Friday, June 17, 2016

Son of Kong (1933)

CASH. GRAB.  Kong's initial place in history might as well have ended following his first theatrical outing, on a high note, because the somewhat sour aftermath of its success seems to have been largely forgotten by the masses.  It is the nature of most successful films that their studio will attempt to milk as much out of it before it's dry.  This mentality was very much the driving force behind RKO Studio's follow up to their extraordinary hit, King Kong.  King Kong was the first film that gave the studio a real profit, and as such, they were eager to pack people in theaters as soon as possible for more giant-ape mayhem.  But that eagerness actually may have been extremely misplaced. Gathering the old gang back together, Merian C. Cooper returned as the executive producer with Ernest B. Schoedsack returning to co produce and direct.  Also returning was Schoedsack's wife, Ruth Rose, to write the screenplay.  However, production famously went a bit off track when Cooper was outraged to discover that RKO was only allotting them half of the budget that the original King Kong had been given.  Not only that, but Son of Kong was set to be released in December of 1933 - within one year of the original's release.  This rushed time frame and smaller budget would end up showing in the less-spectacular sets, in the clunky dialogue, the unbalanced story, and it surprisingly even shows in the animation - though, the woes with animation go a bit deeper than mere shallow pockets and crunched time.

Perhaps the most famous shot of Willis O'Brien at work - and the most tragic

Once again Willis O'Brien was put in charge of the animation, King Kong being his first big success since The Lost World nearly a whole decade prior.  O'Brien's career had been a rather spotty one up until that point.  While The Lost World and King Kong were both incredible achievements, and still endure to this day, there were a whole lot of other projects which did not go so well.  Many if not most of the projects he had started were abruptly canceled.  And if the spotty career wasn't enough, he had contracted several serious illnesses, and had been involved with an extremely uneasy marriage which ended rather quickly - but not before he and his ex-wife had two sons together.  One of the most widely circulated photos of O'Brien (seen above) is of him on the set of Son of Kong, standing next to a model of a styracosaurus.  In the photo, he is noticeably disgruntled looking.  He seems upset and distant - maybe even hollow.  And that is probably because he was.  During the production of Peter Jackson's 2005 King Kong, the film's website,, provided an article about the production of Son of Kong, as well as what exactly O'Brien must have been thinking about at the time that this picture was taken.

"The subject of the enigmatic photo is Willis O'Brien, and properly describing the importance of this man in making King Kong would take much more space than I'm allotted here, suffice to say that "OBie" arguably represented the heart and soul of the titular character himself. In animating Kong, OBie conveyed a richness of character that almost certainly derived from his own background. After seeing Kong's battles with the T-rex and elasmosaurous, can there be any doubt that OBie was once a boxer? Watch Kong's nuanced final seconds atop the Empire State Building with the following in mind: all OBie had to go on for that scene was this rather succinct scripted action, "He staggers, turns slowly, and topples off roof." There are those who make the case - rather convincingly - that Willis O'Brien deserved a King Kong co-creator credit along with Merian C. Cooper. OBie's conceptual drawings and work on Creation, the project Cooper cancelled in favor of Kong, almost certainly informed Cooper's vision of his "giant ape film" and inspired now-classic sequences. Furthermore, most of the visual lynchpins of the production - miniatures combined with humans, stop-motion animation of giant creatures, jungle vistas with astounding depth, incredible attention to detail - are the province of O'Brien and his staff. Yet for all of his technical wizardry, Willis O'Brien seemed destined to be overshadowed by stronger personalities (in the case of Merian Cooper), opportunistic producers (his King Kong vs Frankenstein concept would be sent overseas courtesy of producer John Beck, who sold it as King Kong vs Godzilla without telling or compensating O'Brien), and broken promises (he had more projects fall apart than you can count on both hands). Which brings us back to the picture. Willis O'Brien's first marriage was characteristically impulsive. Hazel Ruth Collette was twelve years younger than Willis when he began dating her, and, through some manipulation by the girl's aunt, he found himself fairly trapped into an engagement. The marriage seemed doomed from the beginning; OBie felt snared, and, particularly when The Lost World created some financial success and leverage for him, he rebelled with the cad troika: booze, the racetrack, and other women. For her part, Hazel exhibited some markedly unbalanced behavior before and after Willis's indiscretions that, in hindsight, should have served as fair warning of heartache to come. The uneasy union produced two sons, William and Willis, Jr. By 1930, the couple was effectively separated, though Willis continued to take his beloved boys on various outings. Around 1931, the already troubled Hazel contracted both tuberculosis and cancer, and existed in a near-constant narcotic haze. The elder son, William, developed tuberculosis in one eye and then the other, resulting in complete blindness. The boys remained with their mother, and OBie continued to take them to events like football games, where the younger Willis would do descriptive play-by-play for his older brother. By Fall of 1933, King Kong had been released for some time and was undeniably a smash hit. OBie, rightfully proud of his achievement, was now charged with capitalizing on Kong's success with a hurriedly prepared sequel. The much smaller budget for Son of Kong- less than half of its predecessor's cost - meant that its chief technician, Willis O'Brien, the genius who brought the world of Kong to unforgettable life, would continue to make the same $300 a week he'd been paid before. To make matters worse, while O'Brien was left largely to his own devices while creating Kong, producers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack were now familiar enough with some of the processes O'Brien employed that they felt comfortable "making suggestions." When enormous debates arose over matters that would formerly have been resolved simply and autonomously, O'Brien withdrew into a shell and effectively distanced himself from the production. Obie's assistant Buzz Gibson is consequently responsible for most of the animation in Son of Kong. In early October, during the difficult sequel production, O'Brien brought his sons to visit the set, allowing sightless William to handle the delicate miniatures. It was undoubtedly quite a day for the boys and a tension reliever for their father. Later that same week, a neighbor was shocked to hear shots ring out from the home of Hazel O'Brien. When the police arrived they found a nightmare: Hazel lay fully conscious on the service porch floor, a gunshot wound to her chest. Next to her was a .38 revolver with five spent cartridges. William, 14 years-old, lay dead in his bed with two bullets in his chest; 13 year-old Willis, Jr. was found nearby with the same wounds, clinging to life. He would die on the way to the hospital. Mentally unbalanced and despondent, Hazel had shot her two sons and then herself. O'Brien was devastated. In a cruel twist of fate, Hazel's self-inflicted bullet had not only failed to kill her, but actually drained her tubercular lung and extended her life. Too ill to prosecute, she remained in the prison ward of Los Angeles General Hospital. Willis O'Brien never visited her."

Concept art for the aforementioned King Kong vs. Frankenstein project

Shortly thereafter, the picture of O'Brien and the styracosaur was taken (and the styracosaur model is coincidentally now owned by Peter Jackson himself).  Needless to say, the animation in Son of Kong turned out extremely shoddy by the standards of the previous film.  That's not to say that the entire production was essentially filled with doom and gloom, however.  Son of Kong would ultimately take on a much lighter and even more comedic tone than the previous film. Script writer Ruth Rose intentionally made no attempt to make a serious film like the first one, calculating that it could never surpass the first. She stated, "If you can't make it bigger, make it funnier."  And this idea was actually fairly well received by some.  Returning from the first film would be several characters (all played by the same actors), those being Carl Denham, Captain Englehorn (the captain of the Venture), and Charlie (the Chinese cook from the original film).  Robert Armstrong, who played Denham, actually very vocally preferred the second film over the first one, saying that the sequel offered more character development for Carl Denham.  And in all reality, for the most part, it does seem that quite a bit of thought was in fact put into the story.

