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King Kong (1933 film)

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Title: King Kong (1933 film)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Fay Wray, King Kong (2005 film), RKO Pictures, 1933 in film, King Kong in popular culture
Collection: 1930S Adventure Films, 1930S Fantasy Films, 1933 Films, American Adventure Films, American Fantasy Films, American Films, Animals in Media, Articles Containing Video Clips, Black-and-White Films, Dinosaur Films, Empire State Building, Empire State Building in Fiction, English-Language Films, Film Scores by Max Steiner, Films About Filmmaking, Films Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack, Films Directed by Merian C. Cooper, Films Made Before the Mpaa Production Code, Films Produced by David O. Selznick, Films Set in New York City, Films Set in the Indian Ocean, Films Set in the Pacific Ocean, Films Set on Islands, Films Using Stop-Motion Animation, King Kong Films, Monster Movies, Rko Pictures Films, Screenplays by Edgar Wallace, Stop-Motion Animated Films, United States National Film Registry Films
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

King Kong (1933 film)

King Kong
Original theatrical poster by Keye Luke
Directed by Merian C. Cooper
Ernest B. Schoedsack
Produced by Merian C. Cooper
Ernest B. Schoedsack
David O. Selznick (executive)
Screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman
Ruth Rose
Story by Merian C. Cooper
Edgar Wallace
Starring Fay Wray
Bruce Cabot
Robert Armstrong
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Eddie Linden
J.O. Taylor
Vernon Walker
Edited by Ted Cheesman
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures (Original)
Turner Entertainment
(Current via Warner Bros.)
Release dates
  • March 2, 1933 (1933-03-02)
Running time 100 minutes
104 minutes (with overture)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $672,000[1]
($12,042,084) (adjusted for inflation)
Box office $2,847,000 [1]
($51,017,583) (adjusted for inflation)

King Kong is a 1933 American fantasy monster/adventure film directed and produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose was from an idea conceived by Cooper and Edgar Wallace. It stars Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot and Robert Armstrong, and opened in New York City on March 2, 1933 to rave reviews.

The film tells of a gigantic, prehistoric, island-dwelling ape called Kong who dies in an attempt to possess a beautiful young woman. Kong is distinguished for its stop-motion animation by Willis O'Brien and a full-length musical score by Max Steiner. In 1991, it was deemed "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. It has been remade twice: in 1976 and in 2005.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Creatures 3
  • Background 4
  • Production 5
    • Development 5.1
      • Concept 5.1.1
      • Script 5.1.2
    • Pre-production 5.2
      • Casting 5.2.1
        • Fay Wray
        • Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot
        • Other players
      • Models 5.2.2
      • Live-action scenes 5.2.3
    • Post-production 5.3
  • Releases 6
    • Premieres 6.1
    • Reception 6.2
    • Box office 6.3
    • Awards and honors 6.4
    • Re-releases, censorship and restorations 6.5
    • Home media 6.6
  • Possible prequel 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


In New York Harbor, Carl Denham, a filmmaker famous for shooting animal pictures in remote and exotic locations, charters the ship Venture for his new project, but is unable to secure an actress. Carl searches the streets of New York for a suitable woman. He comes across Ann Darrow and convinces her to join him on the adventure of a lifetime. Despite his ongoing declarations that women have no place onboard ships, the ship's first mate, Jack Driscoll becomes attracted to Ann.

After maintaining secrecy for weeks, Denham finally tells Driscoll and Captain Englehorn that they're searching for an uncharted island shown on a map in Denham's possession. Denham then describes something monstrous connected to the island, a legendary entity known to the islanders only as "Kong." Arriving at the island's shore, they find a native village on a peninsula, cut off from the bulk of the island by an enormous stone wall. A landing party, including the filming crew and Ann, goes ashore and encounters the natives, who propose to trade six native women for Ann. Denham declines and the landing party cautiously return to the ship.

However, later that night, a contingent of natives capture Ann and take her through the wall, where, left tied to columns, she is presented to Kong, a giant gorilla. The Venture crew returns to the village and opens the huge gate on the wall; half of the crew then goes after Kong in hopes of rescuing Ann. The crew discovers that, in addition to Kong, other giant creatures inhabit the island. They encounter an enraged Stegosaurus, a lethal Apatosaurus and Kong, who prevents the men from following him across a ravine by shaking them off a fallen log bridge. Only Driscoll and Denham are left alive.

