King Kong

∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗∗ 

(8/10) In a nutshell: Whether actually sci-fi or not, King Kong still had a huge influence on the genre. The amazing stop motion photography, the models and the merging of live action and special effects, combined with the wonderful imagination of director/producer Merian C. Cooper make this one of the true Hollywood greats. This is rounded up by the groundbreaking musical score by Max Steiner. Unfortunately the dialogue is appalling, the script contrived and the acting wooden. The only actor to hold a candle to Kong himself is the immortalized scream queen Fay Wray.

King Kong. 1933, USA. Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Written by James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace, Leon Gordon (uncredited). Starring: Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Fay Wray, Frank Reicher, Noble Johnson. Produced by Cooper, Schoedsack & David O. Selznick for RKO. Tomatometer: 98 %. IMDb score: 8.0

Is this the most widely recognized movie scene in history?

Is this the most widely recognized movie scene in history?

We all know the story of King Kong by heart, even if we have never seen the film. Filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) sweeps up a girl who is down on her luck, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), and takes her on a journey on a ship, to appear in one of his films. The trip takes them to an uncharted island, where Denham hopes to film the mysterious Kong – a creature terrorizing the natives. On the island they find that the black natives have built a huge wall to keep out Kong – and they happen to interrupt a sacrificial rite when they arrive. The natives kidnap the golden-haired Darrow and present her to Kong, prompting Denham and his crew to go on a rescue mission, where they first encounter King Kong, the giant gorilla. 

Original poster.

Original poster.

Kong fights off the intruders, separating them at a huge gorge, leaving only Darrow’s new-found love interest, first mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) to chase the beauty and the beast alone. King Kong falls in love with the beautiful Darrow, and heroically defends her against several dinosaurs that attack them on the island. Finally Driscoll manages to rescue Darrow, and Denham and his team tranquillize the beast with gas. As Denham hasn’t got his film, he decides to take Kong back home to New York, where he displays it in a theatre, chained with ”chrome steel” chains, no less. But Kong breaks free, snatches upp Darrow, and escapes to the top of newly built Empire State Building. Here Cabot and and a bunch of pilots shoot down Kong from their airplanes. With the giant ape lying on he ground, a police officer comments to Denham: ”Well, Denham, the airplanes got him!”, to which Denham solemnly replies: ”No, no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty who killed the beast”.

It’s questionable whether this is sci-fi, and it probably is better described as fantasy adventure. But a) if The Lost World (1925, review) can be classified as sci-fi then why not King Kong? and 2) it’s a film that has had such an impact on sci-fi, that it would be a crime to leave it out. But I apologize in advance for not digging just as deep into this one as some of the other films I review. (Ha ha, you wish, I say now, 24 hours and 7 pages of text later …)

Scene from the 1930 film Ingagi.

Scene from the 1930 film Ingagi.

The film is the brainchild of director/producer Merian C. Cooper, head of production at RKO at the time. Cooper had already worked with the other director/producer of the film, Ernest B. Schoedsack on a few films since the late twenties, and they specialized in the sort of adventure films that were extremely popular at the time – often taking place in Africa or some other exotic location. Jungle adventures with savage natives, lions, tigers, elephants and strange and fantastic creatures were often cheap to make and drew a decent crowd. Especially popular among the public were primates. Apes and monkeys in films were a staple, sometimes real ones, but often played by a man in a suit. Such was the case with the infamous exploitation film Ingagi, released in 1930. Ingagi was presented as a documentary of African women being given as sex slaves to gorillas, and featured nudity and implied sex between women and gorillas. It was, however, film in Los Angeles, and partly featured white actors in in blackface and men in (to modern eyes) obvious gorilla suits (one of these men was The Gorilla Man himself, Charles Gemora, presented in the review of Island of Lost Souls, 1932). It was, however, a huge success and was one of the most seen films of 1930, despite the fact that some distributors refused to show it. Cooper has claimed that Ingagi was not an inspiration for his film, but to RKO anything with a giant gorilla and a beautiful woman meant dollar signs, so at he very least Cooper can thank Ingagi for getting the project green-lit. (Ingagi is not to be confused with Son of Ingagi, which is the first all-black cast ”old dark house”-styled horror movie [1940]).