The story picks just a few months after the events of the first film, with Carl Denham being sued for his part in the destructive rampage Kong went on throughout Manhattan.  With bills piling up as fast as the lawsuits, Carl goes to Captain Egglehorn, who fears that the lawsuits will soon start coming to him for his part in the whole mess as well. Thinking fast, Carl and Englehorn decide to flee the country and haul freight down in the South Pacific.  Quickly throwing together a skeleton crew, they ship off, escaping the jurisdiction of the New York municipal authorities.  By dealing with the direct and very real consequences of the previous film's story, Son of Kong shows the level of thinking and care that went into putting it all together. Sadly, it's about at this point when the rushed production schedule starts to bleed through, as the plot goes completely off the rails.

Sailing the East Indies doesn't go so well for the crew, and we actually get the impression that Denham himself might be missing the life of a showman.  One night he spots an ad for a "show" in one of the little towns where they are docked, and he, Englehorn, and Charlie all decide to attend.  It's a weird circus sideshow sort of affair,  featuring trained seals (whose act is never shown), some musical monkeys (whose act is shown, and it's awesome!  Seriously, one monkey is playing a stringed instrument and others are drumming and dancing and they all have little outfits on!), and then a girl comes out and sings poorly to some ukelele song.  Most of the crowd seems unimpressed, but Denham seems to think the girl has a lot of personality that could be exploited for a show if used and cultivated in a different way.

That night, the girl and her father (who owns the show) get ready for bed.  It's weird, because this girl not only shows up out of nowhere (and becomes a main character by the film's end) but her character isn't ever given a real name. She is played by Helen Mack, and when she is introduced to play her ukulele her father refers to her as "Madame Helene," however, in the opening credits her name is "Hilda," a name which is never used throughout the film.  Other than her stage-name, nobody calls her anything. Denham, ever the classy man, just calls her "kid" the entire time. Anyway, she goes to bed while her father meets up with the only other white male in the entire town, a gruff European sailor.  Hilda (I guess...) doesn't like this sailor, because he just stays up all night with her father drinking.  And indeed, that's exactly what they do.  But as they do so, Hilda's father strikes a nerve with the sailor when he accuses him of scuttling his own ship in order to get the insurance money for it, which is why he is stuck in this town (Hilda and her dad are stuck here because her father used to be a part of a huge circus which booted them when her father wouldn't stop drinking).  The sailor gets angry and bashes a bottle over the old man's head (which kills him eventually) and the altercation leads to the entire circus tent lighting on fire.  The sailor runs off in his drunkenness, and ends up just going to another bar.

At the bar he runs into the somber pair of Englehorn and Denham.  It is revealed here that not only has Denham met this man before, but that he is in fact the Norwegian sailor who sold Carl the map to Skull Island in the first film, and is named Helstrom.  It's a great callback to the original film, fleshing out the world had been created in this franchise.  Really, it's a solid idea, complete with a fun scene where Helstrom claims that he deserves some of the profit (from the Kong incident in the first film) since he provided the map.  Denham quips back that he can have half of everything he got from bringing Kong to New York, namely, his eleven law suits and pending indictment.  Helstrom is taken aback at first, but then asks if Carl ever found "the treasure" while on Skull Island.  This is where literally any and all of the good ideas this film had going for it quickly float out the window and into endless oblivion.  The audience knows there's no treasure on Skull Island, and you'd think after what happened last time that Denham would never dare go back.  But, Denham is desperate, so he and Englehorn agree to head back, with Helstrom joining the crew.

There's also a part somewhere around here where Denham runs into Hilda who is trying to round up her monkeys that escaped in the fire.  She's idiotically standing beneath the tree where they are hiding and just calling to them.  Carl says, "You'll never catch a monkey that way," to which she snaps "When have you ever caught a monkey?"  "You'd be surprised," he responds.  It's amusing. Hilda has nothing to lose and wants to head off with Denham.  She knows Helstrom killed her dad, but she has to wait for the magistrate to arrive in order to indict him (or... do whatever their legal system does...).  But justice can wait, as she thinks Denham is pretty cool and even recognizes the show-biz manner he carries himself with.  So, eventually, they all set sail again for Skull Island.

As they near the island, Helstrom reveals that he has led the sailors to mutiny against the captain - circulating stories of how dangerous the island is.  And in reality, it is.  I don't much blame the sailors for being a little angry that Englehorn would so eagerly take them to Skull Island - in search for treasure, no less.  So the mutineers toss Englehorn, Hilda, and Denham overboard (with Charlie joining them because he is a good dude).  But then, Helstrom is also eventually thrown overboard because he tries to take over as captain, and this salty crew has had enough of captains(?).  Take that for what you will.  So the castaways set off to land on the island, with Carl annoyingly spouting off thoughts that the natives will probably throw a party for them when he gets there.  I don't know why he would ever assume that. He more or less destroyed their entire civilization last time he was on the island - both physically and ideologically.

They land on the beach and are immediately attacked by the natives, who recognize the white men and are pissed off.  Denham seems baffled about this, but it doesn't really take a genius (or the dialogue which follows explaining to Denham just why they are mad at him) to understand why; but essentially the natives have had to relocate their village after the gates were destroyed in the first film.  Again, Denham seems baffled by this, but what can ya do?  So the castaways set off to make landfall elsewhere, and when they do, they immediately run into a baby Kong.  The baby is refered to as "little Kong" "Kong's son," and just "Baby" for the duration of the film, but the production team always called him "Kiko," which is an abbreviation of the term "King Kong."  Stuck up to armpits in quicksand and muttering all sorts of weird noises, Kiko is meant to be cute, rather than fierce.

While making the original King Kong, there were two armatures used for animating the titular character. One, which is referred to as the "long faced" kong, is extremely fierce looking, and was used for the sequences where Kong battles the Tyrannosaurus and when he shakes all of the sailors off of the log bridge (as well as most of the promotional material).  The other Kong model was much cuter, and was able to better portray the less animalistic side to the character.  That said, the "cuter" model could still look extremely fierce when it needed to (and does).  For Kiko, they took the "long faced" Kong model, stripped it of its skin, and put on a new body.  Kiko has white fur and is given a permanently goofy and silly demeanor.  Nothing fierce or animalistic here.  He is meant to be 500% cute, and at one time (a really random time I might ad) even breaks the fourth wall by looking directly into the camera, scratching his head confusedly, and then shrugging in a classic "I don't know!" pose.  It's silly beyond all reason.  In the final bit of interesting or worthwhile plot, Denham saves the little Kong (and later bandages him) from the quicksand because he has felt forever guilty about what he did to the first one. From then on Kiko follows them around and saves them from all sorts of troubles.

The rest of the film pretty much flashes by so fast that if you stop to blink you're bound to miss what is going on.  A whole barrage of completely random creatures appear out of nowhere for no reason whatsoever.  A styracosaurus chases Englehorn, Charlie, and Helstrom into a cave, and Hilda and Denham are rescued by Kiko from an attacking giant bear (?!).  This fight is actually entertaining for what it is.  After Kiko beats it to a pulp (something Denham actually says Hilda deserves at one point in the film) it bites him again, so he picks up a tree and bludgeons it to death.  Again, it's pretty entertaining.  There's nothing quite like watching a gorilla take a baseball bat to a bear's face.

