Merian C. Cooper's first vision for the film was of a giant ape on top of the world's tallest building, fighting airplanes. He worked backward from there to develop the rest of the story.
The success of this film is often credited for saving R.K.O. Pictures from bankruptcy.
The trees and plants in the background on the stop-motion animation sets were a combination of metal models and real plants. One day during filming, a flower on the miniature set bloomed without anyone noticing. The error in continuity was not noticed until the film was developed and shown. While Kong moved, a time-lapse effect showed the flower coming into full bloom, and an entire day of animation was lost.
King Kong's roar was a lion's roar and a tiger's roar combined and run backward, but slowly.
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. Though the animators would brush the fur constantly to hide their work, it still shows up in the finished film. Many other filmmakers who have used the same technique actually admire this flaw, because it shows that the work was done by skilled artists using their hands.
For the scenes of Ann 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 Merian C. Cooper to stop filming.
It has been said that this was the first Hollywood film to use a fully symphonic musical score. As memorable and effective as the musical score was, some have made the same claim about R.K.O.'s Bird of Paradise (1932), released earlier. Regardless, Max Steiner, composer for both films (and many later classics, including Gone with the Wind (1939) and Casablanca (1942)) was a visionary, forward-thinking man. One of the legends surrounding this film is that director Merian C. Cooper paid Steiner from his own pocket after R.K.O. bosses expressed concern over mounting production costs.
This film was successfully re-issued worldwide numerous times. Some claim it was the first ever re-released film. In the 1938 re-issue, several scenes of excessive violence and sex were cut to comply with the Production Code enforced in 1934. Though many of the censored scenes were restored by Janus Films in 1971 (including the censored sequence in which Kong peels off Fay Wray's clothes), one deleted scene has never been found, shown publicly only once during a preview screening in San Bernardino, California in January 1933. It was a graphic scene following Kong shaking four sailors off the log bridge, causing them to fall into a ravine where they were eaten alive by giant spiders. At the preview screening, audience members screamed, and either left the theater or talked about the grisly sequence throughout the subsequent scenes, disrupting the film. Merian C. Cooper said, "It stopped the picture cold, so the next day back at the studio, I took it out myself."
The eighteen-inch model of King Kong was made from a metal mesh skeleton, a mixture of rubber and foam for the muscle structure, and rabbit fur for his hair.
When describing Kong to Fay Wray, Merian C. Cooper said, "You'll have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood." She thought it was Cary Grant.
Executive producer David O. Selznick left R.K.O. midway through production of this film. Selznick's last act of business at R.K.O., and probably his biggest contribution to the film, was to write a memo changing the name of the production from "Kong" to "King Kong."
This is the only film to debut at the two largest theaters in New York City, the Roxy and Radio City Music Hall, simultaneously. The total seating capacity was about ten thousand, and it sold out every performance (ten a day) at both theaters.
The 2005 DVD restoration further details the risqué liberties of a 1933 pre-code film release in two scenes. The first is when Ann is on the ship's deck while Charlie is peeling potatoes, and the second is where Denham is shooting some test footage of Ann ("Scream for your life, Ann, Scream!"). The thin material used for Ann's dress and gown in both scenes makes it obvious that Fay Wray is not wearing a bra, a wardrobe decision that may not have made it past the Breen Code the following year.
Jungle scenes were filmed on the same set as the jungle scenes in The Most Dangerous Game (1932), which also happened to star Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong.
At around eighty minutes into the film, a man, LeRoy Mason, standing in line to see Kong complains to his lady companion, "These tickets cost me twenty bucks." At presumably ten dollars per ticket, this would have been a tremendous cost in Depression-wracked 1933. By contrast, a ticket to see the 1933 New York Yankees, which featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, or to this movie itself, would have been about 35 cents. OBSERVER'S NOTE: This may have been secondary sale ticket pricing. Since this was a social event that many would have wanted to attend, it would be believable that scalpers would sell tickets priced for high demand.
For the shots of the airplanes taking off from the strip, the pilots were paid ten dollars each.
The "old Arabian proverb" opening the film was actually written by Merian C. Cooper.
Although many film historians insist that a spider pit scene was never shot, much less previewed, at least three production stills do exist showing the miniature ravine complete, with at least one spider and a crab creature, both of which are menacing miniature sailors. There was one person who claimed to have seen the first preview screening who said that the spider pit scene was in it, and the audience laughed at large bug-eyes on a spider model. He felt that this unintended laugh was the reason the scene stopped the film, and was cut.
Willis H. O'Brien never liked the giant head bust of Kong, which he thought had limited dramatic possibilities.
