored until the late '60s, with a restored print issued theatrically in 1971. In 1976, a new print with the restored scenes was struck from an original print discovered in the United Kingdom.
A 1942 reissue darkened certain scenes to minimize the violence.
In 1949, Willis O'Brien finally won an Oscar® for Best Special Effects (the award was not given until six years after King Kong's release), for another giant ape film, Mighty Joe Young. The film co-stars Robert Armstrong, who played Carl Denham in the original, in a similar role as an impresario out to make a fortune showcasing the giant ape.
In 1956, King Kong was sold to local television stations in syndication. It's first showing in the New York City area was watched by an estimated 80 percent of available households.
In the '60s, college age fans wore buttons reading "King Kong Died for Your Sins."
In one of his most famous comedy routines, Bob Newhart played the night watchman at the Empire State Building as Kong was climbing the structure.
In 1962, Japan's Toho Company bought the rights to the character for use in King Kong vs. Godzilla. Although Willis O'Brien had originated the idea, fans were horrified to see Kong played by a man in a rubber suit. According to legend, O'Brien's widow stayed home and cried the night it premiered. A 1967 sequel, King Kong Escapes, pitted Kong against a robot version of himself.
Dino De Laurentiis produced the film's first official remake which was released in 1976, with Jeff Bridges as leading man, now a paleontologist; Charles Grodin as an oil executive whose team discovers Kong's island; and Jessica Lange as Dwan, a shipwrecked actress. For the final scene, Kong fell from the World Trade Centers rather than the Empire State Building. The film's use of a man in a monkey suit angered critics. When the Motion Picture Academy® voted it an Oscar® for special effects, stop-motion animator Jim Danforth handed in his nomination certificates in protest. Contrary to legend, it actually turned a profit, making $80 million on a $24 million investment.
The original King Kong was among many films colorized by Turner Entertainment in the '80s. Although the process was widely derided by critics, bootleg DVD's of the colorized version are a popular item among King Kong collectors.
For King Kong's 50th anniversary in 1983, Hollywood craftsmen reconstructed the 20 foot head used in the original for display at Grauman's Chinese Theater. It looked so authentic that several newspapers thought it was the original.
The film was given a Criterion laserdisc release in 1985. Film restoration expert Ron Haver's audio commentary was the first ever recorded.
In a sequel to his 1976 remake, De Laurentiis released King Kong Lives in 1986, in which doctor Linda Hamilton keeps the giant ape alive with a giant mechanical heart after his fall from the World Trade Centers.
The long-running animated series The Simpsons spoofed King Kong in "King Homer," a story within 1992's "Treehouse of Horror III" episode. Homer Simpson became a giant ape in love with Marge.
In conjunction with the film's 60th anniversary, Turner Home Entertainment released a video package in 1993 including a poster, three mounted film frames and a documentary on the film's production.
Dudley Moore as King Kong! That was the casting for the direct-to-video animated musical The Mighty Kong, released in 1998. Moore also provide the voice for Carl Denham.
In 2005, New Zealand's Peter Jackson, director of the popular Lord of the Rings trilogy, directed a re-make, stating that King Kong was the film that had inspired him to become a filmmaker. It starred Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, Jack Black as Carl Denham and Adrien Brody as Jack Driscoll. CGI effects created Kong and the other prehistoric creatures, but Jackson also used actor Andy Serkis, who previously had played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, as the movement model for Kong. Jackson was in negotiation to have Fay Wray deliver the last line ("It was Beauty killed the Beast.") when she passed away. Made for a record $207 million, the film grossed well over $500 million.
Collector Bob Burns sold the only surviving armature from one of the Kong models to Jackson in 2005.
King Kong was not released on DVD until 2005, when Warner Home Video and Turner Entertainment put out a special two-disc version. They also released a boxed set featuring King Kong, The Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young.
An original one-sheet poster for the film recently sold for $52,000.
by Frank Miller
Pop Culture 101: KING KONG
Trivia & Fun Facts About KING KONG
The jungle on Skull Island was modeled on the work of engraver Gustave Dore.
The wall separating the native village from the prehistoric jungle had actually been built for Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings (1927), while the actual gate came from D.W. Griffith's Intolerance (1916). It would later be destroyed during the filming of the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind (1939).
Drawing on past experience as wrestlers, Cooper and co-producer, co-director Ernest B. Schoedsack acted out the battle between King Kong and the tyrannosaurus for the animators.
The title "King Kong" was optically added to the theatre marquee where Carl Denham is exhibiting the giant ape after the film's title was changed to King Kong.
To play the flyers whose plane brings down Kong at the film's end, Cooper and Schoedsack cast themselves.
Sound engineer Murray Spivack recorded background jungle noises at a nearby zoo, then played them backwards to create a prehistoric feel.
Kong's roar was created by playing a lion's roar backwards and in slow motion. This was then over-dubbed with the animal's high and low notes, played simultaneously
During the climactic battle between Kong and the airplanes, the sun rises in the West.
Asian-American actor Keye Luke contributed some of the art used in the film's press book.
Kong was so convincing many critics insisted he must have been played by a man in a monkey suit. The rumors persisted for years, with several stuntmen claming to have played the role.
The Palace Theatre, in which Carl Denham exhibits Kong, would later house the stage version of Walt Disney's Beauty and the Beast.
For a 2005 DVD version of the original, Peter Jackson, director of the remake, worked with his special-effects team at Weta Workshop, to re-construct the scene. It's included as a DVD special.
One tagline for the film read, "They said it couldn't be filmed -- but it was! See it and ask -- what if such a thing could happen?"
King Kong opened March 2, 1933, at both of RKO's flagship theatres in New York -- the Radio City Music Hall and the Roxy. It was the first film to open at both theaters at once.
King Kong took in more than $100,000 during its first week, the biggest movie opening to that time.
Memorable Quotes From KING KONG
"And the Prophet said, 'And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead." -- "Ancient Arabian Proverb" created for the opening title card
"Is this the moving picture ship?" -- Sam Hardy, as theatrical agent Charles Weston, speaking the film's first line
"It's money and adventure and fame. It's the thrill of a lifetime and a long sea voyage that starts at six o'clock tomorrow morning." -- Robert Armstrong, as Carl Denham, selling Fay Wray, as Ann Darrow, on joining him
"Did you ever hear of...Kong?" -- Armstrong, as Carl Denham, trying to interest Frank Reicher, as Captain Englehorn, in a little side trip
"Cover your eyes and scream, Ann, scream for your life!" -- Armstrong as Denham, directing Wray, as Ann Darrow, in the character's screen test
"What does he think she's really going to see?" -- Bruce Cabot, as Jack Driscoll, commenting on the screen test
"Some big hard-boiled egg gets a look at a pretty face and bang -- he cracks up and goes sappy." Armstrong, on the romance between Cabot, as Jack Driscoll, and Wray, as Ann
"He's always been the king of his world, but we'll teach him to fear. Why, the whole world will pay to see this! In a few months it'll be up in lights: 'Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!'" -- Armstrong, persuading his crew to take Kong back to civilization
"Hey, what's this show about, anyway?"
"I don't know -- they say it's some big gorilla."
"Oh, geez -- ain't we got enough of them in New York?" -- Vera Lewis and LeRoy Mason, as theater patrons, waiting to see Kong
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, before I tell you any more, I'm going to show you the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive -- a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World." -- Armstrong, introducing Kong to the theatre audience. "Don't be alarmed, ladies and gentlemen. Those chains are made of chrome steel." -- Armstrong, uttering some famous last words.