It really feels like all of these sequences were just half-thought-out concepts from the first film that they cobbled together to put in here.  Kiko smashes a temple wall open, revealing an ugly vampire statue.  Denham goes inside and finds some treasure - which is really confusing because Helstrom had just made up the treasure story in order to trick them all out to sea and mutiny against them, thus gaining a new ship. A big snake-lizard-monster comes in snarling like a panther and Kiko kills it.  Helstrom sees Kiko and flips out, running down to their boat where he is promptly eaten by a random sea serpent.  Anyway, these things all happen incredibly quickly and randomly - and then everything begins to literally fall apart.

With no explanation or build-up whatsoever, the plot is suddenly halted as Skull Island begins to crumble and fall into the ocean.  No real reason for this is given in the film's final cut.  Some shots make it look like a typhoon caused the disaster, while others make it look like an Earthquake of some sort.  Maybe there's a volcanic eruption?  Who is to say?  There is liberally no explanation.  None of the characters even seem to wonder or what is going on, or care at all, making one wonder if the film crew making the movie in the first place cared at all by that point either.  Supposedly the script/screenplay featured scenes of tribal warfare and a climactic dinosaur stampede during the island's sinking. The stampede was going to utilize the models that had been built for Creation, however these sequences were never filmed due to the films tight budget and shooting schedule.  Anyway, the entire island sinks below the waves, except for one hill on which Denham and Kiko are trapped.  Englehorn, Charlie, and Hilda are safely aboard their rowboat, but they realize that they might not be able to save Denham in time.  Kiko, his foot trapped in a slowly sinking rock, saves Denham one last time by grabbing him and holding him above the water (even as Kiko himself drowns) until the boat can rescue him.  Kiko is submerged, and Skull Island is gone.  And then, just as soon as they have been marooned, they are rescued by a passing ship (keep in mind, a passing ship in the location of Skull Island, a place so completely and entirely remote that it was believed to be a myth, and never charted on any maps...).  And then the film ends. This whole climax literally takes place over the span of only a few minutes. A fellow reviewer once wrote, "The climax, which appears out of nowhere for no reason at all, happens as though writer Ruth Rose were simply looking for a way-- any way-- to end the movie right now. I confess that right then certainly seemed to me like a good time to end the movie-- I had lost all interest a while before, actually-- but to see it ended in a way that bore some kind of connection to the rest of the story would have been appreciated."

Son of Kong presents some interesting ideas to the viewer as to what happened in the aftermath of Kong's rampage, but fans might prefer to ignore its existence in the core story of the original King Kong altogether.  I for one am fairly unsure as to what to make of it.  It's very unnerving to see one of the best movies followed up by something so entirely lackluster.  Another sequel was never made, and Son of Kong more or less fell into obscurity directly after its release.  After all, it was released mere months after the original groundbreaking film.  The affect of King Kong was still so fresh that it's no wonder Son of Kong never stood out - and the studio took the hint.  No more sequels were produced, save for the spiritual successor, Mighty Joe Young in 1949.  And in the following near-century since its release, Kong's legacy has lived on triumphantly through a series of reboots and remakes.  In the end, it's unfortunate that RKO let their franchise's original run fizzle out so quickly and so disappointingly (especially considering other monster franchises like Toho's Godzilla or Universal's Monsters - Dracula, Frankenstein and the like - lived on for decades before ever needing to take a break).  However, though it ended in a flop, the original film's legacy was obviously not tarnished.  It's an incredible testament that no matter how many sequels or spinoffs or remakes, the original King Kong is still hailed almost a century later as one of the best and most impressive American films ever made. 

King Kong (1933)

King Kong (1933) has been argued by many to be one of, if not the best, American films of all time, even to this day.  For its heavy spectacle, interesting narrative, and insanely accurate execution, this film is by all accounts a masterpiece.  Coming out in the midst of Universal Studios own wildly popular monster films like Dracula and Frankenstein, King Kong was able to stand on its own as a monster movie of an entirely different breed.  While there had technically been numerous giant monster films in the past, and 1925's The Lost World successfully saw the genre make the jump to feature length films, King Kong took all of that and fine-tuned it to a point that had never been done before and has rarely been achieved since.  It is probably the earliest example of a "true" giant monster film, and is essentially still the standard to go by within the genre.

In years since Kong's 1933 release there have been several remakes of this monster romp, and none of them provide any more operatic spectacle and wonder than the first.  However, the numerous sparks of mad genius that it took to get King Kong off the ground didn't happen over night.  It was the result of a highly collaborative endeavor spear-headed by Merian C. Cooper and Willis O'Brien, who were inspired by numerous scientific discoveries and stories of adventure that they had heard during their upbringing, planting the seeds of this eventual masterpiece decades before work on it ever began in earnest.  

Merian C. Cooper - the creator of King Kong

The man most largely responsible for King Kong was Merian C. Cooper.  Born in 1893, Cooper had been fascinated from a very young age with the ideas of adventures, lost worlds, and gorillas - which were, in their own right, considered monsters at the time.  In fact, up until the 1860's, gorillas were the stuff of legends. Similar to bigfoot, the yeti, and all other interpretations of the Sasquatch legend, gorillas were thought to be imaginary, primal, humanoid monsters. As can be imagined, there was a great deal of anxieties (and to some extend there still is) regarding man's evolutionary past at the time, and the existence of such animals only served to heighten them.

Paul du Chaillu

However, gorillas were confirmed to be real animals in the 1860's by Paul du Chaillu, a French-American explorer and anthropologist.  As a boy, Chaillu accompanied his father, a French trader in the employment of a Parisian firm, to the west coast of Africa. There, at a station on the Gabon, he was educated by missionaries and acquired an interest in (and knowledge of) the country, its natural history, its natives, and their languages. In 1855 he was dispatched by the Academy of Natural Sciences at Philadelphia on an African expedition. Until 1859, he explored the regions of West Africa in the neighborhood of the equator, gaining considerable knowledge of the delta of the Ogooué River and the estuary of the Gabon. During his travels from 1856 to 1859, he observed numerous gorillas, known to non-locals in prior centuries only from an unreliable report by Hanno the Navigator of Carthage in the 5th century BC, and known to scientists in the preceding years only by a few skeletons. He brought back dead specimens and presented himself as the first white person to have ever seen them. A subsequent expedition, from 1863 to 1865 enabled him to further confirm their existence. Du Chaillu sold his hunted gorillas to the Natural History Museum in London, and also published the stories of his expeditions in several books.  In these books he painted Africa as a mystical land full of wild natives.  Indeed, the pygmy people were barely considered human by many at the time, and as usual labeled as monsters.  But his books also contained a few stories involving gorillas attacking native villages, and one account involving a girl being dragged off into the jungle by one.

When a young Merian C. Cooper read these books as child, the idea that gorillas were viscous, rapacious, and entirely brutal in nature was the widely accepted viewpoint.  And this fascinated the boy.   Beyond that, while gorillas were his favorite bit of the book, these stories also instilled a yearning for exotic adventure in young Cooper; a yearning which would stay with him for his entire life.  It is perhaps this sense of adventure which lead Cooper to enter the U.S. Naval Academy in 1912.  However, he resigned in 1915 due to a dispute over his belief in air power, a belief which the Navy did not share. In 1916, he joined the Georgia National Guard to help chase Pancho Villa in Mexico, which eventually lead to Cooper serving as a DH-4 bomber pilot with the United States Army Air Service during World War I. However, he was shot down and captured by the Germans, serving out the remainder of the war in a POW camp. Captain Cooper remained in the Air Service after the war, despite serious burns to his arms incurred in the crash of his DH-4. In January 1919, while on special duty with the American Red Cross in France, he located the grave of Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., America's second-highest-scoring ace of World War I, near the village of Murvaux. On July 26, 1920, his plane was shot down, and he spent nearly 9 months in a Soviet POW camp. He escaped just before the war was over and made it to Latvia. For valor, he was decorated by Polish commander-in-chief Józef Piłsudski with the highest Polish military decoration, the Virtuti Militari.

