King Kong (1933 film)

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King Kong
Directed by Merian C. Cooper
Ernest B. Schoedsack
Produced by Merian C. Cooper
Ernest B. Schoedsack
David O. Selznick (executive producer)
Written by Merian C. Cooper (story)
Edgar Wallace (story)
James Ashmore Creelman (screenplay)
Ruth Rose (screenplay)
Starring Fay Wray,
Robert Armstrong,
Bruce Cabot
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Eddie Linden
J.O. Taylor
Vernon Walker
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Release date(s) March 2, 1933 (U.S. release)
Running time 104 minutes
Language English
Followed by The Son of Kong
All Movie Guide profile
IMDb profile

King Kong is a landmark 1933 Hollywood horror- adventure film in black-and-white about a gigantic prehistoric gorilla named Kong.

The film was made by RKO and was written originally for the screen by Edgar Wallace, Ruth Rose, and James Ashmore Creelman from a concept by Merian C. Cooper. A novelization of the screenplay actually appeared before the film, in 1932, adapted by Delos W. Lovelace, and contains descriptions of scenes not in the movie.

The film was directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack and starred Bruce Cabot and Robert Armstrong. It is notable for Willis O'Brien's ground breaking stop-motion animation work, Max Steiner's musical score, and actress Fay Wray's performance as the ape's improbable love interest. King Kong premiered in New York City on March 2, 1933.


King Kong was influenced by the " Lost World" literary genre, in particular Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912) and Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Land That Time Forgot (1918), which depicted remote and isolated jungles teeming with dinosaur life.

In the early 20th century few zoos had monkey exhibits so there was popular demand to see them on film. William S. Campbell specialized in monkey-themed films with Monkey Stuff and Jazz Monkey in 1919, and Prohibition Monkey in 1920. Kong producer Schoedsack had earlier monkey experience directing Chang in 1927 (with Cooper) and Rango in 1931, both of which prominently featured monkeys in real jungle settings.

Capitalizing on this trend "Congo Pictures" released the hoax documentary Ingagi in 1930, advertising the film as "an authentic incontestable celluloid document showing the sacrifice of a living woman to mammoth gorillas!". Ingagi was an unabashed black exploitation film, immediately running afoul of the Hollywood code of ethics, as it implicitly depicted black women having sex with gorillas, and baby offspring that looked more ape than human. The film was an immediate hit, and by some estimates it was one of the highest grossing movies of the 1930s at over $4 million. Although producer Merian C. Cooper never listed Ingagi among his influences for King Kong, it's long been held that RKO green-lighted Kong because of the bottom-line example of Ingagi and the formula that "gorillas plus sexy women in peril equals enormous profits".

The special effects were influenced by the unfinished 1931 film Creation.


The film starts off in New York City during the depths of the Great Depression (early 1930s). Carl Denham, a film director famous for shooting 'animal pictures' in remote and exotic locations is unable to find an actress to star in his newest project and so is forced to wander the streets searching for a suitable woman. He chances upon a poor girl, Ann Darrow, who has been caught trying to steal an apple by a greengrocer. Saying "Here's a buck, now scram" to the proprietor, Denham makes Ann's acquaintance and when she, through extreme hunger, faints into his arms (at which moment her great beauty strikes him) he buys her a sandwich and cup of coffee and offers her a job starring in his new film. Although Ann is apprehensive and seems to question Denham's exact intentions, she has nothing to lose and, after assurances that Denham is "on the level", agrees. They set sail the following morning on the freighter Venture, getting out of New York harbour just ahead of the authorities.

Whilst on the ship with its all-male crew, first mate Jack Driscoll complains Ann is constantly getting in the way. Denham, after maintaining secrecy for much of the trip, tells the Venture's captain, Englehorn, they're searching for an island uncharted on any normal map. He says that two years earlier a skipper gave him the one map on which it is charted, having received it from a native of Kong's island who had been swept out to sea. Denham then asks Englehorn and Driscoll, "Have you ever heard of... Kong?", describing it as something monstrous, a legend of vague fear. The two exchange looks making it clear they are wondering if Denham is of completely sound mind.