According to Orville Goldner in "The Making of King Kong", the film came in at thirteen reels. Merian C. Cooper feigned horror at the number thirteen, and insisted another scene be shot, to bring the film to fourteen reels. The new scene was the elevated train sequence, which Cooper had wanted all along.
The 22 inch (56 centimeter) high model of King Kong used in the film sold at auction in 2009 for about $203,000. It was originally covered in cotton, rubber, liquid latex, and rabbit fur, but most of the covering has decomposed over the decades. A similarly constructed model of a triceratops is owned by Peter Jackson, which he used in his own re-creation of the lost spider pit sequence.
As a child, Merian C. Cooper lived close to an elevated train, which kept him awake at night when it clattered across the tracks. This was the inspiration for the scene where Kong destroys an elevated train.
The two-legged lizard that creeps up out of the canyon toward Jack Driscoll, was actually meant to be an aetosaur, a reptile from the Triassic Period. However, because of the high price of armatures (the metal skeletons for the puppets), R.K.O. cut costs by not having hind legs made for it. As a result, the aetosaur has two forearms, no hind legs, and a more snake-like appearance.
After completing her scenes, Fay Wray spent a day in the sound studio recording a series of screams she dubbed her "Aria of the Agonies."
Scenes cut over the years of release and re-release: Kong chewing on the natives of the island; two scenes with Kong squashing one native each with his giant foot; the brontosaurus biting and throwing the men in the water; Kong putting a New Yorker in his mouth then throwing him down to the ground; a scene where Kong climbs a building, pulls out a sleeping woman with his giant hand, examines her, and when he finds it's not Ann Darrow, tosses her down to the sidewalk below; and, of course, Fay Wray's clothing being peeled off. The censor committee once stated that this was at least six minutes of editing. These scenes were all restored to the actual film in 1971, although the famous, or infamous, spider pit sequence has yet to be found, although the King Kong (2005) gives an idea of what it was like. Also, the 2005 DVD release of the 1933 film has Peter Jackson's recreation of that scene.
Authors Daniel Loxton and Donald Prothero, in their 2013 book "Abominable Science", argue that the UK release of "King Kong" in the spring of 1933 led directly to the supposed sightings of a sea monster in Loch Ness, Scotland. The first sightings of the supposed Loch Ness Monster occurred within six months of the film's release. The descriptions and blurry photos of "Nessie" that emerged from 1933 on seemed likely inspired by the scene in "King Kong" in which a prehistoric water beast, a "meat-eating" Brontosaurus, attacks the searchers on a raft.
Sensing a huge hit from industry buzz, MGM offered to buy the film outright from R.K.O. for $1.072 million (approximately $400,000 over its negative cost), figuring the little studio was reeling from losing $10 million plus in 1932. R.K.O. was smart to decline the offer. The film smashed attendance records nationwide, and ended up grossing $1.761 million during its initial release. R.K.O. would periodically, and extremely profitably, re-release the movie through the 1950s.
This film, along with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Laurel & Hardy movies, were thought to be Adolf Hitler's favorites. In his 2013 book "The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler" Harvard scholar Ben Urwand documents how Georg Gyssling, the Nazi Party's special consul, assigned to monitor Hollywood films, thought this scary monster ape movie might possibly be "an attack on the nerves of the German people," but there are other examples (M (1931) being a notable one) where Nazi leaders privately liked and consumed works of art they condemned and censored in public.
The eighteen-inch models of Kong, built by Willis H. 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 King Kong and the pterodactyl took seven weeks to film. This method of stop-motion photography proved to be a time-honored method of visual effects, and was used for many decades by other effects artists like Ray Harryhausen and Phil Tippett.
Fay Wray claimed that she personally insisted that her character be a blonde, and personally chose her wig at the Max Factor shop in Los Angeles.
In 1991, King Kong (1933) was added to the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress.
Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack had been wrestlers, and they acted out the fighting moves for the battle between the T-Rex and King Kong in the effects studio before the animators shot the scene.
The finished film utilized less than ten thousand feet of film, although 238 thousand feet were shot.
The T-Rex's hissing was achieved by combining a puma scream and high-compression air. The brontosaurus sounds were created by grunting into a double-chambered gourd.
The title character, "King Kong," does not appear until nearly 47 minutes into the picture.
There was more than one model of Kong used in the film. There are considerable differences between the Kong on the island and the Kong in New York City. For instance, the Skull Island Kong has a longer face, which the filmmakers thought made the ape look "too human."
Each night, the Kong models had to have their skins removed, so Marcel Delgado could tighten the hinges on the metal armatures.