"It wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast." -- Armstrong, speaking the film's final line.
by Frank Miller
Trivia & Fun Facts About KING KONG
The Big Idea
Initially, he thought King Kong could be made with real apes enlarged through trick photography but nobody at Paramount Pictures, for whom he was making The Four Feathers, was interested.
After time off from filmmaking, Cooper accepted an offer from his friend David O. Selznick to come to work at RKO Pictures. Cooper had actually gotten Selznick the job running RKO, using his influence with David Sarnoff, general manager for RKO's parent company, RCA.
One of Cooper's first assignments at RKO was to evaluate Creation (1931), a project of special effects pioneer Willis O'Brien, whose specialty was animating models to create the illusion of life. O'Brien's biggest hit at that point had been the silent version of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1925), in which scientists discover dinosaurs living on a remote plateau in South America. Creation had a similar plot, but RKO executives had abandoned the project, deeming it too expensive.
When he viewed O'Brien's test footage and models, Cooper saw a way to bring his giant gorilla idea to life. He pitched the project to Selznick, who shared his enthusiasm.
At the time, the studio had a $200,000 limit on productions, but Cooper projected that his new film would cost twice that. Selznick siphoned money from other productions to make up the overage.
One factor encouraging RKO to green-light King Kong may have been the success of the low-budget pseudo-documentary Ingagi (1931), which made over $4 million in small exploitation theaters with its tale of native women sacrificed to an ape god.
To structure the story, Selznick assigned famed thriller writer Edgar Wallace. Wallace turned in a draft that put Cooper's ideas on paper, but he also inserted a subplot of his own about escaped convicts. Within weeks of arriving in Hollywood, however, he died of pneumonia. Cooper kept his name on the film.
Selznick then assigned Ruth Rose -- the wife of Cooper's partner, Ernest B. Schoedsack -- and James Creelman to write the film. They modeled the character of Carl Denham, the impresario who brings the giant ape to New York, on Cooper and Schoedsack.
The film went on the books as RKO Production 601, then was titled The Beast and The Eighth Wonder before becoming simply King Kong. In the film, the giant ape was only called "Kong." The "King" part was an addition by RKO publicity.
Even before the script was written, Cooper knew that he wanted a blonde to contrast with Kong. He even considered Jean Harlow.
Fay Wray had already starred in The Four Feathers and was currently filming Cooper's first RKO film, The Most Dangerous Game (1932), when he offered her "the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood." She thought she was going to be working with Cary Grant until he showed her the preliminary production designs.
Other actors chosen from the cast of The Most Dangerous Game to star in King Kong were Robert Armstrong, who would play Denham, and Noble Johnson, who played the native chief.
Originally, Cooper wanted to cast Wray's other co-star from The Most Dangerous Game, Joel McCrea, as Jack Driscoll, but his agent asked for too much money.
Bruce Cabot, who played the romantic lead, had only done a few bits when movie star Dolores Del Rio spotted him working as a manager at the Embassy Roof Club and recommended that Selznick sign him at RKO. King Kong was his first assignment there, but with the time needed to perfect the special effects, it would be his fourth RKO film released.
O'Brien finished work on Kong's fight with the tyrannosaurus rex before principal photography started. To get RKO's executives to put more money into the film, Cooper shot a test reel with Wray. She spent 22 hours in a dead tree as the special-effects footage played on a screen behind her. Even though all she could see were blurs, she had to react as though witnessing the battle while Cooper, off-camera, shouted, "Scream! Scream for your life, Fay." The executives were so impressed, they eventually let Cooper go $300,000 over budget.
by Frank Miller
The Big Idea
Behind the Camera
The 18-inch models of Kong built by Willis O'Brien's assistant, Marcel Delgado, were the first animation models with metal skeletons and joints. Instead of the jerky movement of models built on wood, Kong moved much more smoothly, creating a greater illusion of life. Delgado covered the skeleton with rubber muscles that actually expanded and contracted as they were moved. The creature was then covered with rubber and latex skin and rabbit fur.
The animated models had to be shot one frame at a time, with minute adjustments between each shot. It often took an entire afternoon to get the 24 exposures needed to fill one second of screen time. The battle between Kong and the pterodactyl took seven weeks to film.
Most sequences in King Kong had to be shot non-stop, often requiring 20-hour workdays. Sometimes the shrubs used to dress the miniature sets actually wilted during filming. At one point, one of the plants on the set flowered. Before a scene could be started, all the lights on the soundstage had to be replaced with new ones to make sure they wouldn't flicker during the scene. The stage had to be sealed, and nobody could leave or enter to prevent any wind from moving the foliage.
Each night, the Kong models had to have their skins removed so Delgado could tighten the hinges on the metal armatures.
The one flaw that remains in the animation is the way Kong's fur seems to be moving constantly, showing where the animators had to grab the figure to move it.
O'Brien used three techniques for scenes uniting actors and models. The standard, at that time, was to film the actors in front of a projection screen with the effects footage. That was used for Kong's fight with the tyrannosaurus and the scene in which Carl Denham shoots the stegosaurus. O'Brien could also matte together actors and models in an optical printer. For those scenes, like the fight with the pterodactyl, Cooper shot the actors first, then filmed the models with the actors' side of the screen matted out.
The third technique was Cooper and O'Brien's innovation for King Kong. Cooper filmed the actors, then O'Brien projected the image one frame at a time on a screen behind the models. That's how they filmed Kong's removal of Wray's clothing. Originally, Cooper had wires attached to her clothes to pull them off her body. The model's movements were then matched to hers. Unfortunately, O'Brien and Cooper forgot to patent their approach, thereby losing a fortune.
In addition to the models of Kong, O'Brien had a 20-foot high head constructed. Three men sat inside it operating various levers to change the facial expression. Other body parts used in the film were a giant foot, to show Kong trampling people, and a giant hand for close-ups of Wray struggling in his grasp.
For the scenes of Wray in Kong's hand, the hand was attached to a crane and raised ten feet. First a technician put her in the hand and closed the fingers around her. Then the hand was lifted for filming. She would later say her terror in those scenes was real. The more she struggled, the looser the hand's grip grew. When she thought she was about to fall, she had to signal Cooper to stop filming.
After completing her scenes in King Kong, Wray spent a day in the sound studio recording a series of screams she dubbed her "Aria of the Agonies."
It took a year after the actors were finished for O'Brien to finish the effects work and Cooper to get the film put together. Between her work on King Kong and the film's release, Wray made four other films.
According to legend, one of the film's most spectacular scenes had to be cut because it upset preview audiences so much they couldn't focus on the next few scenes. Lost forever is a scene depicting the fate of the crewmen Kong shakes off a tree bridge. Originally they landed in a valley where they were attacked by giant spiders. Recently discovered memos from Cooper suggest that the scene was actually cut before previews because he felt it slowed the film down. The lost sequence inspired a scene in the 2005 re-make.
by Frank Miller
Behind the Camera
The Critics Corner - The Critics' Corner: KING KONG
In 1991, King Kong was voted a place on the National Film Registry.
In a 1998 poll conducted by The American Film Institute, filmmakers and critics voted the film number 43 on a list of the 100 greatest American films ever made.
The film's final line was voted the 84th greatest movie line of all time in a poll conducted by the American Film Institute.