Despite his declarations that women have no place on board ships, Jack is obviously becoming attracted to Ann. Denham takes note and informs Driscoll he has enough troubles without the complications of a seagoing love affair. "Love affair! You think I'm gonna fall for any dame?", asks Driscoll, who then reminds Denham of his toughness in past adventures. Denham replies "'re a pretty tough guy, but if Beauty gets you...". Pressed for elaboration, Denham hints at the movie's major theme by saying, "It's the idea of my picture. The Beast was a tough guy too. He could lick the world. But when he saw Beauty, she got him. He went soft. He forgot his wisdom and the little fellas licked him. Think it over, Jack."

As the Venture moves through the fog surrounding Kong's island the crew hear drums in the distance. They finally arrive at the island's shore and see the native village, which is located on a peninsula, cut off from the bulk of the island by an enormous and ancient wall. Going ashore, the crew encounters the natives, who are about to hand over a girl to Kong as a ritual sacrifice. Although Denham, Englehorn, Jack, Ann and a number of crewmen are hiding behind foliage, the native chief spots them and approaches threateningly. Captain Englehorn has already noticed that the natives speak a language similar to the Nias islanders, a tongue he has some familiarity with. At Denham's urging, the Captain makes friendly overtures to the chief and to the leading "medicine man". When these two get a clear look at Ann the chief begins speaking and gesticulating with great energy. According to Englehorn they are saying "Look at the golden woman!". In keeping with the coarseness of the time, Denham quips "Yeah, blondes are kind of scarce around here." (Oddly, the islanders are plainly of sub-Saharan African origin despite the island's location in Indonesia). The chief proposes to swap six native women for Ann, an offer Denham delicately declines as he and his party edge away from the scene, assuring the chief through Englehorn that they will "be back tomorrow to make friends".

Back on the Venture, Jack and Ann openly express their love for one another. When Jack is called to the captain's quarters, Ann is captured by a stealthy contingent of natives in an outrigger canoe, held captive, and handed over to Kong in a ceremony; when Kong emerges from the jungle, he is revealed to be a giant gorilla. The Venture crew returns to the village and takes control of the wall from the natives; a portion of the crew then goes after Kong, encountering an aggressive stegosaurus and a carnivorous brontosaurus (in real life, both species were relatively inoffensive herbivores).

Up ahead in the jungle, Kong places Ann in the cleft of a dead tree. He then doubles back and confronts the pursuing crewmembers while they are crossing a ravine by way of an enormous moss covered log and shakes them off, killing all except for Driscoll and Denham. Meanwhile, a Tyrannosaurus rex is about to attack Ann; Kong rushes back and a long struggle between the two titans ends when Kong snaps the T. rex's jaw, including the muscles attaching it to the skull.Then a snake attacks and Kong kills it. He takes Ann up to his mountaintop cave. During this time, Kong inspects his blonde prize and begins to caress her, and slowly tears off pieces of her dress. Just as he strips Ann down to her slip, Jack interrupts the proceedings by knocking over a boulder. The gorilla leaves her alone and investigates the cause of the noise. Then, a pterodactyl comes swooping from the sky and clutches Ann in its talons. Another fight ensues and the pterodactyl is defeated. While Kong is thus distracted, Jack rescues Ann and takes her back to the wall. Denham declares that they can make a fortune if they can get Kong back to New York; since they've got something the gorilla wants, the men can lure him. But Jack insists Ann is something Kong won't get again. Kong then breaks through the large door in the wall and rampages through the native village, killing many of the inhabitants. Denham hurls a gas bomb, knocking Kong unconscious, whereupon he exults in the opportunity to take the giant back to New York as an exhibit: "He's always been King of his world. But we'll teach him fear! We're millionaires, boys! I'll share it with all of you. Why, in a few months, it'll be up in lights on Broadway: 'Kong — the Eighth Wonder of the World!'"

