King Kong (1933 film)
|King Kong films|
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."
- Old Arabian Proverb
— Opening text from the film
King Kong is a 1933 American pre-code horror giant monster film co-directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack and written by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose from a story by Edgar Wallace and Cooper, with special effects by Willis O'Brien. Produced by RKO Radio Pictures, it is the first film to feature the monster King Kong. It stars Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, and Frank Reicher. The film premiered in New York City on March 2, 1933 and was released to American theaters by RKO on April 7, 1933.
One of the most famous motion pictures of all time, King Kong follows film director Carl Denham as he leads an expedition aboard the Venture to the uncharted Skull Island in order to film his latest picture. When the crew arrives on the mysterious island, Denham's leading lady Ann Darrow is kidnapped by the local natives and sacrificed to their god, the giant ape Kong. Denham, Venture first mate Jack Driscoll, and the rest of the crew launch a rescue mission into the heart of the island to save Ann, and find that Kong is not their only concern as they encounter a plethora of other prehistoric beasts. The film builds to an iconic climax where Kong is brought back to New York City and climbs atop the Empire State Building with Ann in hand for a final confrontation against a squadron of biplanes. King Kong was followed by a direct sequel, Son of Kong, later in 1933.
On a cold night in New York City, theatrical agent Charles Weston wanders the harbor before encountering a dock worker. He asks if the nearby large tramp steamer, the Venture, is the moving picture ship, and the worker replies that it is. However, he says that the other dock workers have been questioning director Carl Denham's sanity, as no one knows where he is going and he has brought strange cargo aboard the ship and staffed it with a much larger crew than necessary. First mate Jack Driscoll overhears the conversation and asks Weston's business, but quickly lets him aboard once he states his business. In the captain's quarters, Denham discusses how soon they should depart with the skipper, Captain Englehorn. Denham says that they need to leave soon before word spreads and the government sends a marshal to inspect their cargo, which includes a great deal of weapons, ammunition, and gas bombs. Jack brings Weston in, and Denham asks if he has found a leading lady for his picture. Weston replies that it cannot be done; he cannot convince any woman to embark on a voyage aboard this ship to a destination only Denham knows, especially on such short notice. Denham insists he needs a leading lady for his picture, saying critics always claim his films would be better with a love interest. This time, Denham says, he is going to give them what they want. He then puts on his coat and storms off the Venture, vowing he will find a woman for his movie tonight, even if he has to marry one.
Denham takes a taxi downtown to the women's home, but none of the candidates he sees catch his eye. Denham's search leads him to a fruit stand, where he witnesses a young blonde woman attempt to steal an apple, prompting the stand owner to angrily grab her by the hand and accuse her of being a thief. Denham comes to the woman's defense, giving the owner a dollar and telling him to scram. Denham asks the lady if she is all right, but she nearly faints from the shock. Denham brings the woman, Ann Darrow, to a café and pays for her meal. Ann thanks Denham, but he responds that he did not do this simply out of kindness. He asks Ann why a woman as pretty as her is out on the streets, and she responds that she lost her job and has no family outside of a supposed uncle somewhere. Denham inquires if she has any acting experience, and Ann replies she did work as an extra at a studio on Long Island which has since closed. Denham excitedly tells Ann she will be leaving with him tomorrow on the ship, but she is visibly confused and nervous. Noticing this, Denham explains who he is, and Ann recognizes him as the famous film director. Denham insists he is being strictly professional and promises "no funny business," and asks Ann if she will be the leading lady for his next picture. Ann happily agrees, and Denham says they will leave at dawn.
Early the next morning, Driscoll shouts orders to the crew above deck as the Venture prepares to set sail. Ann approaches to watch, and when Jack turns around he accidentally punches her on the chin. Jack asks what she is doing here, and Ann replies she wanted to see the preparations as she's never been on a ship before. Jack retorts that he has never been on one with a woman before, and finds them to be nuisances. Ann is irritated by Jack's attitude, and says she will not be a nuisance at all. Jack says she already has been just for being a woman, then promptly apologizes for punching Ann on the chin, but she laughs it off. The Venture then finally sets sail, much to Ann's excitement.