Cooper had for some years worked on an idea of a jungle fantasy filmed in Africa, of a gorilla fighting komodo dragons, involving a female explorer, but couldn’t get the project off the ground, as it was deemed too expensive. When he came to RKO in 1931 he got involved in a major fantasy production called Creation, involving an island with dinosaurs on – basically an unauthorised remake of The Lost World – with a budget that had spiralled out of control. RKO had even hired The Lost World’s stop motion animators Willis O’Brien and Marcel Delgado to do the dinosaurs. Cooper was unimpressed with the work done on Creation so far, and decided to shelve the production. But when he saw O’Brien’s stop motion work, he got the idea to do the gorilla as a stop motion creature in gigantic scale, battling dinosaurs and climbing up on the Empire State Building, that had been completed in 1931. There was also a great jungle set created for their influential 1932 manhunt film The Most Dangerous Game, that he realized he could reuse for the film. For scripting he called up British mystery/adventure/sci-fi writer Edgar Wallace, but he died suddenly after completing only a rough draft. James A. Creelman was called in, and he made some major revisions – turning the big game hunter in Wallace’s script into a film maker and developing the ”beauty and the beast” theme. Cooper thought his script was too long, slow, expensive, and filled with flowery dialogue, so he gave it to Ernest B. Schoedsack’s wife Ruth Rose, who had never written a screenplay before. She nonetheless hacked Creelman’s script relentlessly, cutting several scenes, simplified and spiced up the dialogue, and reworked the two male leads to resemble Cooper and Schoedsack. Cooper loved it.

1933_king_kong_029

Merian C. Cooper, Willis O’Brien, Fay Wray and Ernest B. Schoedsack, and the natives.

Delgado and O’Brien revolutionised special effects with their work on The Lost World, and stepped things up further with King Kong. It was Delgado who was mainly responsible for making the models, that were more like articulated puppets than just simple clay models that were often used previously. Delgado built four different Kong models, and several dinosaurs. They were built around an aluminium endoskeleton which made them easier to animate, and gave them natural joints. For the actual modelling, he used foam rubber, latex and cotton, and rounded Kong up with rabbit fur. He also crafted a huge bust of Kong’s head with wires controlling the facial expressions, that took three people to articulate, and an articulated hand, as well as a huge static hand for Fay Wray to sit in.

1933_king_kong_026

Delgado in later years with the endoskeleton of King Kong.

Apart from his impeccable animation (for more on that, see the review of Lost World), what so stunned the audiences was O’Brien’s uncanny ability to combine live action with animation, hugely improved from his previous dinosaur film. For wide shots he would use animated puppets of Wray wriggling in Kong’s hands, and could perfectly match the live action of Wray in the huge hand with his animation, so we got scenes where it actually looks as if Kong is holding and prodding her. And the scene of Kong at the top of Empire State Building is, of course, one of the most iconic of film history.

There are also some moments of genius in the rest of the direction, most notably the scene where Kong is first revealed. The marvellously expansive scene against the huge wall is shot at night with hundreds of black extras dressed as natives. In a long unbroken crane shot the camera follows Darrow as she is being dragged through a throng of extatically dancing and chanting natives to the gigantic gate, and gets strung up between to totem poles on an altar on a ledge by a vertical drop (screaming, of course), just outside the gates. The gates close, and the blaring music reaches fever pitch – until it suddenly stops – and all sound goes mute, creating amazing suspense. The native chief (Noble Johnon) stands in front of a huge gong with four servants, two holding torches, two other hold giant ”drumsticks”. The chieftan speaks a few commanding staccato sentences, ending with ”Kong”. The gong sounds. Silence. The chieftan speaks agian. ” … Kong”. Silence. A third time. ”… Kong”. Silence … and then a huge ROAR like a blast of thunder as we hear King Kong for the first time. Absolutely sublime filmmaking.