THE CRITICS' CORNER - KING KONG (1933)
King Kong took in $1,761,000 domestically during its initial release, saving RKO Pictures from bankruptcy.
"If properly handled, should gather good grosses in a walk...and may open up a new medium for scaring babies via the screen." -- Variety.
"Imagine a fifty-foot beast with a girl in one paw climbing up the outside of the Empire State Building, and after putting the girl on a ledge, clutching at airplanes, the pilots of which are pouring bullets from machine guns into the monster's body." -- Mordaunt Hall, The New York Times.
"Just amusing nonsense punctuated by such reflections as why, if the natives wanted to keep the monster on the other side of the wall, they should have built a door big enough to let him through." -- James Agate, London Sunday Times.
"If this glorious pile of horror-fantasy hokum has lost none of its power to move, excite and sadden, it is in no small measure due to the remarkable technical achievements of Willis O'Brien's animation work, and the superbly matched score of Max Steiner." -- Wally Hammond, Time Out.
"...King Kong is more than a technical achievement. It is also a curiously touching fable in which the beast is seen, not as a monster of destruction, but as a creature that in its own way wants to do the right thing." -- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.
"The technical innovations found in King Kong are not the only reasons for its success; every good film must start with a good story. King Kong has a universal appeal, making it one of the most popular and well-known films in American culture." - Linda J. Obalil, The International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers.<
"The greatest of all horror films..." - Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic.
"The monster....is as breathtaking in its first appearance as it is in the climax, when it climbs to the top of a skyscraper carrying the girl in its hand and is attacked by airplanes." - Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films.
"King Kong...is an untouchable, the epitome of cult sensation that makes great movies." - David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film.
"The greatest monster movie of all, a miracle of trick work and suspense, with some of the most memorable moments in film history." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide.
"A timeless classic made by a team of documentary filmmakers who patterned hero Carl Denham after themselves." - Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.
"As a film, King Kong is barely average: crudely acted, little more than competently directed, and with (famed) special effects which vary wildly from the magnificent...to the mediocre...It can't even boast originality - there had been a screen history of prehistoric monsters just as huge and twice as ferocious....Yet what was Kong really going to do with his miniature Wray other than tear her limb from limb or eat her?....The real - the mythical - tragedy of Kong isn't that he didn't get to make love to Wray, but that if even he fails to non-conform, then there is indeed cause for despair." - The Encyclopedia of Horror.
"Yes, a monster runs amok in King Kong, but only at the climax of a multi-faceted, subtly poetic study of vanity...It's a weird love triangle, and a commentary on how arrogance and desire makes animals of us all. It's a portrait that takes a big canvas." - Noel Murray, The Onion A.V. Club.
"The classic monster picture that spawned the rest is not simply a venerable old cinematic relic that one is obliged to give a passing mention to. King Kong was created to grip and thrill like no movie before, and these basic principles hold surprisingly true today." - Almar Haflidason, bbc.co.uk
Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford
The Critics Corner - The Critics' Corner: KING KONG
King Kong (1933)
Working with a modest budget, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, the producers of King Kong, had to make do with limited resources in terms of sets. Most of the budget was allocated to special effects and musical scoring. The jungle, overgrown with gigantic flora, was actually recycled from Schoedsack's previous film, The Most Dangerous Game (1932). He actually began shooting jungle locations for King Kong before The Most Dangerous Game had wrapped and between setups the crew would rush in to shoot their own jungle scenes. What made the schedule even more hectic was the fact that Fay Wray also starred in The Most Dangerous Game and had to race back and forth between the two films; Not surprisingly, her outfit for the jungle sequences in each film is suspiciously familiar!
Originally co-director Merian Cooper envisioned using a real gorilla for Kong, but once having screened Willis O'Brien's animation for a now-lost film called Creation, he knew that the special effects technician could bring his beast to life. Although in the film, Kong appears to be 40 feet tall; he was actually only an 18-inch model. The great ape was a skillful combination of a metal mesh skeleton, a mixture of rubber and foam for the muscle structure and rabbit fur for his hair. With trick photography, rear projection and an array of glass plates, Cooper and Schoedsack helped their three cinematographers blend O'Brien's stop-motion-animated sequences with real actors to create a realistic beast. O'Brien, of course, had built his reputation as Hollywood's top motion-control animator with his first feature-length film, The Lost World (1925), starring Wallace Beery.
As wildly popular and profitable as King Kong was on its first release in 1933, the censors sharpened their scissors on the big gorilla for its 1938 re-release and demanded that 29 scenes from the original version be cut before the film could be granted a seal of approval. For example, the bloody carcasses of five men dying in the jaws of the Brontosaurus were edited so that the beast only claimed three victims. Three lives were more acceptable to the Hays Office. The scene in which Kong holds an unconscious Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) captive in his massive palm while gently peeling off her dress like a linen banana was completely unacceptable to the new morality. This scene was completely eliminated for the 1938 release. Other scenes that were deleted included Kong chomping down on a New Yorker and dropping a woman from the Empire State Building. Despite these crucial cuts, most of the edited scenes were eventually restored to King Kong and seem rather tame by today's standards. However, O'Brien's title creation is still impressive, particularly in his first appearance, and Fay Wray still has the best scream in Hollywood history; it's one that has chilled audiences in such classic horror flicks as Doctor X (1932) and The Vampire Bat (1933).
Director: Merian C. Cooper/Ernest B. Schoedsack
Producer: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, David O. Selznick
Screenplay: Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace (story), James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose
Cinematography: Edward Linden, Kenneth Peach, J. O. Taylor, Vernon L. Walker
Music: Max Steiner
Art Direction: Carroll Clark, Alfred Herman, Van Nest Polglase
Special Effects: Willis O'Brien, Harry Redmond Jr.
Cast: Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Fay Wray (Ann Darrow), Bruce Cabot (Jack Driscoll), Frank Reicher (Captain Englehorn), Sam Hardy (Charles Weston), Noble Johnson (Native chief), James Flavin (Briggs).
BW-105m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Vicky Lee, Mike Tandecki, & Jeremy Geltzer
King Kong (1933)
My Side by King Kong - The Big Ape Tells All in His New Memoir
What was his romantic lead Fay Wray covering up?
Not much, according to the wonderful and frank creature who sneaked several good peeks.
For which great power was on-screen nemesis Bruce Cabot a secret agent?
Don't ask. Read.
How did Kong -- a serious and trained actor -- refuse to parrot his lines, unlike some of his costars, and get into character?
Kong also offers anecdotes and memories of David O. Selznick, Frank Sinatra, Bill Cosby, Stalin, and many more luminaries from his long and storied career. Gritty and powerful, this 132-foot simian's story will take you from the darkest jungle to atop the highest skyscraper of the day, but always keep you laughing with his hilarious side of the story.
Author Walter Wager wrote for radio in the 1950s and soon began writing spy thriller novels. Over the next fifty years, Wager authored twenty-four novels, three of which - Telefon, Twilight's Last Gleaming, and Die Hard 2 - became films.
To order My Side by King Kong, use this link to Barnes and Noble.
My Side by King Kong - The Big Ape Tells All in His New Memoir
King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon From Fay Wray to Peter Jackson
Morton has interviewed the surviving members of each major film. A colorful overview of the tremendous amount of collectible Kong merchandise is also on view for all the fans of Kongdom to devour.
