"King Kong";

1933

"And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing.

And from that day, it was as one dead."
Producer / Director Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
ScreenplayJames A.Creelman and Ruth Rose
CinematographyEdward Linden, Vernon Walker and J.O. Taylor
EditingTed Cheeseman
Musical ScoreMax Steiner
SoundMurray Spivack
Chief Technician / SPFXWillis O'Brien

The original "King Kong" still stands as the greatest monster film ever made, a genuine classic that has inspired countless filmmakers throughout the years all of whom continue to point it out as one of the greatest films of all time. Certainly "King Kong "is a true work of genius that is unrivaled in its special effects as well as its enormous emotional impact. The legendary Fay Wray stars opposite Kong as Ann Darrow; legend has it that Wray had approached her agent with a request to star opposite a tall dark and handsome man - little did she know just how far her agent was willing to go to fulfill her wishes! Bruce Cabot rounds out the other part of the triangle as Jack Driscole, the strong silent sailor who steals Anne's heart.

Often imitated, "King Kong" has served as the prototype for the movie industry's rampaging monster films for almost seventy years now. It offers a a skillful blend of fantasy, adventure, and romance in its classic retelling of the fable of the Beauty and the Beast. It has effectively carved its own niche in American folklore.

"King Kong" was released in 1933 at the height of the Depression for the astronomical cost of $500,000 (think of it as the "Titanic" of its day). The film, which took over a year to produce was a major risk for RKO which was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy at the time. Their faith was rewarded when the film opened to sold out houses across the country. A box office sensation (people exited the theater and got back in line to see it again) the film quite literally gave the studio a new lease on life allowing it to turn out hundreds of classic films in subsequent years including "Citizen Kane".

"King Kong" is a masterpiece of pure escapism. It asks its audiences to believe in the impossible: the existence of a giant ape and a host of prehistoric animals. Much of this movie magic is achieved as a result of the skillful craftsmanship of head technician Willis O'Brien. It was O'Brien who created and mastered the art of stop motion animation. Stop Motion Animation is the cinematographic technique that makes objects appear to be moving on the screen. The technique is achieved by manipulation of the objects on the screen between successive takes of individual frames. Each scene is then photographed frame by frame. Objects are moved slightly between exposures. When the film is processed and projected in sequence, the inanimate models move with the illusion of motion.

To bring Kong to life O'Brien and Marcel Delgado built a fully articulated model of the giant gorilla. It was constructed on an eighteen inch metal skeleton (called an armature by spfx pros), out of aluminum. Delgado then created muscles out of foam rubber and sponge and then covered this with rabbit's fur. The film's other prehistoric monsters were built in a similar fashion.

In addition to stop motion animation O'Brien utilized a variety of tricks to bring the films prehistoric monsters to life. He made the eighteen inch models of Kong appear huge by combining them with live actors. This effect was achieved through the use of mattes and rear-projection techniques. This effect was further enhanced by the creation of miniature models of the films human characters these human miniatures were then animated when they were combined with the model of Kong. O'Brien and Delgado also created full scale mechanical models of Kong's head and shoulders, a foot and an arm. The structure was large enough to allow three puppeteers to sit inside Kong's head where they manipulated Kong's eyes, nose, lips and mouth. This motion was achieved through the use of a variety of levers and compressed air devices.

When O'Brien and his special effects team finished the photography Murray Spivak (head of RKO's sound department), created a horrifying series of roars, growls and screeches for the film's monsters. Spivak achieved these chilling sound effects by recording animal sounds at various speeds and then playing then backwards. In addition to the films monstrous sounds Spivak's team also created the sound effects for everything from fog horns, to native drums, to gunshots, to waterfalls. All of these sound effects were then skillfully inserted into the film in order to enhance the dramatic effect.

Max Steiner's stirring animated score also enhances the story. "King Kong" was one of the first films to feature a completely original musical score. Prior to this most film scores were primarily derived from classical works which were re-orchestrated to suit whatever film they used in. In this film Steiner not only composed an entirely original score which he then synchronized to the action on screen. This music (which is referred to as an animated score), was named for the type of music that is commonly associated with animation (cartoons). This score has had a profound effect on music in films. Notable composers such as Bernard Herrman and John Williams have been influenced by Steiner's work on this and subsequent films.