When a Tyrannosaurus attempts to eat Ann, Kong kills it by breaking its jaw and crushing its skull. Driscoll continues to pursue Kong and Ann while Denham returns to the village. While Kong battles a Elasmosaurus and a Pteranodon in his lair, Driscoll manages to reach Ann and escape by climbing down a vine dangling from a cliff's edge. Ann and Driscoll let go before Kong pulls them back up and escape via river. Kong follows the couple back to the village where he breaks through the wall and rampages through the village. Denham knocks the beast out with a gas bomb and decides to take Kong back to New York to show the world.

Subdued by chains and shackles, the beast is presented to an audience as "King Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World". Thinking that the press are hurting Ann with flash photography, Kong escapes and goes on a rampage in Manhattan until he finds Ann and climbs up the Empire State Building. A squadron of military planes attack Kong once he reaches the roof of the building. He fights them off but eventually succumbs to his wounds and falls to his death. Denham examines Kong's body and while some believe it was the planes who killed him, Denham believes, "It was Beauty who killed the Beast."



There are a number of prehistoric creatures appearing in the film. King Kong, one of the last of his kind, is a gigantic ape and the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Kong is 25 feet (7.6 m) tall and is capable of lifting twice his own weight. He is both worshiped and feared by the natives.

The creatures appearing in the film include Archaeopteryx (seen flying around Skull Island as the Venture crew arrives), Stegosaurus (the ship's crew kill it), Apatosaurus (mauls four crew members to death), Megalania (seen climbing up to attack Jack Driscoll), Tyrannosaurus (it attacks Ann but Kong breaks its jaws), Teratornis (seen pecking at the carcass of the Tyrannosaurus), Plesiosaurus (tries to strangle Kong, who slams it to the ground and kills it), and Pteranodon (the last major creature on the island that menaces Ann, but it is killed by Kong).

Creatures not appearing in the finished film, but appearing in footage from deleted scenes, include Styracosaurus, Arsinoitherium, a giant spider, a giant crab, a giant tentacled insect, Erythrosuchus, Gigantophis garstini and Triceratops.


Before King Kong hit the silver screen, a long tradition of jungle films existed, and, whether drama or documentary, such films generally adhered to a narrative pattern that followed an explorer or scientist into the jungle to test a theory only to discover some monstrous aberration in the undergrowth. In such films, scientific knowledge could be turned topsy-turvy at any time and it was this that provided the genre with its vitality, appeal, and endurance.[2]

In the early 20th century, few zoos had primate exhibits so there was popular demand to see them on film. At the turn of the 20th century, the trick photography in film fantasies that prefigured that in King Kong. Jungle films were launched in the United States in 1913 with Beasts in the Jungle, a film that mixed live actors with lions, a tiger, and other animals. The film's popularity spawned similar pictures, including a few about "ape men" and gorillas. In 1918, Elmo Lincoln starred in Tarzan of the Apes,[2] and, in 1925, The Lost World made movie history with special effects by Willis O'Brien and a crew that later would work on King Kong.[3] William S. Campbell specialized in monkey-themed films with Monkey Stuff and Jazz Monkey in 1919, with Prohibition Monkey following in 1920. Kong producer Schoedsack had earlier monkey experience directing Chang in 1927 (also with Cooper) and Rango in 1931, both of which prominently featured monkeys in authentic jungle settings. Capitalizing on this trend, "Congo Pictures" released the hoax documentary Ingagi in 1930, advertising the film as "an authentic incontestable celluloid document showing the sacrifice of a living woman to mammoth gorillas." Ingagi was an unabashed black exploitation film, immediately running afoul of the Hollywood code of ethics, as it implicitly depicted black women having sex with gorillas, and baby offspring that looked more ape than human.[4] The film was an immediate hit, and by some estimates it was one of the highest grossing movies of the 1930s at over $4 million. Although producer Merian C. Cooper never listed Ingagi among his influences for King Kong, it's long been held that RKO green-lighted Kong because of the bottom-line example of Ingagi and the formula that "gorillas plus sexy women in peril equals enormous profits".[5]