Morton, who has worked in Hollywood for the past 15 years as a writer, story consultant and script analyst and is currently a senior writer and columnist for Sc(i)pt magazine, first saw the original King Kong on TV when he was 8 years old. Fascinated by the character and thrilled with the cinematic magic that brought him to life, Morton has spent years researching the various films and, in the process, accumulating the wealth of in-depth information and detail that forms the basis of this book.
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King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon From Fay Wray to Peter Jackson
Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong
- Publishers Weekly
"Merian C. Cooper's life reads like an adventure novel, as Mark Vaz proves perfectly with LIVING DANGEROUSLY."
- Ray Bradbury
Mark Cotta Vaz's LIVING DANGEROUSLY: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong (Villard Books Hardcover) is the story of legendary King Kong creator Merian C. Cooper-explorer, war hero, filmmaker, and cinema pioneer-who led a life as epic and exotic as his movies. King Kong is back in theaters this fall, continuing its legacy as one of the most famous screen icons of all time, but Cooper's story is far more than the tale of this mythical ape. "Pictures cannot be made from an executive's desk," Cooper once declared, and he did more than talk the talk—he walked the walk to the far corners of the globe, with a motion picture camera in tow, in an era when those corners were truly unknown, untamed, and unforgiving.
Cooper's place in history is assured, thanks not only to the monstrous gorilla from Skull Island, but because the story of Kong's creator is even bigger and bolder than the beast he made into a cultural icon. Spellbound since boyhood by tales of life-threatening adventure and exotic locales, Cooper plunged again and again into harrowing expeditions that took him to places not yet civilized by modern man. Following his service as one of the first bomber pilots in World War I, Cooper helped form the famous Kosciuszko Squadron in battle-torn Poland. He then turned his attention to producing documentary films that chronicled his hair-raising encounters with savage warriors, man-eating tigers, nomadic tribes, and elephant stampedes.
In addition to producing King Kong, Cooper was the first to team Fred Astaire with Ginger Rogers, arranged Katharine Hepburn's screen test, collaborated with John Ford on Hollywood's greatest Westerns, and then changed the face of film forever with Cinerama, the original "virtual reality." He returned to military service during World War II, serving with General Claire Chennault in China, flying missions into the heart of enemy territory.
LIVING DANGEROUSLY is a stunning tribute to a two-fisted visionary who packed a multitude of lifetimes into eighty remarkable years. The first comprehensive biography of this unique man and his amazing time, it's the tale of someone whose greatest desire was always to be living dangerously.
To order Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong, use this link to Barnes and Noble.
Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper, Creator of King Kong
Fay Wray (1907-2004)
She was born Vina Fay Wray, in Cardston, Alberta, Canada on September 15, 1907. Her family relocated to Arizona when she was still a toddler so her father could find employment. When her parents divorced, her mother sent her to Hollywood when Fay's eldest sister died in the influenza epidemic of 1918. The reasoning was that Southern California offered a healthier climate for the young, frail Wray.
She attended Hollywood High School, where she took some classes in drama. After she graduated, she applied to the Hal Roach studio and was given a six-month contract where she appeared in two-reel Westerns (25 minutes in length), and played opposite Stan Laurel in his pre-Oliver Hardy days.
She landed her first big role, as Mitzi Schrammell, in Erich von Stroheim's beautifully mounted silent The Wedding March (1928). It made Wray a star. She then starred in some excellent films: The Four Feathers (1929), the early Gary Cooper Western The Texan (1930), and one of Ronald Coleman's first starring roles The Unholy Garden (1931), all of which were big hits of the day.
For whatever reason, Wray soon found herself in a string of thrillers that made her one of the great screamers in Hollywood history. The titles say it all: Doctor X, The Most Dangerous Game (both 1932), Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Vampire Bat (both 1933) and, of course her most famous role, that of Ann Darrow, who tempts cinema's most famous ape in the unforgettable King Kong (also 1933).
Wray did prove herself quite capable in genre outside of the horror game, the best of which were Shanghai Madness with Spencer Tracy; The Bowery (both 1933), a tough pre-Hays Code drama opposite George Raft; and the brutal Viva Villa (1934), with Wallace Beery about the famed Mexican bandit. Yet curiously, the quality of her scripts began to tank, and she eventually found herself acting in such mediocre fare as Come Out of the Pantry (1935), and They Met in a Taxi (1936).
With her roles becoming increasingly routine, the last of which was the forgettable comedy Not a Ladies Man (1942), she decided to trade acting for domesticity and married Robert Riskin, who won two Best Screenplay Oscars® for the Frank Capra comedies It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). When Riskin died in 1955, Wray found herself working to keep busy and support her three children. She landed supporting parts for films like The Cobweb (1955), Hell on Frisco Bay (1956) and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957). She also found work in television on such popular programs as Perry Mason and Wagon Train before she retired from acting all together in the mid-'60s.
To her credit, Wray did remain reasonably active after her retirement. She published her autobiography, On The Other Hand in 1989 and was attending many film festivals that honored her contribution to film, most notably in January 2003, when, at 95 years of age, she accepted in person her "Legend in Film" Award at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Wray is survived by a son, Robert Riskin Jr.; two daughters, Susan and Victoria; and two grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Fay Wray (1907-2004)
Some big hard-boiled egg gets a look at a pretty face and bang--he cracks up and goes sappy.- Carl Denham
He says, "Look at the golden woman."- Captain Englehorn
Yeah, blondes are scarce around here.- Carl Denham
Why, you're crazy. Besides that, he's on a cliff where a whole army couldn't get at him.- Jack Driscoll
Yeah, if he stays there.- Carl Denham
But we've got something he wants.- Carl Denham
Why, the whole world will pay to see this.- Carl Denham
No chains will ever hold that.- Captain Englehorn
We'll give him more than chains. He's always been king of his world, but we'll teach him fear. We're millionaires, boys. I'll share it with all of you. Why, in a few months, it'll be up in lights on Broadway: Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World.- Carl Denham
And now, ladies and gentlemen, before I tell you any more, I'm going to show you the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive--a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World.- Carl Denham
The models of King Kong were only 18 inches high.
Jungle scenes were filmed on the same set as the jungle scenes in Most Dangerous Game, The (1932).
The large gate that was built for this movie was set on fire and pulled down by hidden cables as part of the burning of the Atlanta Depot scene in Gone with the Wind (1939).
King Kong's roar was a lion's and a tiger's roar combined and run backwards.
Willis O' Brien created several models for an earlier production called "Creation". Because of the depression, this production was abandoned. Not to waste all that work, O'Brien went on to use many of the models made for "Creation" in "King Kong". Not the least among these were the T-Rex and the pteranodon. Merian C. Cooper decided the best way to sell the idea for "King Kong" to RKO was to shoot a stop motion sequence. O'Brian shot the battle between Kong and the T-Rex. The executives of RKO were stunned at the results, having never seen anything like it.
The working titles of this film were The Eighth Wonder, The Beast and Kong. In the opening credits, the cast list is concluded with the billing "and King Kong (The Eighth Wonder of the World)." An "old Arabian proverb" is then quoted onscreen: "And the prophet said: 'And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead.'"
The above cast list includes most of the featured bit players in the film, as indicated by daily studio production sheets, as well as selected names of the hundreds of extras who were used in the production. In many cases, actors played double or triple roles, and the above list May not indicate every part played by a given actor.