During the voyage, Ann talks with Charlie, the ship's cook, before Jack approaches. Jack asks why she is above deck, and she responds that Denham wanted to do some test shots of her to see which side of her face looks better for the camera. Jack tries to complement Ann, saying both sides look fine to him. She asks if Jack still thinks she is a nuisance and he responds that she is by virtue of being a woman. Ann is once again frustrated by Jack's opinion on women and says everyone on the ship seems to like her, even Englehorn. She says that Englehorn is a "sweet old man," and Jack laughs saying he would hate Englehorn to hear him say that. Denham approaches and remarks that the scene before him is "Beauty and the Beast," referring to the little monkey Iggy that Ann is playing with. Jack jokes that he is not that ugly, and Denham asks Ann to go put on some dresses for their test shots. Denham says the premise of his new movie will be "Beauty and the Beast," about a man who can take on anybody but falls for a beautiful woman, rendering him weak. He insinuates he believes Jack is falling for Ann but Jack defensively dismisses the notion. He again asks where they are going, to which Denham responds he can finally tell them.
On the bridge, Denham asks Englehorn their current position, which he points out as being located past Sumatra. He asks in which direction they should proceed, and Denham replies southwest. Englehorn says there is nothing that way, but Denham produces a crude map he says was given to him by a Norwegian skipper two years ago. Englehorn tries to find it on the chart, but Denham replies that the island is uncharted. The Norwegian skipper claimed he found a raft adrift at sea with several natives of the island; they rescued them, but they all died before reaching port. However, the skipper was able to piece together a description of the island and make a map. He shows Englehorn and Jack the map of Skull Island, an island with a village separated from the jungle by a huge wall, and most remarkably a huge skull-shaped mountain. When Englehorn asks what Denham expects to find there, Denham asks if he has ever heard of "Kong." Englehorn replies that he believes Kong is some kind of god or spirit from native superstition. Denham says all myth has a basis in reality, and he wants to see just what this "Kong" is if it is real. Later, Denham begins taking some test shots of Ann above deck while Jack and Englehorn watch. Denham at one point instructs Ann to stare up in horror and scream for her life, prompting the two men to wonder just what he expects her to see.
The Venture eventually becomes surrounded by a massive fog bank as it nears Denham's destination. When it finally lifts, everyone witnesses Skull Island dead ahead just as Denham's map described it. Denham orders a party to go ashore, with Ann asking to come along. Jack protests, but Denham replies he likes having his cast with him in case he needs them for a shot. The landing party departs aboard a smaller ship and enters the native village. There, they witness a strange ceremony. The island's chief watches over as men dressed in gorilla costumes dance around a woman adorned with jewels as the natives chant "Kong" repeatedly. Denham sets up his camera and begins filming the spectacle, but the chief sees him and begins to approach the party with his men. Englehorn tries to communicate in the natives' language, but the chief tells them to leave. Englehorn asks who the woman in the center of the ceremony is, and the chief replies she is the "bride of Kong." The witch doctor approaches the chief and speaks to him, which Englehorn translates as saying they have spoiled the sanctity of the ritual. The chief and his men continue approaching Denham's party with hostility before he sees Ann among them, exclaiming something which Englehorn translates as "Look at the golden woman." The chief offers to buy Ann, saying he will trade six of his women for her. Englehorn says they don't have a deal, causing the natives to become angry and approach closer. Denham orders everyone back to the ship before the natives surround them, and tells Englehorn to tell them they will be back tomorrow to "make friends."
That night, Jack encounters Ann on deck and asks if she is okay. Ann says she was a little scared, but Jack assures her that she is not the only one. Jack says that in fact he was scared for Ann, as he has come to care a lot for her. Becoming nervous, he confesses that he loves Ann and asks if she has the same feelings for him. Ann responds by embracing Jack and the two share a kiss. Englehorn calls Jack to the bridge, and Ann says she will wait there. Unseen by anyone else, a native canoe approaches the Venture, and one of the natives captures Ann and brings her onto the canoe. Charlie finds a native bracelet left behind in the struggle, realizes there has been an intruder and calls everyone on deck. Everyone searches frantically for Ann before realizing she has been captured by the natives. The men arm themselves and sail to the island to rescue her.