Burden's Expedition

It was during this time in the 1920's that a new monster arose out of the East Indies, and a man named Douglas Burden set out to capture the monster.  That monster was said to be a living, breathing, dragon. Burden was seeking what he called “a primeval monster in a primeval setting.” As the story goes, one evening in the mid-1920s, W. Douglas Burden, a New York City gentleman “with sporting tastes and a real interest in natural history,” came home to ask his wife “how she would like to go dragon hunting.” Burden was a great-great grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, with a bank account to match, and a track record as an adventurer in his own right. So this was the sort of whim he could readily indulge in. In 1926, with the blessings of the American Museum of Natural History, Burden and his expedition set out in the S.S. Dog for an obscure island in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, where the existence of a huge reptile had been reported. Rumors of dragons had been repeated by Dutch sailors in the East Indies as far back as the 1600s, and finally, in 1910, a Dutch colonial administrator named Lieutenant van Steyn van Hensbroek visited the Lesser Sundas, and came back with the skin of a six-foot-long reptile. Van Hensbroek published the first scientific description and named the species Varanus komodoensis, after the island of Komodo where it was found. That account inspired Burden to undertake this expedition in pursuit of bigger specimens. But even very big lizards did not match his sense of adventure, so he dubbed them “Komodo Dragons” instead - a name which would eventually stick and endure. The destination also needed to be suitably mythic. When his expedition first laid eyes on the island, Burden wrote in the overwrought adventure prose of the day that "it loomed up before [them] as a vast mass of torn and splintered mountains.” It was “a fitting abode for the great saurians we had come so far to seek.” The ship found safe harbor in the ominously named Python Bay. Burden didn’t want big dragons in just any condition either; he wanted to bring some back alive which a tricky proposition, since Komodo Dragons were reputed to kill and eat water buffalo, goats, deer, pigs, and sometimes humans. Indeed, due to rotting flesh from prey which lingers in their mouth, Komodo Dragons foster the growth of germs which imbue them with a deadly poisonous bite.  With the help of a hunter, a herpetologist, and a small army of cooks and porters, the expedition built traps and eventually succeeded in collecting two live Komodo Dragons, and 10 dead specimens. These victories were accompanied by reported "close calls," with Burden’s wife, Katherine White Burden, dutifully playing the part of damsel in distress. Off exploring on her own, Lady Burden found herself cornered by a particularly fearsome dragon: “Nearer he came and nearer, this shaggy creature, with grim head swinging heavily from side to side. I remembered all the fantastic stories we had heard of these monsters attacking men and horses. Now listening to the short hissing that came like a gust of evil wind, and observing the action of that darting, snake-like tongue that seemed to sense the very fear that held me, I was affected in a manner not easy to relate. The creature was less than five yards away and the subtle reptilian smell was in my nostrils. Too late now to leap from hiding, I closed my eyes and waited.” Then, at the last possible melodramatic moment, the expedition’s Great White Hunter arrived on the scene and quickly brought the dragon crashing down dead.

"This monster swallowed the entire hindquarters of a deer at one gulp."

Back in New York, Burden’s live dragons created a brief sensation at the Bronx Zoo, before they also quickly died. Some of the dead specimens went into a diorama at the American Museum of Natural History, where they remain on display even today. Burden went on to publish a colorful account of the expedition, the 1928 book The Dragon Lizards of Komodo. One magazine, The Nation, summed it up in 19 words: “Ten-foot pig-eating lizards, Bali dancing girls, and the author’s wife, served with a delicate sauce of science.” Burden also hoped to get a theatrical release for the film he cobbled together from the expedition’s considerable footage of Komodo Dragons in the wild, but the movie industry deemed it not quite melodramatic enough.

Burden's dragons in the American Museum of Natural History

That is, until word reached Burden’s friend, Merian C. Cooper, who was now working in the film industry making psuedo-documentaries for Paramount Pictures.  In his films, which were of course all founded on a spirit of adventure, he and his crew would document far off places, but stage fake dramatic moments to add to the drama and excitement.  His most successful film at the time was Chang, a documentary film about a poor farmer in Thailand, and his daily struggle for survival in the jungle. In Cooper's own words, Chang was a "melodrama with man, the jungle, and wild animals as its cast." Kru, the farmer depicted in the film, battled leopards, tigers, and even a herd of elephants, all of which pose a constant threat to his livelihood. The danger was real to all the people and animals involved. Tigers, leopards, and bears were slaughtered on camera, while the film's climax shows Kru's house being demolished by a stampeding elephant. Chang was even nominated for the Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production at the first Academy Awards in 1929, the only year when that award was presented.  Naturally, Burden's story of the Komodo Dragons being found and brought back to civilization completely infatuated Cooper.

Indeed, Burden often professed that "civilization" was what killed his mighty captive Dragons.  This whole idea ran wild in Cooper's mind, where he also saw a possibility to get his own favorite real life monsters in on the action.  Cooper envisioned a movie in which all of these themes came into play around a central action scene where a Komodo Dragon would fight one of his beloved, savage Gorillas.  Two titanic beasts battling it out, a trope which would forever permeate the giant monster genre, was born, and now Cooper needed to find a way to get it on film.  Frantically Cooper tried to get various studios to back the project, but by this time it was the early days of The Great Depression and no studio would risk the money sending expeditions and film crews to both the island of Komodo as well as Africa to get the main beasts.  However, during his plight, Cooper was offered a job as an assistant to David O Selznick at RKO studios.  The job would involve going over the studios projects and helping decide which ones were financially viable to produce, and as added incentive to take the job, they told Cooper that he could produce his own films.

Cooper got to work, and started making a film adaptation of Richard Connell's short story, The Most Dangerous Game, which told the story of a man who's yacht is shipwrecked on a reef intended to trap humans on a nearby island where they are then hunted by the villainous General Zaroff.  RKO approved the film, and in the meantime Cooper got to work on reviewing all of RKO's other projects.  Of those, one named Creation stood out as a particular financial disaster.

A beast from Creation
Taking its cues from both the novel and film version of The Lost World as well as Edgar Rice Burrough's novel, The Land That Time ForgotCreation told the a story about a group of sailors who found themselves stranded in a world full of prehistoric monsters.  Surprisingly, however, many of the monsters in creation actually weren't dinosaurs but other creatures from the past - as per usual, heavily inspired by the paintings of Charles R Knight, and animated by the film's main creative force, Willis O'Brien.

