King Kong (1933)
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Staff role on the left, staff member's name on the right.
- Directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack
- Written by Ruth Rose, James Ashmore Creelman, Merian C. Cooper
- Produced by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack, David Selznick
- Music by Max Steiner
- Cinematography by Edward Linden, J.O. Taylor, Vernon Walker, Kenneth Peach
- Edited by Ted Cheesman
- Production Design by Carroll Clark
- Assistant Directing by Doran Cox, Walter Daniels, Ivan Thomas
- Special Effects by Willis O'Brien, Harry Redmond Jr., Harry Redmond Sr.
Actor's name on the left, character played on the right.
- Fay Wray as Ann Darrow
- Robert Armstrong as Carl Denham
- Bruce Cabot as Jack Driscoll
- Frank Reicher as Captain Englehorn
- Sam Hardy as Charles Weston
- James Flavin as Briggs
- Noble Johnson as Skull Island Native Chief
- Steve Clemente as Witch King
- James Flavin as Second Mate
Weapons, Vehicles, and Races
- Main article: King Kong (1933 film)/Gallery.
- Main article: King Kong (1933 film soundtrack).
In the original story written by Edgar Wallace, which was simply entitled The Beast, the giant ape was named "Kong." The first script of the film was written by James Creelman under the working title The Eighth Wonder, and press booklets were sent off to thousands of movie theaters in 1932 to excite the theater owners into placing The Eighth Wonder onto their advertisements. The "King" was added to the title creature by studio publicists. The final script of the story, written by Ruth Rose (wife of director Ernest B. Shoedsack), finalized the title of the film as King Kong. Apart from the opening titles, the only time the name "King Kong" appears in the picture is on the marquee above the theater where Kong is being exhibited, and the marquee was in fact added to the scene as an optical composite after the live footage of the theater entrance had been shot. However, Denham does refer to Kong in his speech as "a king and a god in the world he knew."
Before any script or real story outline could even be considered, however, producer Merian C. Cooper needed a way to realize the story's title creature. He originally planed to shoot the scenes using what would later be known as "suitmation", meaning Kong would be portrayed by an actor in an ape suit. Fortunately, Cooper was introduced to Willis O'Brien, the inventor of stop-motion animation. In the early 1900's, O'Brien began to experiment with clay figures, eventually devising the process of stop-motion. His short film, The Dinosaur and the Missing Link, was bought by Thomas Edison in 1915, who comissioned him to create a series of stop-motion dinosaur shorts. In 1925, O'Brien worked on the special effects for The Lost World, which became a hit and astonished audiences with its amazing special effects. After The Lost World was released, O'Brien began to work on a new project called Creation. For the next seven years, O'Brien worked on the story and special effects for Creation, eventually finalizing a story outline and shooting a short test reel. When Merian Cooper saw the footage shot for Creation, he realized that he had found a way to create his giant ape. Unfortunately, RKO Pictures canceled Creation, and Willis O'Brien, in danger of losing nearly seven years of work, tried to convince Cooper that stop-motion could help him realize his monster, not knowing that Cooper already planed to use O'Brien to do just that. Many of the elements planed for Creation were incorporated into King Kong, including many sequences and plot ideas. Several examples of similar concepts and scenes include: a log bridge scene, a Pteranodon attacking the female lead, and the attacks of many of the dinosaurs. Many of the stop-motion model creatures in King Kong (with the exeption of Kong himself) were originally built by O'Brien for Creation, including the Tyrannosaurus rex, the Pteranodon, the Stegosaurus, the Brontosaurus, and the Styracosaurus (which was deleted from the final cut). Many other elements of the film were recycled from other films, and others were used again after King Kong was produced. The giant gate used in the movie was burned along with other old studio sets for the burning of Atlanta scene in Gone with the Wind (1939). The gate was originally constructed for the 1927 Biblical epic The King of Kings. It can also be seen in the Bela Lugosi serial The Return of Chandu. The native huts were previously used in RKO's Bird of Paradise (1932).
Some jungle scenes were filmed on the same sound stage set as those in The Most Dangerous Game, which was filmed during the day as King Kong was being shot at night, and also featured Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong in prominent roles. Other jungle sequences were filmed on Catalina Island. One of the several original metal armatures used to bring Kong to life, as well as other original props from the 1933 film, can be seen in the book It Came From Bob's Basement, a reference to long-time prop collector Bob Burns. One armature was on display in London until a few years ago in the now-closed Museum of the Moving Image. Peter Jackson bought all the original Kong dinosaur armatures from Forrest J Ackerman.
- The Fable of King Kong - An American Film Sensation (Die Fabel von King Kong - Ein amerikanischer Trick- und Sensationsfilm; Germany)
- King Kong, the Eight Wonder of the World (King Kong, la Huitième Merveille du Monde; France)
- United States - March 7, 1933
- Netherlands - April 28, 1933
- Brazil - May 28, 1933
- Mexico - July 27, 1933
- Czechoslovakia - September 1933
- Sweden - September 8, 1933
- Japan - September 14, 1933
- France - September 29, 1933
- Peru - October 3, 1933
- Spain - October 9, 1933
- Ireland - October 13, 1933
- Italy - October 13, 1933
- Denmark - November 1, 1933
- Turkey - December 1933
- Germany - December 1, 1933
- Portugal - January 2, 1934
- Finland - February 4, 1934
- Iceland - April 1934
- Hong Kong - May 25, 1934
King Kong had an estimated budget of $672,000 (roughly adjusted to $12,042,084) and made $1,845,000 from its initial theatrical release. Five re-releases followed in 1938, 1942, 1946, 1952, and 1956. The 1952 re-release was particularly successful, making more money than any of RKO's new films from that year, and played a major role in the decade's flood of monster movies, which included the original Godzilla.