The next scene begins with those very words in lights on a theater marquee. Along with hundreds of curious New Yorkers, Denham, Driscoll and Ann are in evening wear for the gala event. As the curtain lifts we see a manacled, much subdued Kong displayed on the stage. Yet his sheer size and power sets many in the audience on edge, including an elderly gentleman who must be restrained back into his seat. Denham assures them they are safe, "Don't be alarmed ladies and gentlemen. Those chains are made of chrome steel". All goes well until photographers, using the blinding flashbulbs of the era, begin snapping shots of Ann and Jack, who are by now engaged to marry. Under the impression that the flashbulbs are attacking Ann, Kong breaks his chains and escapes from the theatre. He rampages through the city streets, destroying an elevated train and killing a number of citizens.

He then manages to find and abduct Ann from a hotel room and carries her up the Empire State Building. By this time, the authorities have summoned four Navy biplanes to shoot Kong down. The ape gently sets Ann down on the observation deck and climbs atop the dirigible mooring mast (which was later replaced with an antenna), trying to fight off the planes. Despite being able to destroy one of them, Kong is no match for modern technology; gunned down, he crashes to his death in the street below. Denham rushes up, and a New York City cop remarks, "Well Mr. Denham, the airplanes got him," whereupon Denham muses, "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes; it was beauty killed the beast."


  • Fay Wray as Ann Darrow
  • Robert Armstrong as Carl Denham
  • Bruce Cabot as John 'Jack' Driscoll
  • Frank Reicher as Capt. Englehorn
  • Sam Hardy as Charles Weston
  • Noble Johnson as Native Chief
  • Steve Clemento as Witch King (as Steve Clemento)
  • James Flavin as Second Mate Briggs


King Kong was the first important Hollywood film to have a thematic music score, rather than background music, courtesy of a promising young composer, Max Steiner.

It was also the first hit film to offer a life-like animated central character in any form. Much of what is done today with CGI animation has its conceptual roots in the stop motion model animation that was pioneered in Kong. Willis O'Brien, credited as "Chief Technician" on the film, has been lauded by later generations of film special effects artists as an outstanding original genius of founder status.


The first version of the film was apparently screened to a sample audience in San Bernardino, California, in late January, 1933, before the official release. The film at that time contained a scene in which Kong shakes four men off a log into a crevasse where they are eaten alive by a giant spider, a giant crab, a giant lizard, and an octopoid. The spider-pit scene caused members of the audiences to scream and some left the theatre. After the preview, the film's producer, Merian C. Cooper, cut the scene. However, a memo written by Merian C. Cooper, recently revealed on a King Kong documentary, indicates that the scene was cut because it slowed the film down, not because it was too horrific. According to King Kong cometh, the scene did not get past the Motion Picture Board of Censors and that audiences only claim to have seen the sequence. On the 2005 DVD, it is not mentioned about the sequence being in the preview screening. Stills from the scene exist, but the scenes themselves remain unfound to this day. It is mentioned on the 2005 DVD by Doug Turner, that Merian C. Cooper, the director, usually relegated his outtakes and deleted scenes to the incinerator (a regular practice in all movie productions for decades), so many have presumed that the Lost Spider Pit Sequence unfortunately met this fate . Director Peter Jackson, and his crew of special effects technicians at Weta Workshop, created an imaginative reconstruction for the 2005 DVD release of the film (the scene was not spliced into the film but is intercut with original footage to show where it would have occurred, and is part of the DVD extras). The scene is also recreated in their 2005 remake, with most men surviving the initial fall, but all except Jack, Carl and Jimmy are killed after a long battle.

King Kong was released four times between 1933 and 1952. All of the releases saw the film cut for censorship purposes. Scenes of Kong eating people or stepping on them were cut, as was his peeling off of Ann's dress. Many of these cuts were restored for the 1976 theatrical release after an uncensored print was discovered in the United Kingdom (which was not covered by the American Production Code).