The native village huts were left over from R.K.O.'s Bird of Paradise (1932). The Great Wall was part of the Temple of Jerusalem set for Cecil B. DeMille's Biblical epic The King of Kings (1927). The Great Wall set was later re-used in David O. Selznick's The Garden of Allah (1936), and finally re-dressed with Civil War era building fronts, burned, and pulled down by a tractor, to film the burning of Atlanta munitions warehouses in Gone with the Wind (1939).
The whole idea allegedly originated when Merian C. Cooper had a dream about a massive gorilla attacking New York City.
The scene with Fay Wray and the T-Rex became the first ever to use of rear projection at R.K.O. Pictures. The short sequence required three days to shoot.
While no known theatrical trailers from the original 1933 release are known to exist, there is a seven-minute audio teaser extant bearing the title "KONG Is Coming!". Whether it was intended as a radio spot or lobby attraction is uncertain. The audio is drawn from a disc source, and presents several minutes of sound effects, music, and dialogue from the original audio tracks - though not exactly as heard in the film - and the film is described by a very dramatic narrator. The teaser appears to use an alternate take of the dialogue as the adventurers walk around the dead stegosaurus, and several alternately mixed takes of Kong's roaring. The teaser is available to listen to on YouTube under the title "Kong is Coming!".
Art drawn for the press book for the original release of the film was contributed by Keye Luke, who was a highly regarded illustrator before he became an actor and whose works have appeared in films themselves, such as The Shanghai Gesture (1941).
Merian C. Cooper had originally planned for Kong to be exhibited in Yankee Stadium, but later decided on a mid-town theater. Special effects chief Willis H. O'Brien drew a sketch of Kong breaking loose in the stadium.
When the film premiered on Easter Sunday in London, twelve thousand people had to be turned away.
Merian C. Cooper was partially inspired by W. Douglas Burden, who brought the world's first captive Komodo dragons to the Bronx Zoo in 1926. Cooper was intrigued how the once mythic, massive predators quickly perished once caged and displayed for the public.
In the scene where Kong breaks into the village, a native jumps from an elevated hut and knocks over a chicken coop. As he falls backwards, it can clearly be seen that his wig comes flying off.
The project went through numerous title changes during production, including "The Beast" (original title of the draft by Edgar Wallace in the R.K.O. files), "The Eighth Wonder", "The Ape", "King Ape", and "Kong".
Most sequences had to be shot non-stop, often requiring twenty-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.
According to the book "David O. Selznick's Hollywood" by Ron Haver, costume designer Walter Plunkett (later noteworthy for Gone with the Wind (1939)), worked uncredited on this film. Specifically, he designed the "Beauty and the Beast" costume that Ann Darrow wears while Carl Denham is filming her screentest.
Kong's "official" height (from the posters) is fifty feet. He was closer to nineteen feet tall in the jungle and close to twenty-five feet when in New York City.
The live-action portion of the theater sequence was filmed in one day at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium.
According to Merian C. Cooper, although writer Edgar Wallace received screen credit, he "didn't write any of 'Kong' - not one bloody word!" However, his idea to give the giant ape human characteristics was incorporated.
Merian C. Cooper filmed the actors and actresses, then Willis H. 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 Ann'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.
Willis H. O'Brien, who earlier used stop-motion animation of dinosaur models in The Lost World (1925), had created several dinosaur models for his unfinished production, Creation (1931). Merian C. Cooper sold the idea for this film to R.K.O. executives in New York City by showing them a test sequence using O'Brien's models. The executives were stunned, never having seen anything like it, and green-lit production. O'Brien also used many of his "Creation" models in this film, including the T-Rex and the Pteranodon.
According to film editor Archie Marshek, who was a production associate on this film, the elevated train sequence was a last-minute addition by Merian C. Cooper, because the first cut of the film was thirteen reels, and the producer was superstitious.
When it was re-issued in 1952, close-up footage of The Empire State Building was added to the film for the scene where Kong grabs the first plane and tosses it off the side of the building. We see a pristine picture of the Empire State Building as it existed in the 1950s, with its television antenna. In the other scenes, the landmark building was part of "Hollywood Set," with archival aerial footage of the New York City skyline added. Consequently, the only actual on-location filming was done 19 years after the film's first release. Film processing improved by that time, and the difference in clarity between the 1933 footage and the added 1952 shot is quite evident.
It took a year after the actors and actresses were finished for Willis H. O'Brien to finish the effects work and Merian C. Cooper to get the film put together. Between her work on this picture and its release, Fay Wray made four other films.
