Movie: King Kong (1933)

This blog will be a hodge podge of old promo photos and posters, a recap of the movie and some random trivia sprinkled in for good measure. I hope you enjoy the read…

King Kong
Released: 2 March 1933
Runtime: 100 Minutes
Budget: $670,000

IMDb synopsis: A film crew goes to a tropical island for an exotic location shoot and discovers a colossal ape who takes a shine to their female blonde star. He is then captured and brought back to New York City for public exhibition.

Fay Wray and King Kong in King Kong (1933)

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.

"King Kong" Lobby Card 1933 RKO
Fay Wray and King Kong in King Kong (1933)

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.

Fay Wray and King Kong in King Kong (1933)

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”. 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”.

Fay Wray and King Kong in King Kong (1933)

Grossed ninety thousand dollars its opening weekend, the biggest opening ever at the time. The success of this film is often credited for saving R.K.O. Pictures from bankruptcy.

Fay Wray and King Kong in King Kong (1933)

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 whole idea allegedly originated when Merian C. Cooper had a dream about a massive gorilla attacking New York City.

I rented King Kong on my Amazon Prime account for a whopping $2.99. I clicked “watch now” and a screen that had “OVERTURE” pops up and for the next 4:13 we are looking at the word with old Holly wood music playing in the background.

Then come the credits and those go on for a while. I would be very interested in researching when/reasoning for the credits moving to the end of a movie or show.

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Then the RKO tower is tapping out morse code. I love that, it is a cool transition. I had to look up what it meant!

And we will open the actual film with a proverb but wait…

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The “Old Arabian Proverb” opening the film, was actually written by Merian C. Cooper.

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We start on a dock where a Watchman tells Charles Weston, played by Sam Hardy, that this voyage is crazy. The scope of the crew, the cargo hold, all things points to it being bonkers. He asks: “Are you going on this crazy voyage?” Of course he is, he is the “theatrical agent”. They are in a rush because they are carrying explosives and want to get ahead of the marshall. They are trying to beat the monsoon.

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Everyone in town has put out the word and no “girl” wants to work with them. “I can’t send a young, pretty girl on a trip like this….without knowing what to expect…” The public must have a pretty face to look at nowadays. “If this picture had love interest, it would gross twice as much.” Carl Denham, played by Robert Armstrong, is undeterred. He will find a girl for his picture, even if he has to go out and marry one!

We open on Times Square. Let me tell you, I am amazed by Product Placement 86 years ago!!

Robert Armstrong, Paul Porcasi, and Fay Wray in King Kong (1933)

So, I guess there are a lot of homeless women back during this time? There is a line outside the shelter that is shown, but we pass those over. At food vendor, a young woman touches an apple and the vendor grabs her, presuming I guess, to know that she is a thief. No compassion for the starving, cold, young woman. Denham to the rescue, just before she passes out. She looks up at him and he realizes he has his girl!

Fay Wray in King Kong (1933)

He takes her to a diner and feeds her. She is down on her luck. He tells her he wants her to be in his movie, full of adventure. Ann Darrow, played by Fay Wray, wants the job but is a little leary of the situation. “Trust me and keep your chin up.” They shake on it.

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We see Charlie and Ann on the deck, Charlie is peeling potatoes. He is from China (without the accent) and she is wearing the infamous dress…

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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!”).

Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, and Fay Wray in King Kong (1933)

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.

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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 First Mate, John Driscoll continues to not be too pleased with having a woman onboard, they get in the way. I think he is sweet on her. “Don’t you think the skipper is a sweet old lamb?”

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At her feet is a monkey. Irony that there is a little monkey AND a big monkey in this movie?

From a distance, Denham realizes that First Mate Driscoll, played by Robert Armstrong, has a thing for the beautiful Ann. He realizes that THAT is what the public wants and here he has it without realizing it.

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Captain Englehorn, played by Frank Reicher, has reached the coordinates in question. Denham tells them that there is an unmarked island close by and that is where he wants to go. He has a hand drawn map made from someone who barely escaped the island. He describes a wall that sections off part of the island. The natives need that wall, there is something on the other side of it, something they fear.