A scene from Creation's concept art
While the film would have undoubtedly been a fun romp, it may have also been a fairly confusing and heatless venture.  Beyond that, it was a budgetary disaster, having eaten up much of its budget with only about twenty minutes of footage to show. It was an out-of-control production, and several of the producers at RKO were looking down upon it with disdain.  Cooper in particular hated the story that had been developed, although he was extremely interested in the special effects technique which O'Brien was using and spent a great deal of time learning as much as he could about it.  He quickly realized that the manufactured creatures O'Brien had fabricated would work as a means to help him make his Gorilla vs. Komodo Dragon feature, using stop-motion animation in-studio rather than having to go out on expeditions and capture the animals alive.  Discussing the idea with O'Brien, the special effects artist painted up a piece of concept art for Cooper showing what the film could look like if they used stop-motion.  Famously, O'Brien knew they could make the gorilla more menacing than the real animal with his effects, and opted to paint it roughly 10 feet tall.  The image which shows a viscous gorilla menacing an armed hunter and a sensual jungle-woman gave Cooper all he needed to set out and force his film into production with more or less the pure power of will.

The first piece of concept art for King Kong, "The Giant Terror Gorilla"

Taking inspiration from O'Brien's painting of what would be dubbed the "Giant Terror Gorilla," Cooper realized his gorilla movie could be much more epic than what he originally imagined.  He didn't need to be confined to a normal gorilla battling a komodo dragon, but could make his gorilla quite large and have him battle other large monsters.  And luckily for him, RKO Studios already had several large-monster models ready to be animated over on the set of Creation.  He even had jungle sets for the actors to be in over on his own set for his Most Dangerous Game film.  Hatching an ingenious plan, Cooper went to the board at RKO and recommended that the runaway project Creation be canceled, which it immediately was.  He then got O'Brien to help him put together some test footage for his Giant Terror Gorilla movie, and meshed it together with some of the finished footage from Creation along with some other footage of actors from his film The Most Dangerous Game.  Though not everybody felt his idea was a good one, RKO did eventually put the film into production thanks to a recent sexpoitation flick.

Much of the motivation behind giving the project the green light is said to have been based on the success of another film which had been fairly lucrative in some of the RKO owned theaters, named Ingagi.  A 1930 Pre-Code exploitation film, Ingagi purported itself to be to be a documentary, similar to Cooper's previous films, though it was expressly more controversial. While it was marketed under the pretense of an ethnographic film, the premise was fabricated, and has lead in modern times to the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association to retract any involvement with the film, which was about a "true story account" of a ritual where African women were given over to gorillas as sex slaves, but instead was mostly filmed in Los Angeles using local blacks in place of natives.  Clearly much more of an exploitative offering than anything Cooper was going to dream up, RKO was interested in the profit they could make for something along those lines.

First, they had to put together a story.  The skeleton of the tale was already in place from the Komodo expedition, but it still needed to be fleshed out.  Famously, one reason Cooper was unimpressed with Creation was the lack of focus it had.  There were a lot of characters but perhaps more importantly, there were a lot of monsters.  This had been a weak point in The Lost World where some of the more impressive dinosaurs had scattered screen time, and a less menacing beast made it into the climactic rampage through London.  Cooper saw a lot of potential for his Giant Terror Gorilla to be that central focus of the film, catapulting it into a league with monsters of the time like Dracula and Frankenstein's Monster.  However, the collaboration between O'Brien and Cooper did come momentarily to a bit of an altercation when Merian C. Cooper wanted the monster to be more of an ape, but Willis O'Brien wanted him to be more of a human being. A compromise was met with the terror gorilla being made into more of an "apeman." This was O'Brien's third time creating an apeman, as he had previously created one for his short film The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy and The Lost World.

Cooper assigned a recently hired RKO screenwriter and best-selling British mystery/adventure writer named Edgar Wallace the job of writing a screenplay, and a novel based on his gorilla fantasy. Cooper, ever the showman, understood the commercial appeal of Wallace's name and planned to publicize the film as being "based on the novel by Edgar Wallace." Wallace conferred with Cooper and O'Brien, and began work on January 1, 1932. He completed a rough draft called The Beast on January 5, 1932. His draft was considerably different from what would happen in the final cut of the film, notably having the main character be named Danby Denham, a big game hunter, a girl named Shirley, and her love interest, John, who was an escaped convict.  Another notable difference, as seen in early concept art for the film, was that after his capture, The Beast was to be brought to New York and displayed in the Madison Square Garden Arena.  Cooper thought the draft needed considerable work but Wallace died on February 10, 1932 just after beginning revisions.  In spite of how much work had been completed, Cooper insisted that Wallace died having written "not one bloody word," and that he gave the writer a screen credit simply because as producer he had promised him one.
Cooper called in James A. Creelman (who was working on the script of The Most Dangerous Game at the time) and the two men worked together on several drafts under the title The Eighth Wonder. Some details from Wallace's rough draft were dropped: Wallace's Danby Denham character became film director Carl Denham. His Shirley became Ann Darrow and her lover became a sailor named Jack Driscoll. Kong's escape was switched from Madison Square Garden to Yankee Stadium, and then changed again to a Broadway theater. The 'beauty and the beast' angle was first developed at this time although many "cute moments" involving the gorilla in Wallace's draft were cut because Cooper wanted the Beast to be hard and tough in the belief that his fall would be all the more awesome and tragic. Time constraints forced Creelman to temporarily drop The Eighth Wonder at which time RKO staff writer Horace McCoy was called in to work with Cooper, and it was then that the island natives, a giant wall, and the sacrificial maidens entered the plot. When Creelman returned to the script full-time, he hated these 'mythic elements', believing the script already had too many over-the-top concepts. RKO head, Selznick, and his executives wanted the monster to be introduced earlier in the film, believing the audience would grow bored waiting for his appearance, but Cooper persuaded them that a suspenseful build-up would make its entrance all the more exciting. Cooper felt Creelman's final draft was slow-paced, too full of flowery dialogue, weighted-down with long scenes of exposition, and written on a scale that would have been prohibitively expensive to film. So finally, writer Ruth Rose, the wife of Ernest Schoedsack who would co-direct the film with Cooper, was brought in to clean things up and, although she had never written a screenplay, undertook the task with a complete understanding of Cooper's style. She streamlined the script and tightened the action. Rather than explaining how the monster would be transported to New York, for example, she simply cut from the island to the theater. She incorporated autobiographical elements into the script with Cooper mirrored in the Denham character, her husband Schoedsack mirrored in the tough-but-tender Driscoll character, and herself in struggling actress Ann Darrow. She rewrote the dialogue to give it some "zip" and created the film's entire opening chunk showing Denham plucking Ann from the streets of New York. Cooper was delighted with Rose's script, but added one final touch of his own, a fictional Arab proverb seen on the screen at the beginning of the film, reading, "And, lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty, and beauty stayed his hand. And from that day forward, he was as one dead."  Happy, he approved the script (now called Kong) for production.  Cooper and his oft-collaborator Schoedsack decided to co-direct scenes, but their styles were very different.  Finally they agreed to work separately with Cooper directing the miniature and special effects scenes, and Schoedsack directing the live-action scenes.

Using many of the sets from The Most Dangerous Game (which saw a successful release in 1932) as well as many of its lead actors, they immediately got to work on King Kong.  Famously, when Cooper approached lead actress Fay Wray about the part, he told her she'd be co-starring with the "tallest and darkest" man in Hollywood.  She had assumed he meant Clark Gable until he showed her a piece of concept art with Kong climbing the Empire State Building and realized he was referring to the monster.  In her autobiography she stated that she took the role not because the film sounded impressive, but because she was struck with Cooper's own personal enthusiasm about seeing his brainchild come to life.