Unless specified as coming from studio production files, studio memoranda, contemporary news items or reviews, the following information about the production is provided by modern sources, including autobiographies and personal correspondence: According to a modern interview with Merian C. Cooper, the creation of King Kong began with him. In 1929, Cooper, who with co-director Ernest Schoedsack, had made two successful ethnographic documentaries-Grass in 1925 and Chang in 1927-started writing a long monograph on baboons, based on observations he had made of the animals while location shooting in Africa for Paramount's The Four Feathers, a drama he made with David O. Selznick, Schoedsack and Fay Wray. Although the monograph was accidentally destroyed and never rewritten, Cooper retained his interest in exotic animals and read The Dragon Lizards of Komodo (New York, 1927), a nonfiction book written by his friend, W. Douglas Burden, a trustee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In his book, Burden describes his exploration of the East Indian island of Komodo and his study of the rare dragon lizards that inhabit the island.
In a letter to Burden written in 1964 and quoted in a modern source, Cooper says: "Then one day, after one of my conversations with you, I thought to myself, why not film my Gorilla ....I also had very firmly in mind to giantize both the Gorilla and your Dragons to make them really huge. However, I always believed in personalizing and focusing attention on one main character and from the very beginning I intended to make it the Gigantic Gorilla, no matter what else I surrounded him with....I had already established him in my mind on a prehistoric island with prehistoric monsters, and I now thought of having him destroyed by the most sophisticated thing I could think of in civilization.... My very original concept was to place him on the top of the Empire State Building and have him killed by airplanes....I thought that by mattes and double printing and the new technique called rear projection it could be done....I personally conceived and initiated development of the photographic process afterwards called 'miniature projection'....I...went ahead and wrote a number of outlines of King Kong in the years 1929-30." In a return letter, Burden confirms many of Cooper's recollections.
In 1931, while Schoedsack was in Sumatra filming a picture called Rango, David Selznick became the production head at the financially desperate RKO. Through Myron Selznick, Cooper then tried to purchase the screen rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan from Irving Thalberg at M-G-M, with the thought that shooting a double "Africa" project, Tarzan and King Kong, would make economic sense. When that failed, Cooper went to Hollywood in October and November of 1931 and discussed the possibility of making his gorilla picture at RKO, but was discouraged not only by Selznick but by every other producer in town. Cooper was hired, however, as an associate producer at RKO in early December 1931. According to a 1963 letter from Selznick to Cooper as quoted in modern sources, Selznick assigned Cooper the "problem of studying and cutting down the overhead" of the studio, and in particular to study a project titled Creation.
After Cooper visited the set of Creation, a stop-action animated film on which chief technician Willis O'Brien and his crew had been working for over a year, he concluded that the project should be scrapped, but that O'Brien's stop-action animation techniques, which O'Brien first developed in a 1925 First National film, The Lost World, should be used to realize his own "giant gorilla" idea. Cooper realized that by using O'Brien's techniques, Kong could be made without costly location shooting in Africa. In a December 19, 1931 studio report, as quoted in modern sources, Cooper writes: "I have prepared and am sending...my conception of this Giant Terror Gorilla, and the kind of scenes in which he should be used....However, before any large amount of money is spent on this picture, I suggest that we make two scenes with the Giant Gorilla, to see how lifelike and terrible a character it can be made." Selznick agreed enthusiastically with Cooper's proposal but had to push hard to convince RKO's New York executives to finance even the one-reel test.
With the go-ahead for the test, Fay Wray was hired, a Kong model was created, and several rubber-and-dural dinosaurs left over from Creation were employed. For Kong, Cooper assigned modelmaker Marcel Delgado to build a miniature, "almost human" ape figure. After two unsuccessful attempts, Delgado came up with an eighteen-inch model that satisfied Cooper's conceptions. The scenes to be shot for the test featured Kong tossing terrified sailors off a log to their deaths, and Kong fighting the allosaurus (many sources refer to this dinosaur as a tyrannosaurus rex) in front of Ann. (Some modern sources state that the scene involving a triceratops was also part of the test.) The log scene was capped by the doomed men being eaten alive by enormous crab spiders, a scene that, after a preview in San Bernadino, Cooper excised from the final film because he felt the action slowed the pace of the sequence too much and because a test audience reacted negatively to their appearance. (One of these spider models was employed many years later, however, in O'Brien's 1957 Warner Bros.' film The Black Scorpion.)
A contemporary New York Times article reported that "three months were spent investigating scientific records before a single scene was photographed on the RKO-Radio sets....Geographical data concerning the vegetation, location and population of an imaginary island...were checked with experts and university research departments. Paleontologists were consulted by Willis O'Brien....It was discovered...that the most likely place for an island...where prehistoric monsters might exist, was off the Malay Peninsula. The backgrounds were prepared with this locale in mind. More than 600 hand drawings, with quantities of detail, were made by the scientific artists, Mario Larrinaga and Byron Crabbe." Ernest Smythe also drew some of the illustrations. Eadweard Muybridge's nineteenth-century sequence of photographs of animals in motion, as well as slow-motion films of elephants, were also studied by the animators. According to another New York Times article, the "initial work of the technical staff was kept secret from the general staff on the lot because RKO wanted to be certain the secrecy of its process was kept inviolate." According to studio correspondence, Stacy Woodard was hired in mid-January 1932 to shoot "some microscopic animal shots" and "some shots of a fish sequence" for "possible use in the proposed picture Kong." It is not known if any of Woodard's footage was used in the final film, though it seems likely that this footage was designed for the deleted spider crab scene.
During the filming of the test reel, Selznick brought in popular English mystery writer Edgar Wallace to write a draft of the script based on Cooper's treatment. Selznick writes in a modern source: "I had signed up and sent for Edgar Wallace and brought him to California, where unfortunately he died in consequence of getting pneumonia [on 10 February 1932]....I have never believed that Wallace contributed much to King Kong, but the circumstances of his death complicated the writing credits." Selznick persuaded Cooper to use Wallace because of his renowned speed and talent, but also admitted his desire to exploit the popular writer's name. In a July 1932 memo to Selznick as quoted in modern sources, Cooper complains about giving Wallace a story credit as he believed that little if any of the script was attributable to him. He did agree that Wallace's name should appear on the novelization of the screenplay, which was written by Delos Lovelace, because he recognized the value of Wallace's name and wanted "to use it." However, a modern source contends that Wallace contributed more than Cooper was willing to admit. Wallace's draft of the script, which he wrote between 1 January and January 5, 1932, does detail many aspects of the story as it was eventually filmed. In addition, Wallace indicates in his published memoirs that his script was received with great enthusiasm by Cooper and Selznick. It is not known how heavily Wallace relied on Cooper's treatment for his draft, however.
After Wallace's death, other writers were approached with the project. In late February 1932, Dudley Nichols was announced in Film Daily as "completing the script" for The Beast. No studio records confirming Nichols' participation have been found, and the exact nature of Nichols' contribution to the final film is not known. Leon Gordon is credited in production files as a treatment writer, while a July 1932 Film Daily news item announced him as a dialogue writer. The exact nature of his contribution to the final film is not known. Production files indicate that between March and June 1932, James Creelman wrote at least two drafts of the script. According to modern sources, Creelman quit after the first draft due to differences with Cooper. Cooper hired Ruth Rose, Ernest Schoedsack's wife, in July 1932 to write a script based on Creelman's draft and his own treatment.