Unfortunately the rest of the film is not as well directed. All of Willis O’Brien’s scenes are pure magic, and Schoedsack/Cooper handle the action and adventure parts well. But as soon as we get to dialogue and drama we’re suddenly in B-film land. The exposition scenes and the human interaction seem very slapdash, as if the directors simply wanted them out of the way to get to the chase. The dialogue is often stilted, the direction and filming flat and uninspired, and the acting wooden. Robert Armstrong was a part of the Schoedsack/Cooper inner circle and is horribly miscast as the fast-talking, reckless Denham. He stands around stiff as a board and shouts out his lines as if he were reading them from cue cards at breakneck speed. Bruce Cabot as the romantic lead is even more wooden and comes across as a complete buffoon. It isn’t helped by a hopelessly scripted scene where he just sort of blurts out to Darrow, a woman he hardly knows, that he is in love with her, and adds the idiotic line of ”you wouldn’t happen to have the same kind of feelings for me?” And of course they kiss. Just like that. Aargh. Makes you want to crawl down a hole and never return. Fay Wray is awfully cute, and screams like a champ, and even handles her nondescript role fairly well. But an Oscar winner she ain’t. The best performance in the film, apart from King Kong, is given by German-born director Frank Reicher as the captain of the ship, and by Noble Johnson as the native chief – and we don’t even understand a word he is saying. The Peter Jackson remake (2005) gets a lot of flack, but at least they had some decent actors in that film.

The beautiful scream queen Fay Wray in a promotional picture for King Kong.

The beautiful scream queen Fay Wray in a promotional picture for King Kong, in Walter Plunkett’s revealing dress.

The film led to a quickly cobbled together sequel, Son of Kong, released the same year, again with Armstrong and Reicher, and adding Helen Mack as the female lead. The script was written by Ruth again, and played heavily on comedy. The film describes Denham returning to the island looking fir a lost treasure, and encountering a smaller Kong, believed to be the song of King Kong. It received negative reviews, but was a modest commercial success.

The face of Kong.

The face of Kong.

King Kong did nothing to halt the onslaught of bad ape films, although it would take decades before anyone tried to replicate the special effects of the two original Kong movies. Japan produced the unauthorised King Kong Appears in Edo, one of the first Japanese Kaiju, or giant monster films, with a man in a gorilla suit in 1938, and in 1948 Jack Bernhard directed the Unknown Island, featuring monkey suits and really, really hokey dinosaurs suits and crude rubber puppets.The first ones to replicate the stop motion animation ape were the original team of Cooper/Schoedsack along with O’Brien/Delgado, now with the help of a young apprentice called Ray Harryhausen, who would go on to become a stop motion animator of even bigger fame than his teacher. The film was 1949’s Mighty Joe Young, that featured a kinder and more heroic ape, and it is perhaps the best big ape film made to date. A scene where Joe Young fights a pack of panthers, throwing them through the air, and punching them repeatedly, outraged animal rights groups, even though they were stop motion models. King Kong had a huge impact on later giant monster films, and was the main inspiration, along with The Lost World, on the Ray Harryhausen-animated The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms (1953, review) and the original Godzilla (1954. review). Japanese film company Toho also had Godzilla fight King Kong in Godzilla vs King Kong (1962) and he featured again in the kaiju film King Kong Escapes (1967). Dino de Laurentiis remade King Kong in an infamous flop with make-up artist Rick Baker in an ape suit in 1976, and produced a much funnier sequel, King Kong Lives, in 1986. Hot off the heels of The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson remade King Kong in 2005 with CGI effects in an artistically accomplished, but dreadfully long 3 hour film. But credit must be given to Jackson, the team at special effects company Weta and actor Andy Serkis for revolutionising digital effects with their motion capture technique just as much as O’Brien revolutionised physical effects with his stop-motion work. A prequel called Skull Island is currently (2014) in the workings.