Critical reaction

The film received mostly positive but some negative reviews on its first release. Variety concluded "after the audience becomes used to the machine-like movements and other mechanical flaws in the gigantic animals on view, and become accustomed to the phony atmosphere, they may commence to feel the power." The New York Times found it a fascinating adventure film: "Imagine a fifty-foot beast with a girl in one paw climbing up the outside of the Empire State Building, and after putting the girl on a ledge, clutching at airplanes, the pilots of which are pouring bullets from machine guns into the monster's body".

More recently, Roger Ebert wrote in his Great Films review that the effects are not up to modern standards, but "there is something ageless and primeval about "King Kong" that still somehow works."


The now classic film was not nominated for any Academy Awards, although it's reasonable to speculate that it could have been nominated for Special Effects for its many groundbreaking techniques, if the award had existed at the time. As it was, however, the Special Effects category would not be introduced until 1939, with The Rains Came receiving the honour.

The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry in 1991.

Famous and Deleted scenes

Famous scenes

The film includes a number of scenes that have become iconic, including:

  • The native ceremony for the "bride" of Kong.
  • The crew being hunted by a carnivorous Brontosaurus-like creature.
  • Kong shaking the crew off a fallen tree over a chasm.
  • Kong battling an Tyrannosaurus-like creature.
  • Kong battling a Plesiosaur-like creature.
  • Kong's fight with a giant Pteranodon-like creature.
  • Kong attacking the native village.
  • Screaming Ann Darrow (Wray) being held in Kong's giant hand. Later in life, Wray named her autobiography On the Other Hand ( ISBN 0-312-02265-4) in memory of her screaming in Kong's grip.
  • Kong's escape and rampage in New York.
  • In the finale Kong carries a screaming Ann to the top of the Empire State Building but is gunned down by a swarm of helldiver biplanes.

Deleted scenes

Known deleted, censored, or never-filmed scenes (some restored or reconstructed today).

  • Kong battles three triceratops. Unfilmed but planned.
  • The sauropod more violently kills three sailors in the water.
  • A styracosaur chases the sailors onto the log. Unknown if this was filmed or cut later.
  • When Kong drops the log down the chasm, four surviving sailors are eaten alive by a giant spider, an octopus-like insect, a giant scorpion/crab, and a giant crocodile/lizard. When Merian C. Cooper showed the film to a preview audience with the scene intact, viewers were either frightened, scared out of the theatre, or wouldn't stop talking about the scene. Ultimately, Cooper cut the scene. When asked later, he claimed that he cut the scene due to pacing.
  • Kong pulls off Ann's clothes and smells them. Censored for the 1930s rerelease, now in every official print since 1972.
  • A longer scene of Jack and Anne running away from Kong's lair. This was cut by Cooper for pacing even though the painstaking stop-motion animation had been completed.
  • Kong steps on two natives. Censorship cut.
  • Kong kills two natives and a New Yorker with his teeth. Censorship cut.
  • Kong picks a sleeping woman out of the hotel, then realizing she's not Ann, drops her to the streets below to her death. Censorship cut.
  • Kong breaks up a poker party in the hotel. It's unknown if this was filmed or not, but the reason why it was dropped was because it was too similar to an almost identical scene in The Lost World.
  • A shot showing Kong's body as he falls off the Empire State Building. This was cut because the special effects didn't look realistic enough; Kong seemed 'transparent' as he fell to the streets below.