Cooper's fascination with gorillas began with his boyhood reading of Paul Du Chaillu's Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa (1861) and was furthered in 1929 by studying a tribe of baboons in Africa while filming The Four Feathers. After reading W. Douglas Burden's The Dragon Lizards of Komodo, he fashioned a scenario depicting African gorillas battling Komodo dragons intercut with artificial stand-ins for joint shots. He then narrowed the dramatis personae to one ferocious, lizard-battling gorilla (rather than a group) and included a lone woman on expedition to appease those critics who belabored him for neglecting romance in his films. A remote island would be the setting and the gorilla would be dealt a spectacular death in New York City.[6]

Cooper took his concept to Paramount Studios in the first years of the Great Depression but executives shied away from a project that sent film crews on costly shoots to Africa and Komodo. In 1931, David O. Selznick brought Cooper to RKO as his executive assistant, and, to sweeten the deal, promised him he could make his own films. Cooper began immediately developing The Most Dangerous Game, a story about a big game hunter, and hired his friend and former film partner, Ernest Schoedsack, to direct. A huge jungle stage set was built, with Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray as the stars. Once the film was underway, Cooper turned his attention to the studio's big-budget-out-of-control fantasy, Creation, a story about a group of travelers shipwrecked on an island of dinosaurs. The film employed special effects wizard Willis O'Brien.[7]

When Cooper screened O'Brien's stop-motion Creation footage, he was unimpressed, but realized he could economically make his gorilla picture by scrapping the Komodo dragons and costly location shoots for O'Brien's animated dinosaurs and the studio's existing jungle set. It was at this time Cooper probably cast his gorilla as a giant named Kong, and planned to have him die at the

External links

  • [Author unknown] (April 19, 2007). "King Kong (1933)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  • [Author unknown (2)]. "Empire State Building to Dim Lights in Remembrance of Actress Fay Wray". United Press International, Inc. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  • Bigelow, Joe (1933). "King Kong review". Variety. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  • Doherty, Thomas Patrick (1999). Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930–1934. Columbia University Press. p. 293.  
  • Erb, Cynthia Marie (2009). Tracking King Kong: a Hollywood Icon in World Culture. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press. pp. 54–5.  
  • Erish, Andrew (January 8, 2006). "Illegitimate Dad of King Kong".  
  • Goldner, Orville and George E. Turner (1975). The Making of King Kong. Ballantine Books.  
  • Gottesman, Ronald and Harry Geduld, ed. (1976). The Girl in the Hairy Paw: King Kong as Myth, Movie, and Monster. Avon.  
  • "King Kong Collection".  
  • Morton, Ray (2005). King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson. New York, NY: Applause Theatre & Cinema Books.  
  1. ^ a b c Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14 No 1, 1994 p39
  2. ^ a b c Peary
  3. ^ Morton 21
  4. ^ Gerald Peary, 'Missing Links: The Jungle Origins of King Kong' (1976), repr. Gerald Peary: Film Reviews, Interviews, Essays and Sundry Miscellany, 2004.
  5. ^ Erish, Andrew (January 8, 2006). "Illegitimate Dad of King Kong". Los Angeles Times. 
  6. ^ Morton 17-8
  7. ^ Morton 18-20
  8. ^ Morton 22-5
  9. ^ a b Morton 25-7
  10. ^ a b Goldner (page unknown)
  11. ^ a b Morton 28
  12. ^ Morton 28-9
  13. ^ Morton 29
  14. ^ a b c Morton 31-3
  15. ^ Morton 76
  16. ^ Erb 31
  17. ^ Author unknown (2)
  18. ^ Erb 54-5
  19. ^ Morton 31-2
  20. ^ Morton 32
  21. ^ Morton 49
  22. ^ Morton 33
  23. ^ Morton 33-5
  24. ^ Morton 35-6
  25. ^ Morton 36
  26. ^ Orville Goldner, George E Turner (1975). Making of King Kong: The Story Behind a Film Classic. ISBN 0-498-01510-6. See also Spawn of Skull Island (2002). ISBN 1-887664-45-9
  27. ^ Morton 36-8
  28. ^ Goldner 173
  29. ^ Goldner 165
  30. ^ Goldner 159
  31. ^ Goldner 185
  32. ^ "The Missing Spider Pit Scene" Retrieved: 2 March 2012.
  33. ^ Morton 76-7
  34. ^ Helvering, David Allen; The University of Iowa (2007). Functions of dialogue underscoring in American feature film. ProQuest. pp. 21–22.  
  35. ^ a b Morton 78
  36. ^ Bigelow
  37. ^ Hall
  38. ^  
  39. ^ "New York Reviews".  
  40. ^ "Monster Ape Packs Thrills in New Talkie".  
  41. ^ Ebert
  42. ^ Author unknown
  43. ^ Morton 81,84
  44. ^ Morton 81
  45. ^ Morton 85
  46. ^ a b Morton 83-4
  47. ^ Millimeter Magazine article, 1 January 2006 Retrieved: 15 March 2012
  48. ^ a b "Robert A. Harris On King Kong" Retrieved: 15 March 2012
  49. ^ "King Kong: Miscellaneous Notes" at TCM Retrieved: 15 March 2012
  50. ^ comparisonKing Retrieved: 8 April
  51. ^ (1933)King Retrieved: 8 April 2012
  52. ^
  53. ^ Fleming, Jr, Mike (September 16, 2014). "Legendary’s ‘Skull Island'; Tom Hiddleston Stars, Jordan Vogt-Roberts Helms King Kong Origin Tale". Deadline. Retrieved September 16, 2014. 