Kong fighting off a lizard of prey.

Kong fighting off a lizard of prey while holding on to Fay Wray.

Writer Edgar Wallace was a curious type. He started out as a journalist, covering many stories abroad, including Africa, and wrote a tremendous amount of dime novels, mostly thrillers and adventure stories. He said that he loved writing sci-fi, but his sci-fi books did not sell, so he mostly stuck to the genres that the audience wanted most. Wallace’ method of work was to lock himself in a room with an early version of a dictaphone, where he would then dictate the book from beginning to end, sometimes in only three days, and sometimes working nearly 72 hours straight. Assistants would then type down the stories, which meant he was able to release books at tremendous speed (and may be why Cooper insisted that he “never wrote a damn word” for King Kong). His publishers published almost everything he ”wrote” without much editing. None of his books were especially famous, and they were universally panned by critics, although his energetic storytelling received praise. One critic wrote that his stories were ”cliché- ridden, characterization that is two dimensional and situations [that] are frequently trite, relying on intuition, coincidence, and much pointless, confusing movement to convey a sense of action. The heroes and villains are clearly labelled, and stock characters, humorous servants, baffled policemen, breathless heroines, could be interchanged from one book to another”. His description of natives in Africa was lambasted as racist, and George Orwell (author of 1984) called him a ”proto-fascist”. Despite the lack of literary recognition, there are over 200 film or TV adaptations of his books (or the Kong screenplay) listed at IMDb.

Merian C. Cooper worked on many high profile films, including several with John Ford, such as his cavalry trilogy and the 1956 Searchers, as well as films like Little Women (1933) and The Last Days of Pompeii (1937). The 1952 John Ford film The Quiet Man was nominated for an Oscar as Best film. His only all-out sci-fi film was the the 1940 ”shrinking man” film Dr. Cyclops (review), made a whole 17 years before the much better known The Incredible Shrinking Man. His first name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is misspelled as ”Meriam”.

African-American film pioneer Noble Johnson as the native chief.

African-American film pioneer Noble Johnson as the native chief.

Dr. Cyclops was also directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack. Schoedsack and Cooper were old friends from fighting together in World War I and held a close relationship throughout their careers. They both started out making documentaries for Paramount before moving to RKO. Schoedsack is best known for the manhunt film The Most Dangerous Game, filmed in tandem with King Kong, the latter, and Mighty Joe Young. The Most Dangerous Game was based on the short story of the same name (also published as The Hounds of Zaroff) by Richard Connell, and featured a big-game hunter becoming the prey himself as he is stranded on an island with a crazy cossack lord. The book and the 1932 film inspired numerous later movies, including some dystopian sci-fi’s. The film was largely made with the same production team that made King Kong; it starred both Armstrong and Wray, alongside Leslie Banks and Joel McCrea. It was directed by Schoedsack and Irving Pichel, written by James Ashmore Creelman, and the score was composed by King Kong-composer Max Steiner. Cooper produced.

The golden-haired Wray of King Kong was actually a brunette. She wore a blonde wig for King Kong, as it contrasted the ape's dark fur.

The golden-haired Wray of King Kong was actually a brunette. She wore a blonde wig for King Kong, as it contrasted the ape’s dark fur.

Fay Wray was a teenage starlet who got her first big breaks in horror and adventure films like Doctor X (review) and The Most Dangerous Game (both 1932), as well as The Vampire Bat and The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933). With King Kong she became internationally known as the scream queen, and appeared in a number of dramas and mystery films during the thirties, but was never accepted as an A-list actress. In the forties she partly withdrew from the business, although she did continue to appear in films sporadically, and made a slight comeback during the fifties, appearing in about one film a year, until 1958, when she completely dropped out of films, before making a surprising appearance in Gideon’s Trumpet in 1980. Peter Jackson approached her to deliver the famous line ”Beauty killed the beast” in his King Kong remake, but sadly she passed away in 2004 before she had the time to do it. The lights of the Empire State Building were dimmed in her memory after her death. Despite receiving few accolades in her prime, she was awarded with lifetime achievement awards later in life, and was a special guest at the 1980 Oscar gala.