“Did you ever hear of Kong?” Native superstition. It is something monstrous, still living, still on the island. “There’s something on that island that no white man has ever seen.” Driscol tells them he brought along the cases of gas bombs to drive out whatever it is.

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Denham is testing film with Ann Darrow in it, to find where her best angle would be. She is wearing the pretty Beauty and the Beast dress. She is nervous. He reassures her.

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The crew watches from above. As he runs her through the testing, he has her look up, further up and then scream in terror. That is when John (billed John, called Jack? I guess I will go with Jack from here out) and Englehorn realize that there is something on that island he expects Ann to see that will terrify her.

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A little bit of trivia here: The SS Venture that brings the film crew to Skull Island is the same boat you see in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

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The fog is horrible. You cannot see your hand in front of your face. So thick, they are using a rope to mark the water’s depth. They hear what at first they believe to be water breaking on the shore but it is not. It is the drums beating on the island.

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They get in the small boat to head to the island. Denham bullies on, refusing to acknowledge potential danger.

Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, and Fay Wray in King Kong (1933)

Out of the boat and on the beach, Denham starts ordering around the cast and crew, telling them how he wants everything set up. They approach the village…

King Kong (1933)

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).

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“What’s on the other side of that wall, that’s what I wanna know!” as they curiously move forward they hear “Kong Kong Kong” but cannot see where it is coming from. Jack is the ONLY one trying to protect Ann. There before them are the villagers performing a ritual, some are dressed as gorillas.

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What are their intentions with the girl on the pelts, adorned with flowers?? Denham wants film before their presence is realized! But the Native Chief, played by Noble Johnson sees them!! (Great name, great actor!)

Noble Johnson in King Kong (1933)

“Too late, they see us. No use in trying to hide now. Everybody come out in plain sight.” The chief moves toward them.

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The captain shares dialogue with the Chief. The chief wants the golden woman to be the bride of Kong! “Good Lord.” He wants to buy her. “Tidak. Tidak.” 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. The chief says that the girl is the “bride of Kong”. The witch doctor says that the ceremony is spoiled now because it has been seen.

They tell the Chief that they will be back tomorrow. They start to ease away.

Back on the ship, it is evening-time. Ann is looking out over the sea. Jack comes to talk to her. He admits he was worried for her. She tells him that she appreciates all that Driscoll has done for her. So much so, she would be up to do whatever things he has in store for her. Driscoll admits that he is scared for her and of her. This is where he is getting sweet on the broad! “Say, I guess I love you.” Wait…what?? Things moved fast back in the 1930s! WAIT they are smooching and everything! Get it brother!! And…she likes him right back!

Without their realizing it, the natives have canoed up to the side of the ship and over the rails they come! They kidnap Ann!! The man on watch misses it all! “It must be almost midnight!” Denham sees the torches from the distance. Going through the village. It is all lit up, “Like the night before an election.” They don’t realize… Jack realizes though… He cannot find Ann anywhere! Charlie finds the beads of one of the Native and calls “ALL HANDS ON DECK EVERY BODY ON DECK!!!!” They realize Ann is gone and it is a call to arms! A great behind the scenes photo:

The Natives are going to sacrifice Ann to Kong! They open the gates in the wall and we see what is behind them! A sacrifice alter!! They tie Ann to it!

Fay Wray in King Kong (1933)

Let me take a moment to say: I love her dress. And, I don’t wear dresses.

The Natives run back into their enclosure and close the gates, leaving Ann alone and defenseless. They climb the walls to watch from a safe distance. They hit the gong and call for Kong. Ha that rhymed! Interesting tidbit: the title character, “King Kong”, does not appear until 46:49 into the movie.

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Crazy great close up of Kong with his underbite and jacked up teeth!

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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.

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.

King Kong (1933)

Also, kudos to Fay Wray with her screaming and thrashing about while tied to the ceremonial sacrifice alter!

He takes her in his hand and then screams up at the watchers on the wall!

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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.

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The boat crew arrive in the village to the Natives on the wall, chanting and cheering. Ann screams as Kong takes her into the jungle. Jack makes the boat crew take back the slide on the gate. He leaves men behind to ensure the villagers do not lock the gate behind them. They run into the jungle and the chief screams at them from the wall. They start to track Kong through the dense jungle. In the distance they see a stegosaurus! What kind of island is this!! They are spotted!! As the dinosaur charges, they throw gas bombs and shoot at it.