Even before the script was completed, Merian C. Cooper started filming action sequences with Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong during breaks in the filming of The Most Dangerous Game (1932), which also had a jungle setting.
Most of the dialogue between Captain Englehorn and the Native Chief appears to be gibberish. But when the Chief offers to buy Ann Darrow, Englehorn is clearly heard saying, "Tidak, tidak," which is Malay for "No, no." This makes sense since the island is described as being off the coast of Sumatra.
At the time of the film's release, select theaters offered free promotional 150-piece jigsaw puzzles featuring Kong battling the T-Rex. Examples in good condition have recently sold for over $4000.
In addition to the models of Kong, Willis H. O'Brien had a twenty 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 Ann struggling in his grasp.
Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham) and Merian C. Cooper died only one day apart: Armstrong on April 20, 1973 and Cooper on April 21, 1973.
Ranked #4 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Fantasy" in June 2008.
Bruce Cabot (Jack Driscoll) once commented that Noble Johnson (The Native Chief) was very aptly named, as he thought that he was truly a noble and gentle man.
The last of three film collaborations involving Ernest B. Schoedsack, Merian C. Cooper, and Fay Wray.
Despite the logic of the name, and the title of the movie released in 2017, the island where most of the action takes place is never referred to as "Skull Island" in this film. Denham and Ann each mention "Skull Mountain," but the island itself is never named.
Jack Driscoll was based on Ernest B. Schoedsack, who was Merian C. Cooper's filmmaking partner.
This film's much heralded and long awaited television premiere took place in Hartford CT Sunday 4 March 1956 on WGTH (Channel 18) and for a week in New York City beginning Monday 5 March 1956 on WOR (Channel 9); ratings ran so high, the following week it was withdrawn from television distribution, and a successful nationwide theatrical re-release begun. As was a common television practice of the era, the film was cut to 70 minutes and presented in a predetermined ninety minute time slot, with approximately 20 minutes set aside for commercial interruptions. About a half an hour of original footage had to be eliminated in order to accomplish this feat.
Edgar Wallace died in Hollywood in February 1932 while working on the story for this film.
Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the Top 100 Greatest American Movies (as #43). In the 2008 10-year AFI anniversary of the original list, it was #41.
The remakes - King Kong (1976) and King Kong (2005) - show Kong with the same temperament as in the original film. In the less popular sequel, Son of Kong (1933) and the successful "distant cousin" Mighty Joe Young (1949), the Production Code of 1934 was a strong influence on the script for the central characters, as they were friendlier and less destructive.
Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Frank Reicher (Captain Englehorn), Victor Wong (Charlie), Noble Johnson (The Native Chief) and Steve Clemente (The Native Witch King) are the only actors to reprise their roles in Son of Kong (1933).
To keep in line with the use of most of the cast from The Most Dangerous Game (1932), the role of Jack Driscoll was intended for Joel McCrea. According to Fay Wray, however, McCrea's agents demanded more money, so the role was given to Bruce Cabot.
Bruce Cabot (Jack Driscoll), quite a lady's man, had a bit of difficulty being awkward in his scenes with Fay Wray.
Bear in mind it was quite the novelty in 1933 to see Kong climb to the top of the Empire State Building. The skyscraper had only been completed two years previously.
Although they are the protagonists of the film, Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll are neither seen nor mentioned in the sequel Son of Kong (1933).
(At around twenty-five minutes) When talking about the wall, Driscoll mentions being at "Angkor once." He was referring to Angkor Wat, a huge Cambodian temple complex built in the twelfth century.
On August 10 2004, two days after Fay Wray died, the Empire State Building darkened its lights in her memory.
Before the start of the show in New York someone mentions that the tickets cost him $20. To modern ears that doesn't sound like much, but adjusting for inflation these tickets would cost about $390 in 2019.
The models of Kong built for the island scenes were only eighteen inches high. When Merian C. Cooper decided Kong needed to look bigger while in New York City, a new twenty-four inch armature was constructed, thus changing Kong's film height from eighteen feet on the island to twenty-four feet while in New York City. While it's true Kong was made to look larger in the New York City scenes, there is no reason to believe one inch corresponded to a foot in the scale of the models. It's clear when looking at Kong on Skull Island that he's more than three humans tall, which is roughly how big he'd be if he were eighteen feet. A specific height was never given.
Director Ernest B. Schoedsack, his wife Ruth Rose (who wrote the screenplay for "Kong") and Robert Armstrong, are all interred in Westwood Cemetery, in California.
The original print was lost due to the poor practice of keeping older films in storage where many of them decomposed. Fortunately, more acceptable pieces of film were kept in England, Belgium and France, so they were all combined to create one pristine master. This took two years to complete.