King Kong was one of Bruce Cabot’s first roles, and he has later described his work as ”standing where I was told to stand, speaking my lines, and doing what I was told”. Despite his abysmal apperance, he would later become a major box office draw, starring in Fritz Lang’s (Metropolis, 1927, review) first Hollywood film Fury as a lynch mob leader in 1937 and the blockbuster western movie Dodge City, starring Erroll Flynn. After fighting in WWII he teamed up with John Wayne, who cast him in 10 of his films. His last role was in the 1978 James Bond film Diamonds are Forever. Cabot plays Saxby, the corrupt casino manager employed by Jimmie Dean’s playboy Willard Whyte. As Saxby is shot and tumbles down a hill, Sean Connery, realizing it is him, states: “Saxby.” Dean: “Bert Saxby? Tell ‘im he’s fired!”

King Kong, Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young remain Robert Armstrong’s best known films.

Noble Johnson as The Nubian in The Mummy (1932).

Noble Johnson as The Nubian in The Mummy (1932).

The native chieftain was played by the African-American film pioneer Noble Johnson, often sadly forgotten when talking about groundbreaking black actors in America. Johnson started out in silent films as early as 1909 when he filled in for an injured actor playing a native American. Johnson was light-skinned enough to pass as a variety of nationalities, and the black and white film stock was less discriminate to skin colour. In the course of his career he would play Arabs, Latinos, Africans, Polynesians and even Asians if need arose. His great acting talent combined with his athletic physique and tall stature quickly made him a sought after actor for bit parts as exotic ruffians, nobilities and warriors, as well as a number of prominent parts in high-profile films. Salaries from Kinkaid, Gambler (1916) and the Jules Verne-inspired 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1916, review) helped him set up his own film company, The Lincoln Motion Picture Company, that produced so called ”race films” aimed at the black audience in 1916. The race films were films made by and for a black audience, where African-Americans could be portrayed as real people, instead of the often racist stereotypes prominent in mainstream films. He appeared in about a dozen films between 1917 and 1921, using his salaries from Universal to keep his own company going, until he resigned in 1921 because of internal strifes.

1921 also saw him appear in the big budget epic The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse starring Rudolph Valentino, and by the time he acted in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments in 1923 he had already become America’s first black major movie actor. He played an Indian prince in the 1924 Thief of Baghdad, and the devil himself in Dante’s Inferno the same year (and reprised in 1935). He continued his epics with Ben-Hur in 1925, DeMille’s The King of Kings (1927) and Noah’s Ark (1928). He had a major starring role as the master harpooner Queenqeg in Moby Dick (1930). In 1932 and 1933 he starred in two of his most widely remembered roles, as The Nubian in Karl Freund’s classic The Mummy starring Boris Karloff, and the native chief in King Kong. He later appeared in Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon (1937) and as the native American Red Chief in John Ford’s classic She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. He retired in 1950, and died in 1976 – 96 years old. Ironically, while he set up his own company partly in order to break down racial stereotypes and portray black people in a positive light, his Hollywood roles often helped to strengthen these same stereotypes. While we cringe at seeing white people play in blackface in early films, few seem to have problems with a black man portraying a native American, a Latino, or an Indian prince. Many of his roles included servants, brutes, other stereotypical ”Negro” roles. But on the other hand, a black man in Hollywood in those days couldn’t afford to be picky.

Steve Clemente as the Witch King.

Steve Clemente as the witch chief.

