King Kong - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

USA, 1933

Directors: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack

Production: RKO Radio Pictures Inc.; black and white, 35mm; running time: 100 minutes. Released 2 March 1933, Radio City Music Hall and RKO Roxy Theatre, New York. Re-released 1938 with a few scenes censored. Filmed 1932–33 in RKO Studios and backlots, also in San Pedro Harbor and Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles. Cost: $670,000.

Producers: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack with David O. Selznick as executive producer; screenplay: James Creelman and Ruth Rose, from a story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace based on an idea conceived by Cooper; photography: Edward Linden, Vernon L. Walker, and J. O. Taylor; optical photography: Linwood C. Dunn and William Ulm; editor: Ted Cheesman; sound recordist: E. A. Wolcott; sound effects: Murray Spivack; production technicians: Mario Larrinaga and Byron L. Crabbe; art directors: Archie S. Marshek and Walter Daniels; art direction supervisor: Van Nest Polglase; music: Max Steiner; chief technician: Willis H. O'Brien; special effects: Harry Redmond Jr.; Williams Matte supervision: Frank Williams; technical artwork: Juan Larrinaga, Zachary Hoag, and Victor Delgado; projection process: Sydney Saunders; costume designer: Walter Plunkett; King Kong modellist: Marcel Delgado.

Cast: Fay Wray ( Ann Darrow ); Bruce Cabot ( Jack Driscoll ); Sam Hardy ( Weston ); James Flavin ( 2nd mate ); Victor Wong ( Charley ); Paul Porcasi ( Fruit vendor ); Dick Curtis ( Crewman ); Robert Armstrong ( Carl Denham ); Frank Reicher ( Captain Englehorn ); Noble Johnson ( Native chief ); Steve Clemento ( Witch king ); Roscoe Ates ( Press photographer ); Leroy Mason ( Theater patron ).



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* * *

Few films can compete with the longevity of King Kong . The film is as popular today, on television and in revival theaters, as it first was in its initial release in 1933. Ironically, the film's contemporary setting of 1933 has now made it a period piece, though the ideas and themes have never aged.

The story was conceived by producer/director Merian C. Cooper and inspired by his trips to Africa and Southeast Asia to shoot documentary films. Cooper imagined setting a primitive giant ape against the civilization of a modern New York City. This vision was eventually realized on the screen with the aid and collaboration of special visual effects artist and innovator, Willis H. O'Brien.

The special visual techniques developed for King Kong were numerous. One of the more important technical advances was the development of a safe (cellulose-acetate) rear-projection screen by Sidney Saunders. Although earlier films had used a more primitive glass rear-projection screen (which, if accidently broken, could cause serious injuries to actors and crew), the cellulose-acetate screen allowed King Kong to be the first film to use large-scale rear projection. Another innovation was the invention and use of the optical printer by Vernon Walker and Linwood Dunn. The optical printer presented a new way of combining optical mattes that was superior to the old, and more complex, Dunning process. The enormous amount of matte work in the film (used to combine the special effects with the live action) would not have been feasible without the help of the printer.

Although stop-motion animation had been used previously in other films (such as O'Brien's The Lost World in 1925), King Kong was the first feature film to use stop-motion to create a continuous character. The model of King Kong was constructed by artist Marcel Delgado out of metal, rubber, cotton and rabbit fur, yet it was truly an "actor." He could express emotions and react logically to the situation around him.

The making of King Kong also presented a problem in the area of sound effects. Kong had to sound believable, yet unlike any other creature on earth. The sound department at RKO, headed by Murray Spivak, ran dozens of new and innovative experiments to create the right soundtrack. Kong's roar was a combination of lion and tiger sounds slowed down and played backwards. The music is still another example of the film's originality. Many films in the early 1930s used classical music as background accompaniment. King Kong was one of the first films for which an entire score was created. Composer Max Steiner carefully plotted out each scene in the film so that he could synchronize his music with the action.

The technical innovations found in King Kong are not the only reasons for its success; every good film must start with a good story. King Kong has a universal appeal, making it one of the most popular and well-known American films.

—Linda J. Obalil

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