This film was successfully reissued worldwide numerous times; some claim it was the first ever re-released film. In the 1938 reissue, several scenes of excessive violence and sex were cut to comply with the Production Code enforced in 1934. Though many of the censored scenes were restored by Janus Films in 1971 (including the censored sequence in which Kong peels off Fay Wray's clothes), one deleted scene has never been found, shown publicly only once during a preview screening in San Bernardino, California in January 1933. It was a graphic scene following Kong shaking four sailors off the log bridge, causing them to fall into a ravine where they were eaten alive by giant spiders. At the preview screening, audience members screamed and either left the theatre or talked about the grisly sequence throughout the subsequent scenes, disrupting the film. Said the film's producer, Merian C. Cooper, "It stopped the picture cold, so the next day back at the studio, I took it out myself."
Scenes cut over the years of release and re-release: Kong chewing on the natives of Skull Island; two scenes with Kong squashing one native each with his giant foot; the brontosaurus biting and throwing the men in the water; Kong putting a New Yorker in his mouth then throwing him down to the ground; a scene where Kong climbs a building, pulls out a sleeping woman with his giant hand, examines her, and when he finds it's not Ann Darrow, tosses her down to the sidewalk below; and, of course, Fay Wray's clothing being peeled off. The censor committee once stated that this was at least six minutes of editing. These scenes were all restored to the actual film in 1971. Of course, we still have yet to see the famous spider pit sequence, although in King Kong (2005), we get an idea of what it was like. Also, the 2005 DVD release of the 1933 film has Peter Jackson's recreation of that scene.
One of the characters in line to see Kong complains to his lady companion, "These tickets cost me 20 bucks." At presumably $10 per ticket, this would have been a tremendous cost in Depression-wracked 1933. By contrast, a ticket to see the 1933 New York Yankees, which featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, or to this movie itself, would have been about 35 cents.
The trees and plants in the background on the stop-motion animation sets were a combination of metal models and real plants. One day during filming, a flower on the miniature set bloomed without anyone noticing. The error in continuity was not noticed until the film was developed and shown. While Kong moved, a time-lapse effect showed the flower coming into full bloom, and an entire day of animation was lost.
Both Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack had been wrestlers, and they acted out the fighting moves for the battle between the T-Rex and Kong in the effects studio, before the animators shot the scene.
The 2005 DVD restoration further details the risqué liberties of a 1933 pre-code film release in two scenes. The first is when Ann is on the ship's deck while Charlie is peeling potatoes, and the second is where Denham is shooting some test footage of Ann ("Scream for your life, Ann, Scream!"). The thin material used for Ann's dress and gown in both scenes makes it obvious that Fay Wray is not wearing a bra; a wardrobe decision that may not have made it past the Breen Code the following year.
Special effects genius Willis H. O'Brien, who earlier used stop-motion animation of dinosaur models in The Lost World (1925), had created several dinosaur models for his unfinished production Creation (1931). Producer Merian C. Cooper sold the idea for this film to RKO executives in New York by showing them a test sequence using O'Brien's models. The executives were stunned, never having seen anything like it, and green-lighted production. O'Brien also used many of his "Creation" models in this film, including the T-Rex and the pteranodon (giant flying creature).
The 56-cm-high model of King Kong used in the film sold at auction in 2009 for about $203,000 (US). It was originally covered in cotton, rubber, liquid latex, and rabbit fur, but most of the covering has decomposed over the decades.
The remakes - King Kong (1976) and King Kong (2005) - show Kong with the same temperament as in the original film. In the less popular sequel The Son of Kong (1933) and the successful "distant cousin" Mighty Joe Young (1949), the Production Code of 1934 was a strong influence on "the script" for the central characters, as they were friendlier and less destructive.
This film--along with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Laurel & Hardy movies--were thought to be Adolf Hitler's favorites. In his 2013 book, "The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler", Harvard scholar Ben Urwand documents how Georg Gyssling, the Nazi Party's special consul assigned to monitor Hollywood films, thought this scary monster ape movie might possibly be 'an attack on the nerves of the German people', but there are other examples (M (1931) being a notable example) where Nazi leaders privately liked and consumed works of art they censored in public.
The native village huts were left over from RKO's Bird of Paradise (1932). The Great Wall was part of the Temple of Jerusalem set for Cecil B. DeMille's Biblical epic The King of Kings (1927). The Great Wall set was later reused in Selznick's The Garden of Allah (1936) and finally redressed with Civil War era building fronts, burned and pulled down by a tractor to film the burning of Atlanta munitions warehouses in Gone with the Wind (1939).
There was more than one model of Kong used in the film. There are considerable differences between the Kong on Skull Island and the Kong in New York. For instance, the Skull Island Kong has a longer face, which the filmmakers thought made the ape look "too human".
Merian C. Cooper was partially inspired by W. Douglas Burden, who brought the world's first captive Komodo dragons to the Bronx Zoo in 1926. Cooper was intrigued how the once mythic, massive predators quickly perished once caged and displayed for the public.
As a child, Merian C. Cooper lived close to an elevated train which kept him awake at night when it clattered across the tracks. This was the inspiration for the scene where Kong destroys an elevated train.
Sensing a huge hit from industry buzz, MGM offered to buy the film outright from RKO for $1.072m (some $400,000 over its negative cost), figuring the little studio was reeling from losing $10+m in 1932. RKO was smart to decline the offer. The film smashed attendance records nationwide and ended up grossing $1.761m during its initial release. RKO would periodically, and extremely profitably, re-release the movie through the 1950s.