For her screenwriting debut, Rose, who had written magazine articles and a short story, completely rewrote Creelman's dialogue and gave the script a simplicity the previous draft had lacked. In particular, Rose eliminated scenes detailing Kong's ocean trip to New York. In a radio interview as quoted in a modern source, Cooper told Rose to "establish everything before Kong makes his appearance so that we won't have to explain anything after that. Give it the spirit of a real Cooper-Schoedsack expedition." In fact, according to the interview, Cooper instructed Rose to "put us" [he and Schoedsack] in it [the story]," and it is generally acknowledged that the character of Jack was modeled on Schoedsack, while the character of Denham was based on Cooper. Using his documentary Chang as a model, Cooper insisted that Kong's first appearance in the film not be rushed in order to build up audience expectation and suspense. Rose continued to rewrite and refine her script during the long production. For scenes involving the Native Chief, Rose invented words to represent a language similar to the Nias Islanders'. Concerned that this dialogue might be offensive, the Hays Office demanded an English translation be submitted with the script for approval.
After viewing the test reel, RKO studio executives gave Cooper an enthusiastic go-ahead and awarded him a $500,000 budget. A March 1932 studio memo from Cooper indicates that before a budget for King Kong was prepared, RKO's legal department had to clear up questions concerning the shooting of the New York sequence. It has not been ascertained what potential legal problems were posed by this sequence. The same memo indicates that the start of animation shooting was delayed because chief technician Willis O'Brien and technician E. B. Gibson were extremely ill with pneumonia, influenza and blood poisoning.
As mentioned above, animation techniques used in the film included rear projection, the Dunning Travelling Matte Process and the Williams Travelling Matte Process. The Dunning and Williams Travelling Matte Processes enabled the filmmakers to combine with greater realism scenes in which foreground and background action were shot at different times and places. Although the rear projection process was not new to King Kong, O'Brien and his collaborators greatly improved and enhanced the technique. Sidney Saunders, head of RKO's paint department, for instance, refined the screen on which the previously filmed action was projected. His cellulose-acetate screen was much larger than previous screens, and was flexible, non-breakable and heat resistant, attributes that significantly reduced lighting problems that had previously plagued the process. In addition, King Kong is generally acknowledged as the first film to use miniature rear projection, the process whereby previously filmed live action sequences were projected into the miniature settings.
Many scenes employed Saunders' technique, including the one in which Jack hides from Kong in a protected jungle nook. Instead of first shooting Kong's animated movements and then projecting them on a screen behind the actor, the actor's movements were shot and then projected on a screen, against which the model Kong was moved. Miniature projection was also used in the scene in which Kong examines Ann's clothes and body. Kong's giant arm and hand were filmed with Wray, and then the rest of Kong, in miniature, was matched against this already filmed life-size action.
In a modern essay, O'Brien states that once the animators had decided which technique to employ, "the layout or construction plans were drawn and detailed, even to the exact position of the camera and the placing of the people and animals." O'Brien continues: "This work was done by Caroll Shepphird. If people were to be projected or matted in the set, a complete drawing for that part of the set would be necessary, so that they would take their place in the miniature in the correct perspective and create a convincing picture." The settings against which the animated action was shot were combinations of miniature construction and paintings on flats and glass. For some of the jungle scenes, where a deep, textured look was desired, O'Brien used as many as three planes of painted glass for a single shot with miniature set elements, including live foliage, sandwiched between them. Instructed by Cooper and O'Brien to copy illustrations by Gustave Doré for Paradise Lost, Mario Larrinaga and Byron Crabbe painted the glass for the jungle sets. Some of the New York scenes also used this three-plane technique.
The model of Kong was built around an articulated steel skeleton and had latex rubber muscles, which moved in a lifelike manner. The skeleton was stuffed with cotton, covered with liquid latex to form the basic shape, and then covered with bear fur. (Originally rabbit fur was used but was replaced after the animators discovered that it held and revealed their finger impressions from shot to shot.) Because the models suffered wear and tear over the course of shooting, two Kong miniatures were constructed and "spelled" each other as needed. The miniature dinosaurs had their own "stand-ins," simply constructed models that were used when a set was being lighted.
In addition to the two miniature Kongs, a giant head, arm and hand and foot of the beast were created, as was a giant pteradodon talon. In a modern essay, Marcel Delgado recalls that the head required three or four men inside to work the jaws and eyes. The detailed hand had jointed digits. Delgado also notes that Kong's dimensions varied from scene to scene; in most sequences, he would appear, by comparison, to be eighteen feet tall, in others as much as twenty-four. In the scene in which Kong scales the Empire State Building, for instance, Kong is, by comparison with the actual size of the building, about twenty-four feet tall, an adjustment Cooper ordered to avoid having Kong look like a speck against the skyscraper. In most reviews and ads, however, Kong was described as a fifty-foot ape, and in certain scenes, he actually appears to be that tall by comparison. The scale for the dinosaur models and the miniature people were constant throughout the picture, one inch of model for each foot of screen size.
In her autobiography, Fay Wray describes how the "big arm" sequences were shot: "The big arm, about six feet long, was attached to a lever so it could be raised or lowered. I would stand on the floor while a grip...would place the flexible fingers around my waist in a grip secure enough to allow me to be raised to a level in line with an elevated camera. There was a wind machine to give motion to my clothes, and I struggled to give the illusion that Kong was a fearsome forty feet tall." Wray recalls that, although Walter Plunkett is generally credited on the film as costumer, her costumes were designed by "a young woman from New York."
Linwood Dunn, a member of cameraman Vernon Walker's crew, and an expert in optical printing, Dunn's assistant, Cecil Love, and his engineer, Bill Leeds, worked with Willis O'Brien to match composite shots during the printing process. In a modern essay, Dunn recalls that the RKO camera department "only had one optical printer and the thing was constantly in use for duping, making trick matting shots, fades, dissolves, split-screen effects and multiple exposure work." The film was printed on an Eastman Supersensitive Panchromatic negative, according to a contemporary ad.
During the course of principal photography, production files indicate that Cooper concentrated on the more technical scenes, including the later New York, jungle and ship scenes, while Schoedsack directed the remaining sequences, including the village scenes and some of the New York footage. Beginning in June 1932, live action scenes were shot in three or four week stretches with weeks off in between. Experience taught the animation crew that, to achieve a constant look to any given scene, continuous shooting was needed, consequently the production days could be quite long. In her autobiography, Fay Wray recalls that she worked a straight twenty-two hours on her test reel scene, acting on a tree limb that had been placed next to a screen projecting the already filmed battle scene between Kong and the allosaurus. The scene depicting the sacrificial ceremony, which involved hundreds of extras, three camera crews, a flotilla of costume and makeup personnel and sixty-five electricians, was shot by Schoedsack in one night.
Joel McCrea was first considered for the role of Jack Driscoll, but Bruce Cabot was hired because he was perceived as better suited to the physical demands of the part. "Jack" was Cabot's first featured role. Wray notes in her autobiography that Cooper first thought of Jean Harlow for the Ann Darrow part and had also asked Dorothy Jordan, his wife-to-be, to star, but was turned down. A Film Daily news item added Ynez Seabury to the cast, but her participation in the final film has not been confirmed. Although some modern sources, including the actor's obituary, suggest that Charles Gemora, wearing a gorilla suit, portrayed Kong, most modern sources insist that all of the ape scenes were achieved through animation. Another actor, Ken Roady, is also credited by a modern source as playing the ape in costume.