See also

On July 26, 2014, Legendary Pictures announced a prequel of King Kong that will be released on November 4, 2016, named Skull Island. [52] The studio announces that Tom Hiddleston will star as the lead and it will be directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.[53] It is unknown at this time if it will be a prequel to the 1933 film, or the 2005 remake, or fully stand-alone.

Possible prequel

The 1980s colorized version is available on DVD in the UK and Italy.[51]

Warner Bros. hold exclusive worldwide rights to their restoration. At present, all other worldwide DVD releases contain only Universal's earlier, 100 minute, pre-2005 restoration.[48]

In the US, a 2-disc, Special Edition DVD containing the full-digital restoration of King Kong and numerous extra features, was released in 2005 (2006 in Australia and New Zealand), to coincide with the theatrical release of Peter Jackson's remake. A Blu-ray Disc version of the Special Edition was released in the US in 2010.[50]

King Kong had numerous VHS releases of varying quality prior to receiving an official studio release. Those included a 60th anniversary edition in 1993 from Turner Home Entertainment, featuring a front cover which, upon depressing his chest, had the sound effect of Kong roaring. It also included the colorized version of the film and a new 25 minute documentary, It Was Beauty Killed the Beast. The documentary is also available on two different UK King Kong DVDs.

In 1984, King Kong was one of the first films to be released on Laserdisc by the Criterion Collection, and was the very first movie to have an audio commentary track included.

Home media

King Kong was also, somewhat controversially, colorized in the late 1980s for television.[49]

After a 6-year worldwide search for the best surviving materials, a further, fully digital, restoration utilizing 4K resolution scanning was completed by Warner Bros. in 2005.[48] This restoration also had a 4 minute overture added, bringing the overall running time to 104 minutes.

Over the next two decades, Universal Studios carried out further photochemical restoration on King Kong. This was based on a 1942 release print, with missing censor cuts taken from a 1937 print, which "contained heavy vertical scratches from projection."[47]

In 1969, a 16mm print, including the censored footage, was found in Philadelphia. The cut scenes were added to the film, restoring it to its original theatrical running time of 100 minutes. This version was re-released to art houses by Janus Films in 1970.[46]

After the 1956 re-release, the film was sold to television and played successfully to huge audiences.

  • An Apatosaurus mauling crewmen in the water, chasing one up a tree and killing him;
  • Kong undressing Ann Darrow and sniffing his fingers;
  • Kong biting and stepping on natives when he attacks the village;
  • Kong biting a reporter in New York;
  • Kong mistaking a sleeping woman for Ann and dropping her to her death after realizing his mistake.

These scenes were:[46]

King Kong was re-released in 1938, 1942, 1946, 1952 and 1956 to great box office success. Stricter decency rules had been put into effect in Hollywood since its 1933 premiere and each time it was censored further, with several scenes being either trimmed or excised altogether.