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After they take the beast down, they approach tentatively. But it is not dead! They continue to fire on it until it finally succumbs to its injuries. In this scene you can tell that there is a movie of the stop action playing as the actors carry on in front of the screen. They are marveling at the prehistoric beast.

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A little further along they hear animal grunts. That must be Kong! They see his tracks where he has made his way through the area. They hear something splashing through the bog. They cut down logs and QUICKLY build a raft. And here we have a water monster scene!!

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It’s head breaks the surface, it goes back under but we see the bubbles in the water getting closer. But then it is on them!! It flips the raft over and they all swim for their lives. Some not as successfully as others!

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They make it to shallow waters and are running in ankle deep water as the dinosaur chases them! One man climbs a tree trying to escape!

Robert Armstrong and King Kong in King Kong (1933)

I know it is not the Wilhelm Scream but holy crap is that amazing!! The men keep running.

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Kong crosses a huge log and places Ann in the branch of a tree before returning to chase off the men or to kill as many as possible. They fall from the tree into the ravine below!

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Jack has fallen into an indented piece of earth, just out of reach of Kong. As Kong tries to grab him, Jack stabs his hand with a huge knife, causing an injury to Kong. Jack faces danger from both sides as a two-legged lizard climbs from below!

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The two-legged lizard that creeps up out of the canyon 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.

Ann wakes from her fainting spell just in time to be attacked by a T-rex! Kong hears her scream and runs to her rescue!

The rolling suplex is my favorite of Kong’s moves!

King Kong’s roar was a lion’s roar and a tiger’s roar combined and run backwards, but slowly.

King Kong in King Kong (1933)

When he knocks her out of the tree and she flies ass over teakettle to the ground! Another favorite!

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And Kong goes full on cowboy!

King Kong in King Kong (1933)

Merian C. Cooper had been a wrestler as a youth, and Willis H. O’Brien had had several amateur boxing matches. This experience is evident in Kong’s fight with the t-rex. Kong puts his left paw up to guard his face, as a boxer would do, as he hits the allosaur with a right cross. Kong also uses the well-known wrestling moves “trip-out” and “snap mare” during the fight. Kong finally wins by climbing on the allosaur’s shoulders and pulling its jaws apart. This move would later be popularized as the “Rocca Ride” by professional wrestler Angelino Rocca in the 1940s.

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.

Kong picks Ann up and carries her away. Jack hears the screams and finds a way to scale back up the side of the ravine. On the other side Denham calls to him. “Think we’re safe now?” Jack has decided to keep going to save Ann and instructs Denham to go get more help. Jack passes the dead t-rex. He is undeterred, he continues on to find the love of his life…

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Back on the ship Carl Denham tells the Captain of the loss of all the men. They discuss saving Jack and whether the bombs will be effective.

Kong has carried Ann up a mountain and has placed her in a cave, all the while being followed by Jack.

Fay Wray and King Kong in King Kong (1933)

As Kong sits Ann down, behind them we can see a monster looming from out of the pond.

A common mistake made by audiences is when Kong takes Anne into the cave where he fights the cave water monster. Many people describe the monster as a snake when it is in fact a plesiosaur and has defined fins and body rather than being completely serpentine.

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Ann screams and Kong rushes to her aid A fight ensues! Of course, Kong wins!

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Kong takes Ann to a safer height in the cave, an overlook through an opening in the mountain. He beats his chest and roars out at the countryside. Ann passes out and Kong takes her in his hand.

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Oopsie, he rips off her dress and her blouse and she is left in a slip. Dirty dirty monkey!

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Thankfully, before that can go any further, Jack is on the scene for a rescue. As Kong is distracted, a pterodactyl tries snatch up Ann but not before Kong grabs its leg and rips it apart!

Fay Wray and King Kong in King Kong (1933)
King Kong (1933)

While Kong is preoccupied, Jack and Ann escape! Kong is furious!! The dive to safety into the river below. He carries her most of the way to safety.

Back at the wall we realize that the boat crew are not trying to make their way through the jungle. Instead they are just inside the wall with the gate open. Jack and Ann run as fast as they can, Jack stops to carry her again. They make it inside. Of course Denham wants to capture the Kong alive and use for commercial gain. Before they can use Ann as bait, Kong attacks!!