In the native village, Ann finds herself at the center of the same ritual she witnessed earlier. The natives then open the massive gate to the jungle and tie Ann to two posts outside. They then retreat back behind the wall and watch from above as Kong himself, a giant 50-foot ape, emerges from the jungle and observes Ann before carrying her off. The rescue team arrives as this occurs and Jack gets a good look at Kong through the gate. They force the gate open and storm into the jungle after Kong, to the chief's frustration. The team identifies Kong's footprints, remarking how huge they are. It is not long before the party encounters a Stegosaurus wandering the jungle. Upon seeing the humans, the beast charges them, prompting Denham to throw a gas bomb. The bomb stuns the Stegosaurus, which collapses at the ground. A rifle is fired to try and finish it off, but this only enrages the beast and it attacks again, before finally being brought down again. Denham shoots it in the eye, seemingly killing it and allowing them to pass. As they walk next to the creature, Jack asks what it is, and Denham replies that it is a dinosaur. Just as he says he would love to bring something like it back alive, the Stegosaurus' tail begins moving, prompting the crew to run away before it gets back up.
Following Kong's trailer, the Venture crew comes upon a swamp, and hear Kong wading across. Knowing they cannot expect to swim across, the men decide to build a raft from the surrounding logs. By the time it is completed, they are aware Kong is long gone but Denham believes they will be able to pick up his trail. As the raft crosses the swamp, something can be seen breaking the water's surface ahead. As the raft draws closer, the head and neck of a huge Brontosaurus emerge from the water and attack the raft. The monstrous dinosaur easily destroys the raft and kills several of the men swimming away by grabbing them in its mouth and tossing them through the air. Denham, Jack, and a few others reach the shore, but the Brontosaurus follows them onto land. It kills a few more men, but Jack and Denham are able to escape it with a few others. Picking up Kong's trail, they reach a log bridge spanning a chasm and begin crossing it.
Further into the jungle, Kong sets his "bride" atop a tree as he hears the Venture crew approaching and heads off to deal with them. Upon seeing him, the men run back onto the log bridge before Kong grabs and twists it, sending several men plummeting to their deaths. Jack climbs into a crevice on the valley wall, and watches as Kong shakes nearly everyone off the log before tossing it down into the chasm. Kong goes after Jack next, reaching his hand into the crevice. Jack pulls out a knife and stabs Kong's hand. Kong is angered, but hears Ann scream and turns around to find the disturbance. Jack sees a huge Two-Legged Lizard climbing toward him on a vine, but cuts the vine with his knife and sends it falling into the chasm below.
Kong returns to where he left Ann and finds her being menaced by a huge meat-eating dinosaur, which he promptly attacks. The two beasts fight, each using their incredible strength to knock the other down with their blows. Despite his strength, Kong is smaller than the meat-eater and struggles to keep it at bay. The meat-eater pushes Kong into the tree, causing it to fall over and trap Ann under it. Kong retaliates, flipping the meat-eater over his head and pounding on it. When the beast gets back up, Kong jumps onto its back and grabs its jaws, finally pulling it down to the ground. Kong continues prying apart the meat-eater's jaws before they finally snap and blood pours from the beast's mouth. Kong beats his chest victoriously before picking Ann back up and heading to his lair inside Skull Mountain.
Jack climbs back to the top of the chasm and sees Denham, the only other survivor, on the other side. Jack tells Denham to return to the village and tell the others who stayed behind what has transpired. He says he will try to rescue Ann from Kong, but if he is unable to do so he will find a way to signal where she is. Denham wishes Jack luck and heads back to the village, briefly turning his head to watch Jack set off bravely after Ann. Jack witnesses the aftermath of Kong's battle with the meat-eater, with a Scavenger Raven feeding on the dying dinosaur. Jack walks past the fallen meat-eater and witnesses it breathe its last as it bleeds out through its mouth. Jack follows Kong inside Skull Mountain, where the giant ape sets Ann down on a ledge. Just then, an Elasmosaurus slithers toward Ann, her scream alerting Kong who does battle with the serpentine reptile. The Elasmosaurus wraps its tail around Kong's throat in an attempt to strangle him, with Kong struggling fruitlessly to release its grip. As the Elasmosaurus tightens its body around Kong, he finally finds the strength to pull his foe off and whips it into the ground by its tail, breaking its neck and leaving it limp. Kong retrieves Ann again and carries her to a cliff overlooking the island. There, he begins to undress his "bride," before overhearing a rock fall down inside after Jack accidentally knocks it over. Kong leaves Ann on the cliff to investigate, only for a Pteranodon to descend and try to carry Ann away. Kong rushes to her rescue and grapples with the winged beast. Jack uses this opportunity to rescue Ann and begin to climb with her down a vine. Kong kills the pterosaur by breaking its jaws and begins biting and tearing at the corpse before throwing it off the cliff. When he notices Ann is gone, he frantically pulls on the vine, bringing Jack and Ann back toward him. The two have no choice but to jump into the water below. Kong bellows in anger and leaves the cliff to pursue them.