Dinosaurs and reptiles

The dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals depicted on Skull Island are never precisely identified in the film. O'Brien based his models on well-informed reconstructions, particularly on those of Charles R. Knight, which were exhibited in major museums at the time (in particular, the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, and the Chicago Natural History Museum). The reconstructions are surprisingly accurate for their time: paleontologist Robert T. Bakker has commented that despite their anatomical inaccuracies, the depiction of the Brontosaurus coming out of the swamp and moving on land, and the Tyrannosaurus being a swift, active predator are actually more accurate than what scientists at the time were teaching. Even so, there are many inaccuracies when compared with 21st century knowledge. However, it is important to realize that King Kong is not a documentary on prehistoric life; it is a movie made for public entertainment, and is not meant to be perfectly accurate. With that understood, the animals seen on Skull Island include (in order of first appearance):

  • A Stegosaurus (25–30 feet long) appears in a sequence in which it is disturbed by Carl Denham's crew. Like an angry rhinoceros, it charges the men and they fell it with a gas-bomb. As they walk by it, it starts to get up again and is shot.
  • A long-necked Apatosaurus or Brontosaurus (70 feet long) is depicted as a sea serpent-like dinosaur. The dinosaur is disturbed by the rescue party's raft as it crosses a swamp and capsizes it, attacking the men in the water. (The gas bombs and all their guns that they brought are lost here.) Several of them are chased onto land and one fellow, climbing a tree, is cornered and mauled to death by the animal. A common misconseption is that the brontosaurus eats the sailor, but it is stated in the script that the dinosaur kills and then abandons the body of a sailor identified as "Tim." If a scene featuring the dinosaur's return to the water was shot, it was cut before production.
  • A large 2-legged lizard-like creature: This creature climbs up a vine from the crevasse to attack Jack Driscoll. It falls back into the pit when Jack cuts the vine it is climbing. Other than the two limbs, the other distinct feature of this unique creature is the iguana-like ridge of spikes down its back. The creature bears resemblance to the mythical Tatzelwurm.
  • A large theropod which has been identified a both a Tyrannosaurus and an Allosaurus. The dinosaur is modeled after after Charles R. Knight's depiction of a Tyrannosaurus.. However, it possesses three finger per hand, unlike the Tyrannosaur's two. In the documentary I'm King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper, included on the 2 disk DVD release of King Kong, Cooper refers to this beast as an Allosaurus, not a Tyrannosaurus, which would justify the number of fingers. However, the creature was originally intended to be a Tyrannosaurus designed for the canceled Willis O'Brien film Creation (1931). It may also be worth noting that the Tyrannosaurus present in Willis O'Brien's earlier project The Lost World (1925) also had a third finger. (The beast, not to be mistaken with the film's Allosaurus, appears in a scene in which a juvenile Tyrannosaurus is killed by an Agathamus, only to be avenged by an adult Tyrannosaur.) The 1932 Kong screenplay refers to the dinosaur only as "Meat Eater." Whatever the species, the dinosaur is inaccurately depicted as standing erect and dragging its tail along the ground, along with swishing its tail (an anatomical impossibility). The Meat Eater appears in a lengthy sequence in which it attacks Ann, and Kong leaps to her defence to fight the dinosaur. (This scene was said to be the most difficult and time-consuming sequence of the movie to shoot.)
  • A Plesiosaur-like creature: a highly stylized, serpentine aquatic reptile with a long neck and tail as well as two pairs of flippers. It inhabits the bubbling swamp area near Kong's cave.
  • A Pteranodon-like creature: A winged reptile, distantly related to the dinosaurs. It, like the "Tyrannosaurus" and the "plesiosaur", is killed by Kong as the result of attacking Ann.
  • The screenplay also describes a scene not present in the finished movie, in which a Styracosaurus prevents the men from crossing back over the log to escape from Kong. Willis O'Brien made a model of it, but whether it was actually used is unknown. Peter Jackson and the WETA crew, on recreating the spider pit sequence, also recreated the Styracosaur chasing the men and cutting off their escape. O'Brien eventually used his Styracosaur model in Son of Kong.


A sequel, The Son of Kong, was also released in 1933. The story concerned a return expedition to Skull Island that discovers that Kong has left behind an albino son.

Video releases

The film was released officially for the first time on DVD in the U.S. in November of 2005, after long being only available on home video releases, and bootleg VHS and DVD releases.