Production files confirm that sets from the RKO jungle film, The Most Dangerous Game, which Schoedsack was directing during the day, were used at night by Cooper and his crew during part of King Kong's shooting schedule. Wray and Robert Armstrong starred in The Most Dangerous Game. (Modern sources note that the King Kong log was re-used in The Most Dangerous Game.) The New York auditorium scene, which was supposed to suggest Madison Square Garden or Radio City Music Hall, was shot at the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles, while the harbor scenes were shot in San Pedro, CA, according to production files. Modern sources add that an actual freighter that was parked at the harbor was used for some scenes, and note that the Los Angeles River provided the foreground for some of the jungle footage. Some of the exterior shooting was done at RKO-Pathe's "40 Acres" ranch in Culver City, according to studio files. Studio correspondence indicates that the set for Cecil B. DeMille's film King of Kings, which Cooper estimated originally cost $100,000, was remodeled for $14,000 and was used in the village sequences. Cooper wanted the village to appear to be built "on the ruins of an old civilization." This set was re-used in RKO's 1935 film She and was destroyed in December 1938 as part of the burning-of-Atlanta scene in M-G-M's 1939 classic, Gone With the Wind.
The four biplanes, which were Curtiss O2C-2 and Navy NY craft, and their pilots were obtained from Floyd Bennett Field. Footage of actual flying was intercut with footage using miniature and process techniques. To obtain shots of Kong from the pilots' point-of-view, a twenty-four foot wooden ramp was built on which the miniature planes, suspended by thin piano wires, "swooped" toward the ape. The shots of the planes circling and diving were achieved by using different size models to suggest varying distances from the building. For the scenes on top of the Empire State Building, Schoedsack went to New York and took precise measurements of the edifice's pinnacle, and an actual-size replica was built on the RKO lot.
Budgetary concerns hounded the production. Studio correspondence includes numerous memos from Merian C. Cooper and others sent to various RKO executives justifying increases in production costs. In a modern source, Selznick is quoted as saying that he squeezed monies from other RKO productions to finish the picture. In addition to the budget, studio executives were also concerned about the length of the production schedule, which far exceeded any previous RKO venture. In an April 1932 Film Daily news item, RKO announced that the average cost for one of their "A" pictures was to be $225,000. According to a 1947 studio memo, the final negative cost of King Kong was $672,254.75, $270,000 more than the original projected budget. (Cooper contends in a modern interview that RKO padded this number by about $200,000.) A June 1948 New York Times article claims that to cut up-front production costs, Cooper paid some employees with "script redeemable from the picture's profits." Fay Wray recalls that she was paid $10,000 for her ten-week stint on the picture. Daily talent sheets in the production files indicate that African-American extras and bit players were paid, on the whole, half as much as their white counterparts.
Studio correspondence indicates that the recording of the music and sound began on December 29, 1932. In a contemporary article appearing in Popular Science Monthly, writer Andrew R. Boone reveals some of Murray Spivack's recording tricks: After several unsuccessful attempts using drums and floor boards, Spivack struck the chest of Walter G. Elliott, a studio sound effects specialist, to create the sound of Kong's chest beating. For Kong's lengthy roars, Spivack took a stock animal roar, ran the soundtrack backward at a slow speed through a projector, lowered the sound one octave and re-recorded it. For Kong's breathing, Spivack used a stock tiger soundtrack, ran it backward, and lowered the tone an octave, producing a low, guttural combination of growl and breath. On advice from a paleontologist, Spivack created Kong's "love notes" by uttering deep "r-r-rumps" through a megaphone.
Sounds for the battle between Kong and the tyrannosaurus were devised by mixing a puma soundtrack with the steam-like noise from a compressed air machine and adding a few screeches provided by Spivack himself. The giant head of Kong was equipped with a pump through which a blood-like liquid would flow and simulate naturalistic throaty sounds. In her autobiography, Wray recalls that at the film's Hollywood premiere, she felt "uncomfortable watching the film...mostly because of my screaming-Too much, too much, I thought. Before they had started editing the film, I had gone into a sound room at RKO and screamed and moaned and whimpered for several minutes, recording a kind of 'Aris of Agonies,' so that the sounds could be spliced into various spots as needed." Wray's recorded screams were used on other RKO pictures, including King Kong's sequel, The Son of Kong, and the 1945 picture Game of Death, a remake of The Most Dangerous Game.
To save money, RKO asked studio composer Max Steiner not to write any original music for King Kong, but to re-use music from other productions. Cooper intervened and insisted that Steiner compose an entirely fresh score, offering to pay him out of his own pocket. Steiner completed the score in eight weeks and recorded it using what was then considered a large 46-piece orchestra. The cost of the venture was $50,000. In an innovative move, Spivack matched the tones of his effects to the notes of Steiner's music to produce a more harmonious total soundtrack. Parts of Steiner's much-heralded score have also been heard in other features, including The Son of Kong (see below), The Last Days of Pompeii (see below), Becky Sharp, The Last of the Mohicans (see below), The Soldier and the Lady (see below), Fang and Claw, Back to Bataan (1945) and White Heat (1949).
According to Film Daily, the final title of the film was not settled on until late 1932. Stories about the title's origins abound. Scientist W. Douglas Burden notes in the modern letter to Cooper that Cooper seemed impressed by his use of the phrase "King of Komodo" to describe his dragon lizards, suggesting that he gravitated toward the word "king" as well as the "k" alliteration in imitation of the phrase. (Burden also speculates that the fact that his young wife Babs accompanied him on the dangerous expedition inspired Cooper to create the Ann Darrow character, a theory that Cooper has indicated in interviews May be true). Other modern sources suggest that Cooper chose the word "Kong" because it was the actual word for gorilla in the language of an obscure East Indian tribe.
In her autobiography, Fay Wray contends that Cooper, who was famous for strong, one-word titles, came up with the ape's final name just after he had shown her Willis O'Brien's miniature jungle set for the first time. "As we walked away from this first introduction to the nameless creature, Cooper slowed his pace, then stopped. 'I think I'll call him Kong.' A pause...and then, 'King Kong.'" Still another modern source insists that the final title was suggested by Selznick, who was responding to his marketing department's fears that the title Kong would lead potential viewers to presume the picture was about a Chinese general. Other modern sources, however, contend that RKO changed the title from Kong to King Kong to avoid confusion with M-G-M's 1932 film, Kongo. A mid-October 1932 Film Daily news item officially announced King Kong as the final title.
King Kong was first screened at fourteen reels but, at Cooper's and the studio's insistence, was cut to eleven reels. Deleted scenes included a confrontation with a triceratops, Jack and Ann's escape down the river and Kong crashing down Skull Mountain to the village. Production records indicate that at least one scene involving Hindus and English soldiers was shot, but was not included in the final film. Discrepancies in the film's running time as reported by reviewers suggest that additional cuts May have been made after the Los Angeles premiere.
Advertising for King Kong was elaborate and costly. RKO bought thirty minutes of air time from the National Broadcasting Company and, on February 10, 1933, broadcast a thirty-minute radio "teaser" for the film, which featured a specially written script and sound effects. Mystery magazine ran a serialized version of the story, which they advertised as "the last and the greatest creation of Edgar Wallace," in their February 1933 issue.
King Kong's New York engagement at Radio City's Music Hall and Roxy theaters attracted over 50,000 people on its first day, and after its first four days, the film set an all-time attendance record for an indoor event, according to ads. The two theaters boasted ten shows daily and 10,000 seats. For the Los Angeles premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Kong's giant head was displayed in the lobby. According to studio correspondence, RKO contract stars Robert Woolsey and Bert Wheeler were to be the masters of ceremony at the premiere. However, a Los Angeles Times news item announced Joel McCrea as the evening's emcee. Studio memos indicate that because of the unplanned "Bank Holidays" that occurred shortly after the inauguration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and general financial woes because of the Depression, the Los Angeles premiere was delayed by over a week, and ticket prices were dropped from $5.50 to $3.30.