Re-releases, censorship and restorations

American Film Institute Lists

The film has since received some significant honors. In 1975, Kong was named one of the 50 best American films by the American Film Institute, and, in 1991, the film was deemed "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1998, the AFI ranked the film #43 on its list of the 100 greatest movies of all time.[45]

Kong did not receive any Academy Awards nominations. Selznick wanted to nominate O'Brien and his crew for a special award in visual effects but the Academy declined. Such a category did not exist at the time and would not exist until 1938. Sidney Saunders and Fred Jackman received a special achievement award for the development of the translucent acetate/cellulose rear screen – the only Kong-related award.[44]

Awards and honors

The film made approximately $2 million in its initial release, with an opening weekend estimated at $90,000. During the film's first run it made a profit of $650,000.[1] It was re-released in 1938, 1942, 1946,1952, and 1956. After the 1952 re-release, Variety estimated the film had made $4 million in cumulative domestic rentals for that year.[43]

Box office

In 2002, Roger Ebert wrote that the effects are not up to modern standards, but the film remains one "that still somehow works."[41] As of 2012, King Kong holds an average score of 100% "Certified Fresh" based on 52 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.[42]

Variety thought the film a powerful adventure.[36] The New York Times gave readers an enthusiastic account of the plot and thought the film a fascinating adventure.[37] John Mosher of The New Yorker called it "ridiculous", but wrote that there were "many scenes in this picture that are certainly diverting".[38] The New York World-Telegram said it was "one of the very best of all the screen thrillers, done with all the cinema's slickest camera tricks".[39] The Chicago Tribune called it "one of the most original, thrilling and mammoth novelties to emerge from a movie studio."[40]


The film had its official world premiere on March 23, 1933 at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The 'big head bust' was placed in the theater's forecourt and a seventeen-act show preceded the film with The Dance of the Sacred Ape performed by a troupe of African American dancers the highpoint. Kong cast and crew attended and Wray thought her on-screen screams distracting and excessive. The film opened nationwide on April 10, 1933, and worldwide on Easter Day in London, England.[35]

King Kong opened at the 6,200-seat Radio City Music Hall in New York City and the 3,700-seat RKO Roxy across the street on Thursday, March 2, 1933. The film was preceded by a stage show called Jungle Rhythms. Crowds lined up around the block on opening day, tickets were priced at $.35 to $.75, and, in its first four days, every one of its ten-shows-a-day were sold out – setting an all-time attendance record for an indoor event. Over the four-day period, the film grossed $89,931.[35]

The world premiere of King Kong occurred at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, California on March 23, 1933. Kong's 'big head' bust was placed in the theater's forecourt, and the screening preceded by a seventeen-act stage show featuring (among other things) The Dance of the Sacred Ape performed by a troupe of African American dancers.



Kong's roars and grunts were created by manipulating the recorded roars of zoo lions. For budget reasons, RKO decided not to have an original film score composed but directed composer Max Steiner to simply reuse music from other films. Cooper thought the film deserved an original score and paid Steiner $50,000 to compose it. Steiner completed the score in six weeks and recorded it with a 46-piece orchestra. The studio later reimbursed Cooper.[33] The score was unlike any that came before and marked a significant change in the history of film music. King Kong's score was the first feature-length musical score written for an American "talkie" film, the first major Hollywood film to have a thematic score rather than background music, the use of a 46-piece orchestra, and recording on three separate tracks (sound effects, dialogue, and music). Steiner used a number of new film scoring techniques, such as drawing upon opera conventions for his use of leitmotifs.[34]

King Kong was settled upon as the title, and the film cut from 125 to 100 minutes, with scenes that slowed the pace or diverted attention from Kong deleted. Probably the most infamous deleted scene was what later became known as the "Spider Pit Sequence", where a number of sailors from the Venture survived a fall into a ravine, only to be eaten alive by various large spiders, insects and other creatures. In a studio memo, Merian C. Cooper said that he cut the scene out himself because it “stopped the story”. Aside from some still photographs and pre-production artwork, no trace of it has ever been found. Peter Jackson later did a reimagining of this scene for his King Kong movie, and he also shot another version of the scene for fun using stop-motion animation, which was included among the bonus features of the two-disc DVD of the 1933 original.[32]


In December 1932–January 1933, the actors were called back to film the optical effects shots which were mostly rear-screen projections. Technical problems inherent in the process made filming difficult and time-consuming. Wray spent most of a twenty-two hour period sitting in a fake tree to witness the battle between Kong and a T. rex. She was sore for days after. Many of the scenes featuring Wray in the articulated hand were filmed at this time. In December, Cooper reshot the New York woman falling to her death scene. Stunt doubles were filmed for the water scenes depicting Driscoll and Ann escaping from Kong. A portion of the jungle set was reconstructed to film Denham snagging his sleeve on a branch during the pursuit scene. Originally, Denham ducked behind a bush to escape danger but this was later considered cowardly and the scene reshot. The final scene was originally staged on the top of the Empire State Building, but Cooper was dissatisfied and reshot the scene with Kong lying dead in the street and a crowd gathered about him.