Warner Home Video and Turner Entertainment (the current copyright owners of King Kong) have released the film in a two-disc special edition that has been released both with regular DVD packaging and in a Collector's Edition featuring both discs in a collectible tin can which also includes a variety of other printed extras exclusive to the Collector's Edition. As of 2006 the US Special Edition has not been released in the United Kingdom.

At the same time that these two solo editions of King Kong were released, Warner Brothers also released a DVD box set featuring the original 1933 King Kong, as well as the films The Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young, which were also released separately.

King Kong when it was released on a Criterion laserdisc in 1985 featured the first ever audio commentary track, by Ron Haver, on a home video release.

The film was also part of the film colorization controversy in the 1980's when it and other classic black and white films were colorized for television. In recent years, the colorized version has become highly prized among Kong collectors, and there have even been bootleg DVD releases that have appeared on eBay, some of which even going as far as to contain both versions of the film. Although the colorized version was released officially on the 2004 PAL-format Region 2 DVD from Universal, it has never been made available on DVD officially in the Region 1 NTSC format.


  • And now, ladies and gentlemen, before I tell you any more, I'm going to show you the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive — a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World. Carl Denham
  • We're millionaires, boys! I'll share it with all of you! Why, in a few months his name will be up in lights on Broadway! KONG! The Eighth Wonder of the World!
  • No, it wasn't the airplanes, it was beauty killed the beast.

Carl Denham; referencing the tale of " Beauty and the Beast".


  • In the original script, the gorilla is named "Kong". "King" was added to the title by studio publicists. Apart from the opening titles, the only time the name "King Kong" appears in the picture is on the marquee above the theater where Kong is being exhibited — and the marquee was in fact added to the scene as an optical composite after the live footage of the theater entrance had been shot. However, Denham does refer to Kong in his speech to the theatre audience as having been "a king in his native land".
  • The giant gate used in the 1933 movie was burned along with other old studio sets for the burning of Atlanta scene in Gone with the Wind. The gate was originally constructed for the Babylonian segment in D. W. Griffith's 1916 film Intolerance and can also be spotted in the Bela Lugosi serial The Return of Chandu (1934).
  • King Kong is often credited as being Adolf Hitler's favorite film (unconfirmed but mentioned in many news and magazine articles on the film, including a 2005 Wired Magazine story)
  • Jungle scenes were filmed on the same set as the jungle scenes in The Most Dangerous Game (1932).
  • The original metal armature used to bring Kong to life, as well as other original props from the 1933 film, can be seen in the book It Came From Bob's Basement. It was on display in London until a few years ago in the now-closed Museum of the Moving Image.
  • King Kong's height is different in different parts of the movie. He appears to be 18 feet tall on the island, 24 feet on stage in New York and 50 feet on the Empire State Building.
  • The film's budget was approximately $600,000 USD
  • Paul du Chaillu's travel narrative Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa (1861) was a favorite of Merian C. Cooper when he was a child. The gorilla chase scene in the book was likely an inspiration for King Kong.
  • In the 1933 film, King Kong is displayed at the Palace Theatre in New York City. Along with the film itself, the marquee makes references to the folktale of " Beauty and the Beast". Interestingly enough, the Palace is the same theatre that Disney's Beauty and the Beast opened at in 1994 (and ran here until 1999). On a side note, by 1933, the Palace had become a full-fledged movie house no longer running stage acts.
  • Skull Island is never actually referred to onscreen by this name. Denham merely notes that the island's most prominent rock formation resembles a giant skull.
  • The film reportedly influnced director Peter Jackson to go into filmmaking.
  • It was this film that inspired the King Homer segment in the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror III, which was pretty similar to the entire film, except for the fact that the woman, (Marge), marrys the ape (King Homer), who didn't get shot down from the Empire State Building but rather fell from exhaustion while attempting to climb it (In typical Simpson comedy, Homer falls from the first floor).
  • Aus T.V Series Fast Forward sent-up King Kong in it's last Series ('92)

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