According to Orville Goldner in "The Making of King Kong", the film came in at 13 reels. Producer/director Merian C. Cooper feigned horror at the number 13 and insisted another scene be shot to bring the film to 14 reels. The new scene was the elevated train sequence, which Cooper had wanted all along.
Art drawn for the press book for the original release of the film was contributed by Keye Luke, who was a highly regarded illustrator before he became an actor and whose works have appeared in films themselves, such as The Shanghai Gesture (1941).
Executive Producer David O. Selznick left RKO midway through production of this film. Selznick's last act of business at RKO--and probably his biggest contribution to the film--was to write a memo changing the name of the production from "Kong" to "King Kong".
According to the book "David O. Selznick's Hollywood" by Ron Haver, costume designer Walter Plunkett (later noteworthy for Gone with the Wind (1939)) worked uncredited on this film. Specifically, he designed the "Beauty and the Beast" costume that Ann Darrow wears while Carl Denham is filming her screen test.
It has been said that this was the first Hollywood film to use a fully symphonic musical score. As memorable and effective as the musical score was, some have made the same claim about RKO's Bird of Paradise (1932), released earlier (perhaps that claim should be revised to "the first memorable film . . . "). Regardless, Max Steiner, composer for both films (and many later classics, including Gone with the Wind (1939) and Casablanca (1942)) was a visionary, forward-thinking man. One of the legends surrounding this film is that director Merian C. Cooper paid Steiner from his own pocket after RKO bosses expressed concern over mounting production costs.
This is the only film to debut at the two largest theaters in New York, the Roxy and Radio City Music Hall, simultaneously. The total searing capacity was about 10,000, and it sold out every performance at both theaters.
After Kong has been successfully gassed on the beach, and just before the break to New York, Denham yells that they've captured "Kong! The Eighth Wonder of the World!" He says "Kong" rather than "King Kong" because at that point in the script development, the picture's title was simply "Kong".
Producer/director Merian C. Cooper had originally planned for Kong to be exhibited in Yankee Stadium, but later decided on a mid-town theatre. Special-effects chief Willis H. O'Brien drew a sketch of Kong breaking loose in the Stadium.
According to film editor Archie Marshek, who was a production associate on this film, the elevated train sequence was a last-minute addition by producer Merian C. Cooper because the first cut was 13 reels, and the producer was superstitious.
"King Kong" is the only film considered too big for the Radio City Music Hall and played simultaneously at New York's other large prestige house, The Roxy. The theaters ran 10 shows daily, allowing 10,000 patrons to view it.
According to Merian C. Cooper, although writer Edgar Wallace received screen credit, he "didn't write any of 'Kong' - not one bloody word!" However, his idea to give the giant ape human characteristics was incorporated.
The models of Kong built for the island scenes were only 18 inches high. When producer/director Merian C. Cooper decided Kong needed to look bigger while in New York, a new 24-inch armature was constructed, thus changing Kong's film height from 18 feet on the island to 24 feet while in New York. While it's true Kong was made to look larger in the New York scenes, there is no reason to believe one inch corresponded to a foot in the scale of the models. It's clear when looking at Kong on Skull Island that he's more than three human's tall, which is roughly how big he'd be if he were 18 feet. A specific height was never given.
The two-legged lizard that attacks Jack Driscoll was actually meant to be an aetosaur, a reptile from the Triassic Period. However, because of the high price of armatures (the metal skeletons for the puppets), RKO cut costs by not having hind legs made for it. As a result, the aetosaur has two forearms, no hind legs and a snakelike appearance.
Actual close-up footage of The Empire State Building was added to the film when it was re-issued in 1952, for the scene where Kong grabs the first plane and tosses it off the side of the building. We see a pristine picture of the Empire State Building as it existed in the 1950s with its TV antenna. In the other scenes the landmark building was part of "Hollywood Set", with archival aerial footage of the New York City skyline added. Consequently, the only actual "on-location" filming was done 19 years after the film's first release. Film processing improved by that time, and the difference in clarity between the 1933 footage and the added 1952 shot is quite evident.
Authors Daniel Loxton and Donald Prothero, in their 2013 book "Abominable Science", argue that the UK release of "King Kong" in the spring of 1933 led directly to the supposed sightings of a sea monster in Loch Ness, Scotland. The first sightings of the supposed Loch Ness Monster occurred within six months of the film's release. The descriptions and blurry photos of "Nessie" that emerged from 1933 on seemed likely inspired by the scene in "King Kong" in which a prehistoric water beast, a Diplodocus, attacks the searchers on a raft.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Originally, there was supposed to be an overhead shot of Kong falling from the Empire State Building. This was accomplished by adding Kong in post-production, falling towards the ground. Real footage of the building was used, but when the producers watched the scene they realized that viewers could see through Kong, especially as he passed the darker ledges, so it was cut. This clip has made its way into documentaries on the film but, more commonly, can be found in stills of the scene.
Close-ups of the pilots and gunners of the planes that attack Kong were shot in the studio with mock-up planes. The flight commander is director Merian C. Cooper and his observer is producer Ernest B. Schoedsack. They decided to play the parts after Cooper said that "we should kill the sonofabitch ourselves".
Producer/director Merian C. Cooper had been a wrestler as a youth, and special-effects chief Willis H. O'Brien had had several amateur boxing matches. This experience is evident in Kong's fight with the allosaur. Kong puts his left paw up to guard his face, as a boxer would do, as he hits the allosaur with a right cross. Kong also uses the well-known wrestling moves "trip-out" and "snap mare" during the fight. Kong finally wins by climbing on the allosaur's shoulders and pulling its jaws apart. This move would later be popularized as the "Rocca Ride" by professional wrestler Angelino Rocca in the 1940s.