In September–October 1932, Schoedsack returned to the soundstage after completing the native village shoots in Culver City. The decks and cabins of the Venture were constructed and all the live-action shipboard scenes were then filmed. The New York scenes were filmed, including the scene of Ann being plucked from the streets by Denham and the diner scene. Following the interior scenes, Schoedsack returned to San Pedro and spent a day on a tramp steamer to film the Driscoll-slugs-Ann scene and various harbor atmosphere scenes. The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles was rented for one day to film the on-stage scenes with Kong in chains and the backstage theater scenes following his escape.[30] Principal photography wrapped at the end of October 1932 with the Driscoll-rescues-Ann scene at the top of the Empire State Building. Schoedsack's work was completed and he headed to Syria to film outdoor scenes for Arabia, a project that was never completed.[31]

Meanwhile, the scene depicting a New York woman being dropped to her apparent death from a hotel window was filmed on the soundstage using the articulated hand. At the same time, a scene depicting poker players surprised by Kong's face peering through a window was filmed using the 'big head'; the scene was eventually dropped.[29] When filming was completed, a break was scheduled to finish the interior sets and to allow screenwriter Ruth Rose time to finish the script.

In August 1932, the island landing party scene and the gas bomb scene were filmed south of Los Angeles on a beach at San Pedro, California. All of the native village scenes were then filmed on the RKO-Pathé lot in Culver City with native huts recycled from Bird of Paradise (1932). The great wall in the island scenes was a hand-me-down from DeMille's The King of Kings (1927) and dressed up with massive gates, a gong, and primitive carvings. The scene of Ann being led through the gates to the sacrificial altar was filmed at night with hundreds of extras and 350 lights for illumination. A camera was mounted on a crane to follow Ann to the altar. The Culver City Fire Department was on hand to do their job should the set go up in flames from the many native torches used in the scene. The wall and gate were destroyed in 1939 for Gone With the Wind's sequence of the burning of Atlanta. Kong's rampage through the village was filmed (again, with hundreds of extras) and filming was completed with individual vignettes of mayhem and native panic.

King Kong views Ann on the limb of a tree

In July 1932, the native village was readied while Schoedsack and his crew filmed establishing shots in the harbor of New York City. Curtiss F8C-5/O2C-1 Helldiver war planes taking off and in flight were filmed at a U.S. Naval airfield on Long Island. Views of New York City were filmed from the Empire State Building for backgrounds in the final scenes and architectural plans for the mooring mast were secured from the building's owners for a mock-up to be constructed on the Hollywood soundstage.[28]

In May–June 1932, Cooper directed the first live-action Kong scenes on the jungle set built for The Most Dangerous Game. Some of these scenes were incorporated into the test reel later exhibited for the RKO board. The script was still in revision when the jungle scenes were shot and much of the dialogue was improvised. The jungle set was scheduled to be struck after Game was completed so Cooper filmed all the other jungle scenes at this time. The last scene shot was that of Driscoll and Ann racing through the jungle to safety following their escape from Kong's lair.

King Kong was filmed in several stages over an eight-month period. Some actors had so much time between their Kong periods, they worked other films. Cabot completed Road House and Wray appeared in the horror films Dr. X and Mystery of the Wax Museum. She estimated she worked ten weeks on Kong over its eight-month production.

Live-action scenes

The dinosaurs were made by Delgado in the same fashion as Kong and based on Charles R. Knight's murals in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. All the armatures were manufacted in the RKO machine shop. Materials used were cotton, foam rubber, latex sheeting, and liquid latex. Football bladders were placed inside some models to simulate breathing. A scale of one-inch-equals-one-foot was employed and models ranged from 18 inches to 3 feet in length. Several of the models were originally built for Creation and sometimes two or three models were built of individual species. Prolonged exposure to studio lights wreaked havoc with the latex skin so John Cerasoli carved wooden duplicates of each model to be used as stand-ins for test shoots and lineups. He carved wooden models of Ann, Driscoll, and other human characters. Models of the Venture, subway cars, and war planes were built.[27]

Charles R. Knight's Tyrannosaurus in the American Museum of Natural History, on which the large theropod of the film was based[26]