Getting to work, they completed King Kong in roughly one year, using a barrage of ingenious and imaginative film techniques that one would think could take multiple years to complete.  A feverish labor of love, Kong was somehow miraculously pulled off with flying colors. Kong's roars and grunts were created by manipulating the recorded roars of zoo lions. For budget reasons, RKO decided not to have an original film score composed but directed composer Max Steiner to simply reuse music from other films. However, Cooper was offended by this and thought his film absolutely deserved an original score, and paid Steiner $50,000 of his personal funds to compose it anew. Steiner completed the score in six weeks and recorded it with a 46 piece orchestra, experimenting with a number of new film scoring techniques, such as the use of leitmotifs and so on. The score was unlike any that came before it and marks a milestone in the history of film music, often being cited as still being one of the best ever produced. The studio, impressed, eventually reimbursed Cooper the money he had spent on it.

Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film, "The visual techniques are explained by film historian Ron Haver, whose commentary track on the 1985 Criterion laser disc was one of the first ever recorded. He is amusing in describing how some live-action scenes were miniaturized to make the Kong model look larger; searching for the right screen to project them on, the filmmakers hit on a screen made of condoms, to the consternation of a nearby druggist who could not understand their orders for a gross at a time. Haver also observes how Kong's fur seems to crawl during several scenes; the model was covered with rabbit fur, and the fingers of the stop-action animators disturbed it between every stop-action shot. The effect, explained by the filmmakers as "muscles rippling," is oddly effective."

Ronald Haver wrote in an essay found on the Criterion Collection's website: "King Kong is unique in motion picture history. In the 51 years since its original release, its particular combination of unbridled imagination and ingenious craftsmanship have never been equalled. Not only has it stood the test of time, but King Kong has influenced several generations of writers and filmmakers, including Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. King Kong is a work of genius—actually three geniuses: Merian C. Cooper, whose brainchild it was; Willis O’Brien, who created and supervised the film’s unsurpassed special effects; and Max Steiner, whose scoring of the picture was a landmark, setting new standards for the use of music in motion pictures. Kong is a testament not only to their abilities but also to the virtues of the much-maligned studio system as a catalytic creative unit. In the half-century since Kong first climbed the Empire State Building into the collective subconscious of moviegoers the world over, the film has become the subject of controversy and intense critical analysis. Bosley Crowther, long the dean of American film critics, wrote that it has “implications more profound than had ever before been generated in a mere monster or science fiction film.” King Kong is far more than “a mere monster or science fiction film.” It is a fantasy adventure romance of spectacular proportions, a twentieth-century version of the Beauty and the Beast legend and an allegory on the destructive powers of both love and civilization. Serious discussion was given to various theories: that the film was unconsciously racist; that it was an out-sized sexual fantasy with elaborate analogies explaining Kong’s climbing the Empire State Building as a blatant form of phallic symbolism. The French surrealists saw it as a pristine example of “L’amour Fou”: mad, or doomed love. Cooper, its creator, was alternately amused and disgusted by these theories, maintaining to the end of his life that “Kong was never intended to be anything but the best damned adventure film ever made, which it is; and that’s all it is.” "

King Kong opened at the 6,200-seat Radio City Music Hall in New York City and the 3,700-seat RKO Roxy across the street on Thursday, March 2, 1933. The film was preceded by a stage show called Jungle Rhythms. Crowds lined up around the block on opening day, with tickets priced at $.35 to $.75, and, in its first four days, every one of its ten-shows-a-day were sold out – setting an all-time attendance record for an indoor event. Over the four-day period, the film grossed $89,931. The film had its official world premiere on March 23, 1933 at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The mechanical 'big head bust' of Kong used as a prop in the film was placed in the theater's forecourt and a seventeen-act show preceded the film with "The Dance of the Sacred Ape" performed by a troupe of African American dancers. The film opened nationwide on April 10, 1933, and worldwide on Easter Day in London, England. It was also extremely well received. Variety thought the film a "powerful adventure." The New York Times gave readers an enthusiastic account of the plot and thought the film "a fascinating adventure." However, the film's subtextual threat to Aryan womanhood got Kong banned in Pre-World-WarII Nazi Germany. The film made approximately $2 million in its initial release, with an opening weekend estimated at $90,000. As a result, RKO saw a profit for the first time in its five-year existence. During the film's first run it made a profit of $650,000. It was re-released in 1938, 1942, 1946, and 1952. After the 1952 re-release, Variety estimated the film had made $4 million in cumulative domestic rentals for that year. Unfortunately, for all its popularity, it did not receive any Academy Award nominations. Selznick wanted to nominate O'Brien and his crew for a special award in visual effects but the Academy declined. Such a category did not exist at the time and would not exist until 1938. Sidney Saunders and Fred Jackman received a special achievement award for the development of the translucent acetate/cellulose rear screen – the only Kong-related award given initially. However, the film has since received some significant honors. In 1975, Kong was named one of the 50 best American films by the American Film Institute, and, in 1991, the film was deemed "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. In 1998, the AFI ranked the film #43 on its list of the 100 greatest movies of all time. Needless to say, Kong's impact on the real world is one that cannot be ignored, even nearly a century after its initial release.

A statue of Willis O'Brien animating Kong
Taking all of that in mind, perhaps it isn't entirely fair to analyze King Kong through the prism of Freudian thought or as a social commentary about exploiting "the other."  It's hard to watch the film and walk away from it without spending a great deal of time swimming in the shallow pools is cynicism and conclude it was all a story about "rapacious Negroes" and the "danger" they present to Aryan women, or that it's climax was all some sort of ridiculous phallic showdown. No, instead, as Cooper himself stated, along with numerous reviews at the time of its initial release, King Kong presents a marvelously powerful adventure above all else, and offers at its center a dangerous and compelling monster for the audience to focus on and attach emotions of fear, empathy, sympathy, and excitement to.  Perhaps the other readings of the film are justified, but at the end of the day, King Kong's value is in its spectacle, and its timeless sense of monster-infused adventure.

And in the film, that's exactly what the character of Carl Denham is trying to do for his own movie.  We begin in New York harbor, where we meet Carl Denham, a filmmaker who is famous for shooting animal documentaries in remote and exotic locations.  Denham's latest project, however, will be quite different from his usual documentaries.  He has recently bought a map off of a mysterious Norwegian sailor, to a fabled uncharted isle called Skull Island.  Aside from its ominous name, the island is most famous for a legendary creature, "neither man nor beast," named Kong, who lives there.  Though it's largely considered a myth among sailors, Denham believes he can find this Kong and document him in a film.  However, more than just a mere documentary, Denham has planned a sort of tragic "beauty and the beast" story for his film to be centered upon, and has been unable to secure a leading lady for the role.  His talent agent, Charles Weston, has refused to supply an actress, due to the dangerous nature of the voyage.  Denham is outraged and annoyed at the lack of cooperation, and storms out into the streets of New York to find anyone who would be willing to take.  Luckily - or perhaps by fate - he chances upon Ann Darrow, an unemployed and starving woman, whom he convinced to get off the streets and join him on "the adventure of a lifetime."  Ann takes the role and they all set sail aboard the ship Venture, in the direction of Indonesia.

It's interesting just how much the character of Denham mirrors King Kong's real life creator, Merian C. Cooper.  Cooper also shot exotic "documentaries" before he began making films like The Most Dangerous Game.  However, he often staged the events that took place within them.  In his film Chang, he purported to be presenting the actual life of a farmer in the jungles, but most of the major action sets were completely staged, such as an elephant smashing the main character's home during the finale.  Denham seems bent on similarly adding drama to whatever he finds during his shooting expedition in order to sell tickets.