Inside the village, the rest of the crew become restless, believing Jack will never make it back alive. Denham asks Englehorn if they had any trouble with the natives, and Englehorn responds that they all retreated into their homes when they fired warning shots with their rifles. A man atop the wall says he sees Jack and Ann approaching, and Denham and the others quickly help them inside. As everyone prepares to leave, Denham refuses to go home empty-handed. Instead, he says he intends to capture Kong alive using his gas bombs. Jack says Kong is atop a mountain where no one could get him, but Denham believes Kong will follow them to the village because they have something he wants. The lookout reports that Kong is approaching, and the Venture crew and natives work together to seal the gate and try to hold it shut. However, they cannot stand up to Kong's raw strength as he breaks through the gate and storms into the village. Kong smashes the natives' houses like paper as everyone flees in terror. A group of natives throw spears at Kong from atop a wooden fortification, but the beast merely pulls them out and becomes more angry. He grabs one native and puts him in his mouth before throwing him aside and crushing the fortification. Kong further terrorizes the natives, placing them in his mouth before throwing them on the ground and crushing them under his heel. As Kong's rampage continues, the Venture crew make it back to their boat before Kong appears before them. Denham lobs a gas bomb at Kong, which disorients the giant ape before he finally passes out. Denham declares that they will build a raft to bring Kong back to the Venture while he is unconscious, and he will bring him to New York as his greatest show ever. He says they will all be millionaires after the world sees "Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World."
Some time later, Jack and Ann are engaged and are backstage at Denham's first public exhibition of "King Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World" inside a Manhattan theater. Members of the press arrive and begin asking all manner of questions to Jack, Ann, and Denham. Denham instructs the press members to come on stage to photograph Kong after he introduces the beast to the audience. Denham walks on stage before the crowd and says he is about to show them the greatest thing their eyes have ever beheld. The curtain is lifted, and behind Denham stands Kong, bound in chrome steel chains and restraints. Denham calls Ann and Jack onto the stage and says that Jack rescued Ann from this beast, and the two are soon to be married. He then tells the press to begin taking photographs. The camera flashes enrage Kong, and just as Denham realizes Kong believes they are attacking Ann the giant ape tears free from his restraints. Kong escapes the theater as all the spectators panic and flee. Upon emerging onto the street, Kong tears through Times Square. Jack and Ann escape to a nearby hotel, but unbeknownst to them Kong begins to climb that same hotel. He rips a sleeping woman from her bed and inspects her, but upon realizing she is not Ann drops her down to her death on the street below. Kong finally finds Ann's room, where Jack comforts her and assures her he will protect her. Kong reaches his hand into the room, and Jack tries to fend him off with a chair. However, Kong simply smashes the chair and knocks Jack out, then kidnaps Ann once more. Kong climbs onto the roof with Ann and looks down at all the people below before taking off. When Jack and Denham reach the roof, they see Kong is already gone. Kong reaches the street and destroys part of an elevated train track, causing the train to derail and crash into the street. Kong smashes the train cars before carrying Ann off somewhere else.
At police headquarters, Jack and Denham learn that Kong is climbing the Empire State Building with Ann. The police believe they cannot do anything to get him up there, but Jack proposes they wait until Kong sets Ann down and then pick him off with planes. The police chief likes Jack's idea and calls the Army to send in biplanes. Kong reaches the summit of the Empire State Building and observes Ann once more before he sees the planes approaching. As he prepares for yet another battle, Kong sets Ann down and roars defiantly. The planes fly by and fire their machine guns at Kong, which at first seems to have little effect. After several fly-bys, Kong smashes one of the planes out of the sky and sends it crashing to the street below. The planes continue circling Kong and unloading bullets at him until he finally begins to bleed and notice his wounds. As his strength fades and he succumbs to his wounds, Kong holds Ann one more time and admires her, then sets her back down. Kong looks longingly at Ann as the planes fly by again and riddle him with bullets. Finally, the gunfire is too much for Kong, who loses his grip and plummets from the top of the skyscraper to his death on the street below. Jack reaches the roof and reunites with Ann, and the two share an embrace.
Meanwhile, crowds gather around Kong's bloody corpse on the street, held back by police. Denham works his way to the body, where an officer remarks that the airplanes got Kong. Denham smiles somberly and says that it was not the airplanes, rather "It was Beauty killed the Beast."