Two versions of Kong's right hand and arm were constructed of steel, sponge rubber, rubber, and bearskin. The first hand was nonarticulated, mounted on a crane, and operated by grips for the scene in which Kong grabs at Driscoll in the cave. The other hand and arm had articulated fingers, was mounted on a lever to elevate it, and was used in the several scenes in which Kong grasps Ann. A nonarticulated leg was created of materials similar to the hands, mounted on a crane, and used to stomp on Kong's victims.[25]

A huge bust of Kong's head, neck, and upper chest was made of wood, cloth, rubber, and bearskin by Delgado, E. B. Gibson, and Fred Reefe. Inside the structure, metal levers, hinges, and an air compressor were operated by three men to control the mouth and facial expressions. Its fangs were 10 inches in length and its eyeballs 12 inches in diameter. The bust was moved from set to set on a flatcar. Its scale matched none of the models and, if fully realized, Kong would have stood thirty to forty feet tall.[24]

The stop-motion animated King Kong, battling a Curtiss Helldiver on top of the Empire State Building

After the RKO board approved the production of a test reel, Marcel Delgado constructed Kong (or the "Giant Terror Gorilla" as he was then known) per designs and directions from Cooper and O'Brien on a one-inch-equals-one-foot scale to simulate a gorilla 18 feet tall. Four models were built: two jointed 18-inch aluminum, foam rubber, latex, and rabbit fur models (to be rotated during filming), one jointed 24-inch model of the same materials for the New York scenes, and a small model of lead and fur for the tumbling-down-the-Empire-State-Building scene. Kong's torso was streamlined to eliminate the comical appearance of the real world gorilla's prominent belly and buttocks. His lips, eyebrows, and nose were fashioned of rubber, his eyes of glass, and his facial expressions controlled by thin, bendable wires threaded through holes drilled in his aluminum skull. During filming, Kong's rubber skin dried out quickly under studio lights, making it necessary to replace it often and completely rebuild his facial features.[23]

Video showing a Western Lowland Gorilla walking on all four limbs towards a second gorilla which is sitting around on a rock. The second gorilla turns towards the camera inquisitively.
Two Western Lowland Gorillas at Ueno Zoo displaying prominent belly and buttocks. Kong modelers would streamline the armature's torso to minimize the comical and awkward aspects of the gorilla's physique.


German-born Broadway veteran and silent film director Frank Reicher was cast as Captain Englehorn of the SS Venture, Victor Wong as the ship's cook Charlie, James Flavin as Second Mate Briggs, and a host of stuntmen and bit players as the ship's crew. Noble Johnson and Steve Clemente were members of the Cooper-Schoedsack inner circle and cast as the Native Chief and the Witch Doctor respectively while Etta McDaniel played mother of a child she rescues from Kong's rampage. Sam Hardy was cast as a theatrical agent and Sandra Shaw (later Mrs. Gary Cooper) was cast as the New York woman Kong drops to the street from the hotel ledge. Cooper, who was shot down in World War I in an Airco DH.4 and made a prisoner of war by the Germans, and who later flew with the Kosciuszko Squadron, played the airplane pilot and Schoedsack the machine gunner in uncredited roles in the film's final scenes.[22]

Other players

New Mexico native Jacques De Bujac was signed by Selznick as a contract player, given the name Bruce Cabot, and met Cooper when auditioning for The Most Dangerous Game. He almost walked out of his Kong audition (mistakenly believing he was trying out as a stunt double for Joel McCrea) but was convinced otherwise and received the role of Jack Driscoll, his first starring role.[20] He was an inexperienced actor and described his participation in Kong as standing in the right place, doing what he was told, and collecting a paycheck.[21]

Michigan native and veteran Broadway and silent film character actor Robert Armstrong played Wray's alcoholic brother in The Most Dangerous Game and, during filming, became a member of the Cooper-Schoedsack inner circle. He was a shoo-in as Denham when Kong was cast.[14] The film's romantic angle (rather than its jungle or animal angle) was played-up after animal films fared poorly at the box office in the early months of 1933. One exhibitor displayed a promotional still of Wray swooning in Armstrong's arms with the caption, "Their Hearts Stood Still...For There Stood Kong! A Love Story of Today That Spans the Ages!". Although the film's romantic subplot belongs to Cabot and Wray, established star Armstrong was chosen for the ad rather than the unknown Cabot.[18] Months later, Armstrong again played Carl Denham in Kong's sequel, The Son of Kong (1933).[19]

Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot

Wray recorded all her screams in one afternoon session during post-production.[15] On the film's 50th anniversary in 1983, one New York theater held a Fay Wray scream-alike contest in its lobby,[16] and, two days after her death on August 8, 2004, the lights of the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes in her memory.[17]

After the RKO board approved the Kong test, Cooper decided a blonde would provide contrast to the gorilla's dark pelt. Dorothy Jordan, Jean Harlow, and Ginger Rogers were considered, but the role finally went to Wray who wore a blonde wig in the film and was inspired more by Cooper's enthusiasm than the script to accept the role. According to her autobiography, On the Other Hand, Wray recounts that Cooper had told her he planned to star her opposite the "tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood". She assumed he meant Clark Gable until he showed her a picture of Kong climbing the Empire State Building.[14]

Fay Wray played bit parts in Hollywood until cast as the lead in Erich von Stroheim's 1928 silent film, The Wedding March. She met Kong co-directors Cooper and Schoedsack when cast as Ethne Eustace in The Four Feathers in 1929. Cooper cast her in 1932 as Eve Trowbridge in The Most Dangerous Game.[14]

Fay Wray (1933)
Fay Wray



Cooper felt Creelman's final draft was slow-paced, too full of flowery dialogue, weighted-down with long scenes of exposition,[11] and written on a scale that would have been prohibitively expensive to film.[10] Writer Ruth Rose (Mrs. Ernest Schoedsack) was brought in to clean things up and, although she had never written a screenplay, undertook the task with a complete understanding of Cooper's style. She streamlined the script and tightened the action. Rather than explaining how Kong would be transported to New York, for example, she simply cut from the island to the theater. She incorporated autobiographical elements into the script with Cooper mirrored in the Denham character, her husband Schoedsack in the tough but tender Driscoll character, and herself in struggling actress Ann Darrow. She rewrote the dialogue to give it some zip and created the film's entire opening chunk showing Denham plucking Ann from the streets of New York. Cooper was delighted with Rose's script, added the Arab proverb seen on the screen at the beginning, and approved the script (now called Kong) for production.[12] Cooper and Schoedsack decided to co-direct scenes but their styles were different (Cooper was slow and meticulous, Schoedsack brisk) and they finally agreed to work separately with Cooper directing the miniature and special effects scenes and Schoedsack directing the live-action scenes.[13]

Time constraints forced Creelman to temporarily drop The Eighth Wonder and devote his time to the Game script. RKO staff writer Horace McCoy was called in to work with Cooper, and it was then that the island natives, a giant wall, and the sacrificial maidens entered the plot. When Creelman returned to the script full-time, he hated these 'mythic elements', believing the script already had too many over-the-top concepts. RKO head Selznick and his executives wanted Kong introduced earlier in the film (believing the audience would grow bored waiting for his appearance), but Cooper persuaded them that a suspenseful build-up would make Kong's entrance all the more exciting.[11]

Cooper called in James A. Creelman (who was working on the script of The Most Dangerous Game at the time) and the two men worked together on several drafts under the title The Eighth Wonder. Some details from Wallace's rough draft were dropped, notably his boatload of escaped convicts. Wallace's Danby Denham character, a big game hunter, became film director Carl Denham. His Shirley became Ann Darrow and her lover-convict John became Jack Driscoll. The 'beauty and the beast' angle was first developed at this time. Kong's escape was switched from Madison Square Garden to Yankee Stadium and (finally) to a Broadway theater. Cute moments involving the gorilla in Wallace's draft were cut because Cooper wanted Kong hard and tough in the belief that his fall would be all the more awesome and tragic.[9]

Cooper assigned recently hired RKO screenwriter and best-selling British mystery/adventure writer Edgar Wallace the job of writing a screenplay and a novel based on his gorilla fantasy. Cooper understood the commercial appeal of Wallace's name and planned to publicize the film as being "based on the novel by Edgar Wallace". Wallace conferred with Cooper and O'Brien (who contributed, among other things, the "Ann's dress" scene) and began work on January 1, 1932. He completed a rough draft called The Beast on January 5, 1932. Cooper thought the draft needed considerable work but Wallace died on February 10, 1932 just after beginning revisions.[2][9] Cooper insisted however that Wallace died having written "not one bloody word," and that he gave the writer a screen credit simply because as producer he had promised him one.[10]



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