On the ship, Denham and Anne increasingly interact with the ship's first mate, Jack Driscoll.  Honestly, of all the dated ideologies that make me shift uneasily in my seat, Jack provides the worst of it in his continuous sexist statements.  However, despite his ongoing declarations that women have no place onboard ships, he gradually becomes attracted to Ann.  Ann is similarly interested in him, despite his insistence on degrading her at every moment. He's a complete bully toward her for the duration of the voyage, and when he finally does tell her, "I think I love you," it feels so out of place and forced that I really doubt anyone in the audience can truly believe this romance. Ultimately, the movie would work just as well without the romance, framing Jack as more heroic and macho as opposed to a love-interest.  Alas, Cooper - through Denham - opts instead to draw a parallel between the human romance, and the tragic monster waiting for them, as Carl spouts, "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."

Soon, they have arrived at the island.  As the Venture creeps through the fog surrounding the island, the crew hears drums in the distance. Arriving at the island's shore, they see a native village on a peninsula, cut off from the bulk of the island by an enormous ancient stone wall. A landing party, including the filming crew and Ann, goes ashore and encounters the natives who are in the middle of ritually sacrificing one of their own to their deity, Kong.  However, it's clear that the natives see the intruders as violating the sacred ritual, and are immediately angered until the native chief spots Ann and proposes to trade six of his women for her.  Ann, of course, is horrified, realizing that the implication is that the natives think she will make a better sacrifice to Kong than the one they had already prepared.  Denham and co delicately decline the chief's offer and turn to leave, though they arrogantly promise the angry and spurned chief that they will return in the morning to get "better acquainted."

Of course, things don't go according to that plan.  As the crew reassembles aboard the Venture for the night, a stealthy contingent of natives sneak aboard and capture Ann.  Forcibly tying her up, they take her ashore and undergo the ceremony, taking her to the other side of their massive wall where leave her on a sacrificial alter. They then begin chanting and banging drums and gongs, calling out to their god.  Soon, crashing through the jungle ahead, Kong emerges through the trees, revealed to be a giant gorilla.  The effects are impressive.  Kong is achieved through stop motion animation, while closeups of his face utilize a life-sized animatronic model of his head.  I gotta say, while the animation is nowhere near perfect, it's extremely impressive all the same.  His hair moves as if it were blowing around, or his muscles were rippling (though in reality they move because the animator was touching the model between shots), his eyes dart around, his face is extremely emotive, and if nothing else, the way he moves is given a bit of a creepy vibe due to the effect.  Even more creepy is the giant animatronic head.  Actually, creepy doesn't even begin to cover it.  His soulless eyes and lush lashes are just a big strange. I'm not really a fan of the giant head to be honest.  While impressive for what it is, for me it doesn't jive super well with the animated versions of the character.  They look too different. 

At any rate, the Venture crew storms village just in time to see Ann being carted off into the jungle by Kong. Scaring the villagers away with their guns, they open the huge gate on the wall - which it now seems to have been constructed to keep Kong, and whatever else, trapped in the island and keep the villagers safe - and send half of the crew to rescue Ann, while the rest hold the gate and keep the villagers at bay.  Funny how big the gate is though, considering they never intended Kong to walk through it... Anyway,  Denham and Jack lead the rescue team through the thick jungle, and are surprised to come across an enormous stegosaurus grazing in a clearing.  The brave and macho men that they are, they shoot at the stegosaur as it charges at them, and Denham chucks a gas grenade at it.  The beast dies, and there's a suitably wacky and iconic scene where they walk passed its enormous body and its tail is twitching in the weirdest, most implausible way ever, as if stegosaurs had prehensile tails like a monkey or something. 

Continuing on, they come to a large body of water that Kong evidently waded through, and are forced to quickly tie a raft together and begin floating across.  More chaos quickly ensues, as an apparently amphibious brontosaurus rises from beneath the glassy water and capsizes the raft.  Everyone scrambles to swim to the opposite shore, and the brontosaur begins chewing up sailor after sailor.  It's weird that they chose to have this enormous herbivore chomping down on people... Literally, at one point is chases a sailor down on land in order to chew on him.  Very odd, but it's a heck of a lot of fun at the same time.  And that's something worth noting: the build up in this film, while brief, was slow in pace and tone.  So much so that RKO studios actually asked Cooper to cut a lot of it out, but he felt the slow build up was needed.  However, once they reach the island and Kong reveals himself, it is almost an entirely non-stopped action ride from here to the film's conclusion, with few moments for the audience to catch there breath - and the film is all the better off for it.

The relentless action continues as they reach a massive ravine and attempt to cross it by walking over a log which has spanned the gap.  However, as they do so, Kong appears ahead of them and shakes the log until they all fall off.  And here's where a lot of cinematic legend comes into play.  Reportedly, several scenes were intended to surround this sequence which were either cut from the film, or not completed to begin with.  While there is debate as to whether or not these scenes were actually ever filmed or not, production stills show they were intended to be there at some point, and hint to the fact that they were indeed produced at sometime.  Legend among fans state that the scenes were omitted because they were too horrifying for audiences during the initial release, but there isn't a whole lot of evidence to back this up.  However, the scenes go essentially as follows: after encountering the brontosaurus, the crew comes upon a ceratopsian-type dinosaur that begins to chase them, forcing them onto the log bridge.  The evidence backing this is supported by the fact that as they climb onto the log they look back at... well, nothing... but they keep looking over their shoulder as if something where hot on their tail.  Then, once Kong is shaking the log, they stay on it rather than retreating back.  Instead of being trapped between a rock and a hard place, they are supposedly trapped between a King Kong and a styracosaurus.  Some production stills and promotional art seem to confirm this idea, showing the sailors in this exact predicament - though again, in the film, the dinosaur is absent.

The next bit of legend occurs when the sailors fall.  Supposedly, they were meant to fall down into the ravine where all sorts of little weird critters (notoriously, large bugs and spiders) devour the survivors.  Production art and stills confirm this as well, and the scene has been infamously referred to as the lost "Spider Pit" sequence ever since.  When Peter Jackson remade King Kong in 2005, he made sure to add this horrific (and it really is excessively, and perhaps distastefully, dark and gruesome) scene in his version. However, he also sought to find as much information as possible regarding all of this and actually produced his own black and white stop motion version of the styracosaur chase and spider scene to be inserted into the original film, which can be seen in the special features of the 2 disk DVD set which was released around that time.

Anyway, after shaking the sailors into the ravine, Kong hears Ann screaming off in the distance and runs off to see what the problem is, and it is revealed that only Driscoll and Denham have survived the incident.  Jack had climbed down into a little cave on the cliffside (where he had to fight off a weird two-legged lizard thing that was crawling up to eat him, perhaps further confirmation that all manner of critters were down in the ravine below, ready to eat the sailors) while Denham is trapped on the other side.  Jack tells Denham to head back to the village while he continues onward to get Ann.  We are never given answers as to how exactly Denham makes it back.  It is a serious wonder that he does.  