The only other credited native in King Kong is the witch chief, a charismatic character, snarling and flailing aggressively at the explorers. This role was played by Esteban ”Steve” Clemente, a Mexican-born actor who started acting in Hollywood movies in 1917, and who also acted in a number of movies, playing several ”races”, but mostly Latinos – in four of his movies his character’s name was Pedro. Clemente’s initial ticket to Hollywood was his prowess as a knife thrower, which landed him a role in one of John Ford’s films. He showcased his knife throwing abilities in several movies, and was sometimes trusted to throw his knives just inches away from leading actors – he never missed his mark, according to legend. He also had a reputation as a good stunt man. Clemente appeared in the 1941 sci-fi serial Captain Marvel.

A fun fact was that both Clemente and Johnon had to paint their faces darker to appear in Kong Kong, as they weren’t deemed black enough for the roles. So we have a black man and a Latino in blackface. Oh the irony.

Victor Wong as Charlie the cook.

Victor Wong as Charlie the cook.

The supporting role of the ship’s Chinese cook Charlie was played by American actor Victor Wong (not the later Chinese-American actor Victor Wong from 3 Ninjas and Big Trouble in Little China, who is in turn often confused with Pat Morita of Karate Kid fame), who reprised his role in Son of Kong. Wong was mostly confined to bit parts or small supporting parts throughout his career.

As a theatre-goer in New York (according to some sources also as a native dancer) we see the legendary half Native American athlete Jim Thorpe, known for winning Olympic gold medals in both decathlon and pentathlon in Stockholm 1912, and later had a successful career in baseball, American football and basketball. He was later stripped of his Olympic medals, as it turned out that he had played baseball professionally prior to the games – forbidden as the Olympics were strictly for amateur athletes at the time. This caused great controversy both nationally and globally, as it was seen by many as motivated by racism. In modern times, Thorpe was voted by ABC as the greatest American athlete in history, and in 1950 as America’s greatest footballer of the first half of the 20th century. He was played by Burt Lancaster, of all people, in the 1951 film bearing his name. The connection is not that far fetched (well it is, but there is a connection). Even if Lancaster had no Native American ancestry, all his grandparents came from Northern Ireland, and Thorpe’s mother was Irish. Jim Thorpe appeared in bit parts and as an extra in as many as 69 films over the course of his life.

Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray.

Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray.

Apart from the groundbreaking stop motion effects and the clever combination of animation and live action, another one of King Kong’s great contribution to films is the musical score by Max Steiner. The description above of the first revelation of Kong, and how the music helps to build up the moment, is a good example of the ingenious score of Steiner. In these early days of sound film, it wasn’t at all set in stone that a movie was supposed to have a score. Think for example of Frankenstein (1931, review), that had no music except for the start and end credits. King Kong wasn’t supposed to have music – but the studio demanded it since they were not sure if the audience would buy the special effects. Music would help them get in the mood for the scenes, they thought, and asked Max Steiner – a respected composer but not a big name at the time – to create a soundtrack. RKO didn’t want to pay for a new composition, though, and asked Steiner to put together a score from stock music.

Max Steiner and the King Kong orchestra.

Max Steiner and the King Kong orchestra.

But Merian C. Cooper protested, and told Steiner to compose a score to the best of his abilities, and promised to pay for the orchestration from his own pocket, whatever the cost. Steiner certainly took advantage of the offer, and hired an orchestra of 80 musicians. Ironically, the result was one of the most legendary soundtracks of film history, and a milestone for film music. Steiner not only set the mood for the scenes, as was the custom, but brought the music into intimate interaction with the visuals – making it almost a character in the film. Contemporary critics were blown away, and many thought the music was one of the reasons the film actually worked, despite the hokey dialogue and the incredulous script. Thus says film historian Ronald Haver: ”There had never been a score so ambitious and so perfectly attuned to the visuals; Steiner’s music for King Kong was and is a landmark of film scoring, as much responsible for the success of the film as Cooper’s imagination and O’Brien’s gifted animation”.