The film was greenlit following the runaway success of the faux-documentary Ingagi (1930), which claimed to be a real account of the discovery of a tribe of gorilla-worshiping savages in Africa who submitted their women to the apes for sexual purposes. The film was notorious for its nudity. Viewed today, it is patently fake (the so-called African women were actresses in blackface and the whole thing was shot in Los Angeles). Long thought lost, several nitrate copies exist within the Library of Congress but obviously, because of its outdated racial perspectives, it will never be shown again.
Some of the illustrations used in the promotional material were created by future actor Keye Luke.
Included among the American Film Institute's 2001 list of the Top 100 Most Heart-Pounding American Movies.
During production, Willis O' Brien deliberately gave false advertising in reference to how the Kong effects were achieved. He did this to prevent anyone from discovering his stop motion techniques. In addition, the film set was a closed one throughout.
Merian Cooper reacted to a critic's charge of the movie's implausibility by admitting, "Sure it is; I can't think of anything more implausible." Ernest Shoedsack admitted to severe editing to speed the pace so that no one would realize how implausible it was.
Max Steiner's score for the film was unique for many reasons: it was the first feature-length original score for a talkie, the first major Hollywood film to use an original thematic score rather than background music, the first score to use a 46-piece orchestra, and the first score to be recorded on three tracks (one for sound effects, one for dialogue, and one for music).
The action of the movie takes place almost entirely at night. The only scene in full daylight is the initial meeting in the native village.
In his review in The New York Times (March 3, 1933), film critic Mordaunt Hall incorrectly refers to Fay Wray's character as "Ann Redman."
Carl Denham foreshadows the ending when he tells Jack Driscoll the story of the movie he's making: "The Beast was a tough guy... He could lick the world. But when he saw Beauty, she got him. He went soft, he forgot his wisdom, and the little fellers licked him."
The whole film was shot over a period of eight months. Fay Wray was able to shoot Doctor X (1932), The Most Dangerous Game (1932), and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) in between her King Kong (1933) assignments.
As a director, Merian C. Cooper was slow and meticulous whilst Ernest B. Schoedsack just rattled through scenes. After several days of working together and realizing that they didn't really coalesce as a team, it was decided that Cooper would work on the miniatures (which required precision and attention to detail) whilst Schoedsack would handle all the dialogue.
Jean Harlow and Ginger Rogers, both famous as blondes, were approached for the female lead, and both passed. Fay Wray, a brunette, took the part and insisted she play it in a blonde wig.
Despite having a major impact on the story and receiving fourth billing, Frank Reicher as Capt. Englehorn disappears after Kong's capture on the island and doesn't appear at all in the New York scenes.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Bruce Cabot walked out on the film at one stage. The reason for this remains unclear.
All of the jungle sets had actually been constructed long before "King Kong" went into production. The sets were meant for another project, which was shut down when the money ran out.
Originally RKO wanted to trim costs by not using an original score, so they instructed Max Steiner to re-use some of his old tracks. This did not go down well with Merian C. Cooper, who paid Steiner $50,000 of his own money for a brand new score. Steiner drafted in a 46-piece orchestra and completed the score in six weeks. The studio later reimbursed Cooper.
Edgar Wallace submitted his first draft of the screenplay in 1932 under the title of "The Beast." The novelist died before he could begin revisions. The final screenplay bears little relation to his efforts but he is still credited, as Merian C. Cooper had promised him full credit.
Merian C. Cooper met with some resistance from the RKO board over what they perceived to be a costly project with few guarantees of success. Ever savvy, Cooper drafted in English novelist Edgar Wallace to write the screenplay, knowing that having his name attached to the project would enhance his chances of success.
During filming, the rubber in the miniature of Kong's model would rapidly dry out so that the model would have to be continually rebuilt.
When Denham and part first arrive on the island and retreat, planning to "come back tomorrow," the tune he whistles as he's walking away is "St. James Infirmary."
A typical Willis O'Brien touch - during the scene outside Kong's cave on top of Skull Mountain, the Venture can be seen anchored in the distance.
The man who complains about the price of the ticket to see the King Kong exhibition in New York is actor LeRoy Mason.
If you discount the first word, "Say" as an exhortation or attention getter, both the first and last lines of the picture contain six words.
The shot of Kong falling away from the Empire State Building, discussed at greater length in a post also in this section, was designed to be similar to the shot where Kong realizes he's picked the wrong woman out of the hotel room and drops her. There were too many effects in the Kong shot and it was never completed to satisfaction.