Although King Kong was not the first important Hollywood film to have a thematic music score (many silent films had multi-theme original scores written for them), it's generally considered to be the most ambitious early film to showcase an all-original score, courtesy of a promising young composer, Max Steiner.
It was also the first hit film to offer a life-like animated central character in any form. Much of what is done today with CGI animation has its conceptual roots in the stop motion animation that was pioneered in King Kong. Willis O'Brien, credited as "Chief Technician" on the film, has been lauded by later generations of film special effects artists as an outstanding genius of founder status.
The film also utilizes unique camera tricks used to integrate live-action shots with special-effects shots. For example, at the end of the scene where Kong shakes the crew members off the log, he then goes after Driscoll, who is hiding in a small cave just under the ledge. The scene was shot using the miniature set, a mockup of Kong's hand and a rear-projected image of Driscoll in the cave. This is not the first known use of miniature rear projection, but it certainly is among the most famous of early attempts. Other techniques used for the film include the combination of both live-action shots and special-effects shots by running them through an optical printer, large rear-screen projections that enabled actors to act in front of a large screen on which the special effects scenes (such as the attack of the Stegosaurus) were played back, and many more.
Many shots in King Kong featured optical effects by Linwood G. Dunn, who was RKO's optical technician for decades. Dunn did optical effects on Citizen Kane and the original Star Trek TV series, as well as hundreds of other films and shows. In the 1990s, Dunn co-invented an electronic 3-D system now used for micro-surgery in hospitals and in the military, as well as co-inventing a video projection system with better resolution than 35mm film that is used in modern cinemas.
During the film's original 1933 theatrical release, the climax was presented in Magnascope. This is where the screen opens up both vertically and horizontally. Cooper had wanted to wow the audience with the Empire State Building battle in a larger-than-life presentation. He had done this earlier for his earlier film Chang, during the climactic elephant stampede.
DVD and Blu-ray Releases
Warner Bros. DVD (2005)
- Region: Various
- Discs: 2
- Audio: English (1.0 Mono)
- Special Features: Audio commentary by Ray Harryhausen, Ken Ralston, Fay Wray, and Merian C. Cooper, documentary on the making of the film (159 minutes), recreation of the spider-pit scene by Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop (6 minutes), test footage from Creation (5 minutes), Merian C. Cooper biography (57 minutes), trailers for Merian C. Cooper films
- Notes: A single-disc version was released in 2006 with only the audio commentary and trailer as bonus features. Some editions are packaged with Son of Kong, Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young, or King Kong (1976).
Warner Bros. Blu-ray (2010/2017)
- Region: Various
- Discs: 1
- Audio: English (1.0 Mono), Spanish (1.0 Mono), Portugese (1.0 Mono); other dubs vary depending on country
- Special Features: Audio commentary by Ray Harryhausen, Ken Ralston, Fay Wray, and Merian C. Cooper, documentary on the making of the film (159 minutes), recreation of the spider-pit scene by Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop (6 minutes), test footage from Creation (5 minutes), Merian C. Cooper biography (57 minutes), theatrical trailer
- Notes: The 2017 release can also be packaged with Son of Kong.
The first cut of King Kong was 125 minutes long. To improve the pacing, Cooper and editor Ted Cheesman removed a number of scenes, including a battle in an asphalt pit between Kong and two Triceratops, a giant snake menacing Ann, Kong walking to and from Skull Mountain, a pursuit of the Venture's crew by a Styracosaurus, leading them to their first encounter with Kong, and a New York poker game interrupted by Kong.
The most famous lost footage from the film is the spider-pit scene, in which the sailors shaken from the log by Kong were attacked and eaten alive at the bottom of the ravine by several creatures, including a giant spider, a giant crab, a giant lizard, and an octopus-like creature. An urban legend persists that the scene was removed because it terrified a test audience. However, a memo written by Cooper, recently revealed on a King Kong documentary, indicates that the scene was cut because it distracted the audience from Kong. According to "King Kong Cometh" by Paul A. Wood, the scene did not get past censors and audiences only claim to have seen the sequence. Stills from the scene exist, but the footage itself remains lost to this day. It is mentioned in the 2005 DVD by Doug Turner that Cooper, the director, usually relegated his outtakes and deleted scenes to the incinerator (a regular practice in all movie productions for decades), so many presume that the spider-pit sequence met the same fate. Models used in the sequence (a tarantula and a spider) can be seen hanging on the walls of a workshop in one scene of the 1946 film Genius at Work, and a spider and tentacled creature from the sequence were used in O'Brien's 1957 film The Black Scorpion.
Director Peter Jackson and his crew of special effects technicians at Weta Workshop created an imaginative reconstruction of the scene as a special feature for the 2005 DVD release of the film. He also included a rendition of the scene in his 2005 remake, with most men surviving the initial fall but having to fight off giant insects to survive, including spiders.
- Criterion's 1984 King Kong LaserDisc is the first home video release ever to contain an audio commentary.
- Script dated 9/1/32 to 9/6/32
- Scans of the King Kong pressbook
- The Digital Bits interview with Warner Home Video executives on the 2005 DVD restoration
- Maser Patrol article on the Delos W. Lovelace novelization and its differences from the movie
- List of firearms used in the film
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