- Main article: King Kong (1933 film)/Credits.
Staff role on the left, staff member's name on the right.
- Directed by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack
- Written by James Creelman, Ruth Rose
- From on an idea by Edgar Wallace, Merian C. Cooper
- Executive producer David O. Selznick
- Produced by Merian C. Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack
- Music by Max Steiner
- Cinematography by Edward Linden, Vernon Walker, J.O. Taylor
- Edited by Ted Cheesman
- Supervising art director Van Nest Polglase (uncredited)
- Production design by Carroll Clark, Al Herman
- Chief technician Willis O'Brien
- Special effects by Harry Redmond Jr. (uncredited)
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
- Victor Wong as Charlie
NHK Japanese dub
- Noriko Shindo as Ann Darrow
- Kiyoshi Kawakubo as Carl Denham
- Nobuo Kawai as Jack Driscoll
- Tetsuya Kaji as Captain Englehorn
Fuji TV Japanese dub
- Keiko Kuge as Ann Darrow
- Osamu Ichikawa as Jack Driscoll
- Koichi Kitamura as Captain Englehorn
- Seizo Kato as Charles Weston
TBS Japanese dub
- Gara Takashima as Ann Darrow
- Osamu Kobayashi as Carl Denham
- Masane Tsukayama as Jack Driscoll
- Kohei Miyauchi as Captain Englehorn
- Kenji Nakagawa as Charles Weston
Weapons, vehicles, and races
- Main article: King Kong (1933 film)/Gallery.
- Main article: King Kong (1933 film)/Soundtrack.
- 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 2, 1933 (New York City premiere); April 7, 1933 (general release) [view poster]
- Netherlands - April 28, 1933
- Brazil - May 28, 1933
- Mexico - July 27, 1933
- Czechoslovakia - September 1933
- Sweden - September 8, 1933
- Japan - September 14, 1933 [view poster]
- France - September 29, 1933 [view poster]
- Peru - October 3, 1933
- Spain - October 9, 1933 [view poster]
- Ireland - October 13, 1933
- Italy - October 13, 1933 [view poster]; 1949 (re-release) [view poster]; 1961 (second re-release) [view poster]
- 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 was released to theaters in Japan in 1933 by Chidori Kogyo. It was screened in its original English language with Japanese subtitles. The film was so successful in Japan that it inspired a comedic short film produced by Shochiku Kinema later in the year titled Japanese King Kong. Zensho Cinema later produced a film in 1938, The King Kong that Appeared in Edo, to capitalize on King Kong's popularity. Both of these Japanese Kong-related films are now considered entirely lost. King Kong was later re-released to theaters by Daiei in 1953. NHK broadcast a Japanese-dubbed version of King Kong on Christmas Day in 1960, while a separate dubbed version was broadcast on Fuji TV in 1967. TBS aired a third Japanese-dubbed version on November 8, 1981. All home video releases of King Kong in Japan simply featured the original English-language audio with Japanese subtitles, until Forward released the TBS dub to DVD on August 27, 2021.
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.
Magna Pacific DVD (2003)
- Region: 4
- Discs: 1
- Audio: English
- Subtitles: None
- Special features: None
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 various 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 either Son of Kong, Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young (1949), 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 the 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: Also packaged in the 4 Film Favorites Colossal Monsters Collection with Jack the Giant Slayer, 10,000 BC, and Cloverfield. This collection is out of print.
Alive Blu-ray (2022)
- Region: ABC
- Discs: 1
- Audio: English (DTS-HD MA Mono), German (DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono)
- Special features: Original German shortened cinema release version (76:28), the 1952 German release, German credits, colorized version (in German only), recreation of the spider pit scene by Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop, and more
- Notes: Also packaged in the King Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World - The Complete Collection Blu-ray with Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young.
- Evidence indicates that the allegedly conveyed plesiosaur-like appearance of the Loch Ness Monster was actually inspired by the Brontosaurus in this film. Skeptic Daniel Loxton remarked that this is apparent because a man from London made the first documented claim of seeing a creature akin to a plesiosaur at that lake in August 1933, during King Kong's theatrical run in his city.
- The Criterion Collection's 1984 King Kong LaserDisc is the first home video release to ever 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
This is a list of references for King Kong (1933 film). These citations are used to identify the reliable sources on which this article is based. These references appear inside articles in the form of superscript numbers, which look like this: 
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