Steiner was born into music in Austria, and Richard Strauss was his godfather. During his youth he studied under two of the greatest composers of the 19th and 20th century, Johannes Brahms and Gustaf Mahler. King Kong was his breakthrough in Hollywood, and he would go on to win three Academy Awards for his music. The American Film Institute in its respected ”100 Years of Film” list, ranked his score for Gone with the Wind (1939) as #2 and King Kong as #13 of all American film scores in history. He also scored Son of Kong, and during his career composed 380 films with either his own material or stock music. Despite the whopping number, he somehow managed to keep completely clear of sci-fi after Kong.

Uncredited special effects photographer Vernon L. Walker was later nominated for 4 Oscars for special effects and worked on a number of successful films, including Orson Welles’ ”the best film in history” – Citizen Kane. King Kong was cameraman Kenneth Peach’s first film, and he would later establish himself in TV, but he did film the cheap 1959 sci-fi film It! The Terror from Beyond Space, often cited as the main inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Alien (although that is a hotly debated topic). Costume designer Walter Plunkett was Hollywood nobility, and his designs for famous films are too numerous to list – suffice to say he won an Oscar and was nominated for a whopping nine! The point of interest for sci-fi fans is that he designed the men’s costumes for the 1957 classic Forbidden Planet.

Special effects technician Harry Redmond Jr. had a very successful career working for big names like Frank Capra, Fritz Lang, Howard Hughes and Orson Welles. Later in his career he created memorable effects for a few sci-fi films of the golden age, such as The Magnetic Monster, Donovan’s Brain (both 1953), Riders to the Stars (1954, review) and Gog (1954, review), as well as the sci-fi TV-series The Science Fiction Theatre (1955-1957) and The Outer Limits (1963-1964). Redmond and his father Harry Redmond Sr. were a crucial addition to the team of O’Brien and Delgado on King Kong, and their main role was the supervision of travelling mattes and back projections that so beautifully merged animatronics, stop motion animation and live action. Sadly Junior never received any industry rewards for his long career, and it wasn’t until his death in 2011 – at the respectable age of 101 years – that his work was recognized in lengthy obituaries in publications like Hollywood Reporter, Variety and The Guardian.

Kong and Wray over New York.

Kong and Wray over New York.

Merian C. Cooper and the special effects team famously filmed a whole scene with some of the rescuers getting shaken off a log and falling into a pit with giant spiders and lizards. At the first screening, Cooper thought the scene slowed the movie down and cut it from the film, and it has since been lost. When Peter Jackson made his 2005 remake he also made a short recreation of what he thought the scene would have looked like, taking his cue from drawings and photographs. He then filmed the scene in the style of the 1933 film, using the same tools, effects and techniques that the team with O’Brien, Delgado and the Redmonds would have had at their disposal. The clip can be seen below (the spider pit sequence begins at approx. 2:30 into the clip).

Janne Wass

King Kong. 1933, USA. Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Written by James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace, Leon Gordon (uncredited). Starring: Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot, Fay Wray, Frank Reicher, Noble Johnson, Sam Hardy, Steve Clemente, James Flavin, Victor Wong, Jim Thorpe. Special & visual effects by: Willis O’Brien, Marcel Delgado, Harry Redmond Jr, Harry Redmond Sr, Frank D. Williams, C. Dodge Dunnng, Carol H. Dunning Cinematography: Edward Linde, J.O. Taylor, Vernon L. Walker, Kenneth Peach. Editing: Ted Cheesman. Music: Max Steiner. Art direction: Carroll Clark, Alfred Herman. Costume design: Walter Plunkett. Make-up supervisor: Mel Berns. Produced by Cooper, Schoedsack & David O. Selznick for RKO.

Advertisements

34 thoughts on “King Kong

  1. Pingback: Doctor X | Scifist
  2. Pingback: Gog | Scifist
  3. Pingback: Them! | Scifist
  4. Pingback: Gojira | Scifist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s