Meanwhile a Tyrannosaurus rex (depicted with three claws rather than two, due to lack of knowledge at the time) attempts to eat Ann, and Kong arrives to fight and kill the carnivore.  For me, this fight is actually the best sequence in the entire movie.  It's pure entertainment as Kong wrestles his reptilian foe. Using the moves of a pro wrestler (which Willis O'Brien, the animator, had been prior to getting into movies) he pins the Rex down and forcibly pulls its mouth agape, finally breaking the jaws apart and killing it.  The crack of the jaws is chilling, and blood immediately begins gushing from the wound.  And adding character to the moment, a huge vulture even arrives and begins eating the flesh off of the carcass.  I love all of that.  The sounds, the blood, the arrival of scavengers... it all makes these monsters seem to be alive.  If we were shown just a big still lifeless dinosaur, it would look like... well, like a model dinosaur laying there.  But such care and effort was brought in to make the audience believe these things are real.  I've said before, it's not perfect animation by any means, but is good enough to be 100% affective upon any casual viewing.  

Having saved her, Kong takes Ann and heads onward to his den in Skull Mountain.  Once inside Kong and Ann are again pestered by yet another prehistoric monster, this time an aquatic reptile thing.  It appears to be a mix between a serpent, a plesiosaur, and an elasmosaur - but it has been popularly misidentified as being a massive snake (which rumor was made all the more rampant when King Kong was remade in the 70's and shows Kong fighting, at his lair, a giant constrictor snake).  Kong kills it, of course, and then takes Ann up to the summit of the mountain where he begins erotically exploring her. Methodically and intelligently he stares at her, tickles her, and begins peeling her clothes off - he even pervertedly sniffs them.  Kong is certainly an interesting monster.  He's fierce, he battles other monsters, he killed pretty much the entire crew by knocking them into the ravine... we have to assume he is the "top dog" on Skull Island, not just because the islanders worship him (which makes sense, because he's the most humanoid thing on the island) but also because he has to survive in this dangerous place, and obviously has held his own rather well.  But he's so much more than that.  He's not just a mindless beast, or even a pretty smart beast.  He is given emotion.  Ann isn't just a curiosity, she's something he is attached to.  He cares.  He feels.  He may or may not want to consummate his feelings with Ann.  In an earlier moment, Jack sticks a knife in Kong's finger and Kong quickly pulls away and sadly inspects the wound.  He looks like a child that's scraped his knee.  But unlike the child, he has no mom to help him.  He has to be tough.  Moments later he explodes into a frenzy and fights the tyrannosaur.  But being tough doesn't mean he doesn't have feelings.  If there is anything we can undoubtedly say about Kong it's that he does have feelings in some way or another.  He's not just about brute force.  He is so careful and gentle with Ann that we are left with no other option than to say in some way, shape, or form, he cares about her and is trying to be as kind to her as he knows how.

While Kong defiles the dumbstruck Ann, Jack makes a noise in the distance which distracts Kong.  Thoughtfully, he puts Ann down and heads off to investigate.  Once he's gone, Jack grabs Ann's and they attempt to make an escape - only to be attacked by a pteranodon. Again Kong is alerted and he snatches the pteranodon out of the air, freeing Ann from its clutches. After winning this latest battle, Kong inspects the dead pteranodon - which is another thing I'll make special note of.  One of the other things that fleshes out Kong so much in such a weird but precise way is what he does after his battles.  He always seems to play with the dead dinosaurs when he's done.  After killing the tyrannosaur he plays with it's disjointed jaw, opening and closing it like a puppet, and here he messes around curiously with the pteranodon's wings.  While doing so, Jack and Ann use the distraction to escape by climbing down a vine dangling from the cliff's edge. Kong discovers the escape and starts pulling the vine back up, but Ann and Driscoll let go, falling into a river and making it back to the village.  All the while, however, a frantic and angry Kong chases them, to the point that he breaks through the large gate in the wall, and storms the village, killing many natives. He mashes them into the mud and chews on a few of them, it's pretty good monster fun.  Interestingly, when Kong would be rereleased in later years, there would be a stricter code on films and most of the sequences of him chewing on people or stepping on them and tossing them around would be omitted (though they've been restored to modern releases these days, being extremely tame to what contemporary standards are).  As Kong chases the remaining sailors to the beach, Denham hurls a gas bomb at him, knocking him out, whereupon Denham exults in the opportunity presented shouting, "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!"

The final act takes place back in New York.  The words which Denham excitedly had screamed on the wasted beaches of Skull Island are now up in lights on a marquee, signifying Denham's fulfilled promise to bring Kong back to civilization. Along with hundreds of curious New Yorkers, Denham, Driscoll and Ann are dressed in evening wear for a gala event in a Broadway Theater. The curtain lifts, and Denham presents a subdued and shackled Kong to the stunned audience. Denham poignantly states at one point that King "was a king in his world," and sort of gloats at the fact that he is now is such a sad and captive state.  Which is interesting.  Kong was a king, and in spite of being that "top dog" as mentioned above, he continually threw his life in the fray to defend Ann, getting him to this sad and sorry state. All goes well in the show until news photographers using the blinding flashbulbs of the era begin snapping shots of Ann and Jack (who have recently announced that they'll be married the following day I believe... like I said, this romance is absurd.  I get that Ann would be impressed and grateful to Jack for saving her, but he was such a bum earlier... why!?). Under the impression that the flashbulbs are harming Ann, Kong breaks free of his bonds - humorously and famously as Denham assured the reporters that nothing could ever break those shackles - and escapes from the theater as the screaming audience flees. Kong rampages through city streets, causing loads of casualties. He even grabs women who might be Ann, and then throws them to their deaths when he realizes that they aren't.  Climbing a hotel wall, he spots Ann in an upper-floor room. His massive hand smashes through the window, knocking Jack to the floor unconscious, and grabs Ann continuing his rampage until he eventually climbs the Empire State Building, still holding Ann. Listening to distressing radio reports about Kong's progress, Jack - who is now awake - seizes on the idea of using planes to shoot him atop the skyscraper. The police call the field to order the air assault while Jack and Denham race to the Empire State Building.

A squadron of military biplanes swoop down on Kong as he reaches the top of the skyscraper. Kong manages to knock one plane out of the sky, but the others rake him with machine gun fire, careful to shoot only when the giant ape has placed Ann on a lower ledge.  Amusingly, Merian C. Cooper (who, if it hasn't been pounded into you yet, was the creator and co-director of the film) actually plays one of the fighter pilots himself.  He was a pilot in real life as well, but one who knows anything about the man cannot help but feel he arrogantly and proudly placed himself in the role of the great white hunter who felled the monster. Kong is mortally wounded. He looks down at Ann one last time before falling to his death- and awesomely bouncing off of the walls as he skids on down. Defying police orders not to enter the building during the battle, Driscoll arrives at the ledge and takes Ann in his arms. Below on the street, Denham makes his way through the gathered crowd to look upon the fallen Kong. A police lieutenant says, "Well, Denham, the airplanes got him." The film ends with Carl Denham's extremely famous reply, "Oh, no, it wasn't the was Beauty killed the Beast."

King Kong is a great movie.  It is pure imagination and adventure pumped up on more steroids than many of the day could possibly conceive.  It's brisk.  It's exciting. It stands above many of the rest of its genre because Kong is just such an appealing monster.  And above all, it's just fun.  All other interpretations are fine, but for me, King Kong isn't a deep look at "the heart of darkness" or even a "tragic monster" or anything of the like.  For me, King Kong is man versus nature at its most spectacular.  It's entertaining through and through, and it's just about the most watchable monster movie ever made.  One of the most fun you'll ever see, and really in my opinion, a must see.