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Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Blackie Whiteford, and Fay Wray in King Kong (1933)

Those gates are no match for a monkey in love!

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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.

Then Kong eats a villager!

King Kong in King Kong (1933)

And steps on others!

The boat crew make it back to the dingy but before they can untie and head to the ship, he is upon them!

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They hit him with a gas bomb that eventually knocks him out!! They have the kong captured!

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They tie him up to take him back to civilization so they can make a freak show of him…

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“These tickets cost me twenty bucks.” I love that people would gather to see something but not know what it is. “This is more of a personal appearance.” “I hear it is some kind of gorilla.” The whole team is there for the opening.

Walter Ackerman, Robert Armstrong, Roscoe Ates, Eddie Boland, Harry Bowen, Lynton Brent, Bruce Cabot, Frank Mills, and Fay Wray in King Kong (1933)

“Miss Darrow is the story…. Beauty and the Beast. Kong could have stayed where he was but he couldn’t stay away from beauty…”

Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Fay Wray, and King Kong in King Kong (1933)

Look at Kong, the eighth wonder of the world! The audience is afraid. Denham invites out Ann Darrow, the bravest girl he has ever known. There the beast and here the beauty. Saved by Kong by her future husband, John Driscoll (wait, he called him John). The press are invited forward to take pictures and the flash scares the beast!

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Kong, thinking that they are attacking Ann, breaks free to protect her! Chaos abounds!!

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Kong climbs a building, reaches into a window and grabs a sleeping woman. He then politely drops her like a hot potato!

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Jack and Ann have made it a few more floors up and do not see Kong in the window behind them!

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Jack gets knocked over and knocked out and Kong gets his girl! He continues on to the roof. Jack tells Denham to direct the large lights toward Kong who has now made his way to a train overpass.

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After destroying the train he makes his way to the Empire State Building, carrying Ann. That is when Jack has the brilliant idea of distracting Kong into putting Ann down and then attacking Kong with planes.

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For the shots of the airplanes taking off from the strip, the pilots were paid ten dollars each.

King Kong in King Kong (1933)

The planes used to shoot Kong down from Empire State Building were actually models of Curtiss F8C-5/O2C-1 Helldiver.

"King Kong" 1933 RKO

He slides from the side of the building, picking Ann up for one last look before returning her to the ledge. His injuries are too much, one more pass of the planes and he is done for.

Jack climbs up to rescue Ann from the ledge.

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At this point I genuines felt bad for Kong. He loved a girl and tried to save her. This is the thanks he got.

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Sadly, Denham will make as much money on the dead carcass as much as a live show.

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“It wasn’t the airplanes, it was beauty killed the beast.”

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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. Each night, the Kong models had to have their skins removed, so Marcel Delgado could tighten the hinges on the metal armatures. 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”. 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.

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The 22 inch (56 centimeter) high model of King Kong, used in the film, sold at auction in 2009 for about 203 thousand dollars. It was originally covered in cotton, rubber, liquid latex, and rabbit fur, but most of the covering has decomposed over the decades.

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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. His recreation here:

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.

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King Kong (1933)

Willis O’Brien, prior to King Kong, worked for Thomas Edison.

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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. 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 finished film utilized less than ten thousand feet of film, although 238 thousand feet were shot.

King Kong in King Kong (1933)


Bruce Cabot, Merian C. Cooper, James Flavin, Ernest B. Schoedsack, and Fay Wray in King Kong (1933)
Fay WrayAnn Darrow
Robert ArmstrongCarl Denham
Bruce CabotJohn Driscoll
Frank ReicherCapt. Englehorn
Sam HardyCharles Weston
Noble JohnsonNative Chief
Steve ClementeWitch King (as Steve Clemento)
James FlavinSecond Mate Briggs
King KongThe Eighth Wonder of the World
Merian C. Cooper, Willis H. O'Brien, Ernest B. Schoedsack, and Fay Wray in King Kong (1933)
Fay Wray and King Kong in King Kong (1933)
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Fay Wray and King Kong at an event for King Kong (1933)
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In the 2005 movie, they paid homage to 1933.

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