In spite of the economic setbacks, the opening was an enormous success. In a letter to Cooper, Sid Grauman, owner of the Chinese Theatre and "producer" of the premiere, said of the picture: "Never saw greater enthusiasm at any premiere in my past experience of presenting premieres as that of King Kong....Every person leaving the theatre tonight will be a human twentyfour sheet....I believe it to be the greatest picture I have ever seen." Premiere programs indicate that Grauman "conceived and staged" a "prologue" for the evening, which included "a scene in the jungle" production number, featuring such performers as Pauline Loretta, Jimmy Savo, the Chorus of Dusky Maidens and African Choral Ensembles.
Reviews for the film were favorable, although more than one noted the varied response the picture engendered from the audience. The Variety review, for instance, stated: "There are times when the plot takes advantage of its imaginative status and goes too far. On these occasions the customers are liable to laugh in the wrong way. A most tolerant audience at the Music Hall broke down now and then, but on the whole was exceedingly kind. It seemed that while a few details were too strong to swallow the picture, as a whole, got them." New York Times review observed: "Needless to say that this picture was received by many a giggle to cover up fright. Constant exclamations issued from the Radio City Music Hall yesterday." The Variety review goes on to describe the box-office potential of King Kong: "While not believing it, audiences will wonder how it's done. If they wonder they'll talk, and that talk plus the curiosity the advertising should incite ought to draw business all over. 'Kong' mystifies as well as it horrifies, and May open up a new medium for scaring babies via the screen." According to studio memos, as of 1946, King Kong had earned RKO $2,361,002.10. The success of King Kong greatly boosted the ailing RKO, which on the day of the New York opening, had been put into permanent receivership by the Irving Trust Company. Grosses for the opening New York weekend totalled $90,000, and later ads boasted that King Kong broke attendance records in theaters across the country.
Modern sources add the following names to the crew: Scenario assoc, Horace McCoy; Optical photog, William Ulm; Projection process, Sidney Saunders; Dunning process supv, Carroll H. Dunning and C. Dodge Dunning; Williams matte supv, Frank Williams; Special Effects, Harry Redmond, Jr.; Sculptor, John Cerisoli; Constr tech, W. G. White; Tech artists, Victor Delgado, Zachary Hoag and Juan Larrinaga; Makeup Supervisor, Mel Berns; Set decorations, Thomas Little; Supv art dir, Van Nest Polglase; Costumes, Walter Plunkett; Asst to Merian Cooper, Zoe Porter; Painting tech, Peter Stich; Cam aircraft pilots, Duke Krantz and George Weiss; Technical Advisor, Dr. J. W. Lytle, Dr. O. A. Paterson and Dr. Harry C. Raven; and Art titles, Pacific Title Co. Modern sources add the following actors to the cast: Russ Powell (Dock watchman), Sandra Shaw (Hotel victim), Syd Saylor (Reporter), Jim Thorpe (Native dancer), Madame Sul-te-wan (Native handmaiden), Etta McDaniel (Native), Barney Capehart, Bob Galloway, Eric Wood, Rusty Mitchell and Russ Rogers (Pilots), Reginald Barlow (Engineer) and Dorothy Gulliver and Carlotta Monti. In addition, modern sources note that Cooper and Schoedsack made cameo appearances as aviators in the final sequence of the film. Sandra Shaw, a socialite whose real name was Veronica "Rocky" Balfe, met and married actor Gary Cooper shortly after the completion of this production.
A sequel to King Kong, called The Son of Kong, was released in December 1933 (see below). King Kong was re-issued by RKO in 1938, 1942 and 1952. In 1952, it was re-issued along with RKO's Leopard Man and I Walked with a Zombie. The estimated gross profits of the 1952 re-issue were $2,500,000, according to studio publicity. For the re-issues, moments from the following three scenes were cut for censorship reasons: the scene in which Kong plucks off Ann's clothes; the scene in which Kong bites off the head of a villager and squashes another with his foot; and the scene in which Kong snatches the wrong woman from a New York hotel and drops her. The exact dates of the censoring have not been determined, although the film was issued a Production Code Certificate in 1938.
Some sources state that the film was cut in 1938, while others claim the censorship took place in 1952. Yet another source suggests that the film was censored piece by piece over the years. Although the censored portions were reported by modern sources as forever lost, a restored, uncensored version of the picture was released by Janus Films in 1969. King Kong's censorship controversy was the basis of a stage play, Censored Scenes, which opened March 6, 1980 on Broadway. In 1965, Variety reported that King Kong had been banned from Australian television because it was declared "unfit for viewing." In 1977, the American Film Institute selected King Kong as one of the fifty most favorite films ever made. On April 14, 1983, in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the film's release, an 84-foot, inflatable "Kong" was attached to the top of the Empire State Building and was "attacked" by vintage biplanes. In August 1988, King Kong became the first film to be colorized by Turner Entertainment.
In 1976, Dino De Laurentiis produced a Universal version of Cooper and Wallace's story, starring Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges and directed by John Guillermin. By that time, both the film's and Lovelace's novelization copyrights had fallen into public domain. Many other horror films have used the Kong character, including King Kong vs. Godzilla, a Toho Co. production, released in the United States in 1963 by Universal, directed by Inoshiro Honda and starring Michael Keith and James Yagi; and King Kong Escapes, a Rankin/Bass-Toho Co. co-production, released in the United States in 1968, also directed by Inoshira Honda and starring Rhodes Reason and Mie Hama (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.2611 and F6.2610). Rankin/Bass also produced an animated television series, The King Kong Show, which ran from September 1966 to August 1969 on the ABC television network. Although not based directly on the Kong character, Mighty Joe Young, a 1949 RKO production directed by Schoedsack, produced by Cooper, and starring Terry Moore, Ben Johnson and Robert Armstrong, and Konga, a 1961 Merton Park Studio production directed by John Lemont and starring Michael Gough and Margo Johns (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.2652) are considered by modern critics to be inspired by King Kong. The Kong character was also used in numerous television commercials and print advertisements. A toy model of the creature was manufactured in 1969 by Aurora Products.
Universal added a "King Kong" exhibit/ride to its studio tour in 1986. In 2005, the studio released its second remake of King Kong . Also titled King Kong, the later picture was directed by Peter Jackson, and starred Naomi Watts as Ann, Jack Black as Carl Denham, and Adrien Brody as Jack Driscoll. Wallace and Cooper received an onscreen story credit. To coincide with the 2005 remake's release, Warner Bros. released a special edition DVD version of the 1933 King Kong in December 2005. The DVD contains a 159-minute documentary about the original, which Peter Jackson supervised. The documentary includes a Weta-produced reconstruction of the lost spider-pit scene and re-created models and scenery.
Released in United States April 1981
Released in United States on Video February 28, 1989
Released in United States Spring March 2, 1933
Broadcast over TNT (colorized version) February 21, 1990.
Selected in 1991 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States on Video February 28, 1989 (colorized version)
Released in United States Spring March 2, 1933
Released in United States April 1981 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition ("Scared to Death": Horror Movie Marathon) April 2-23, 1981.)