AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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King Kong
Director: Merian C. Cooper (Dir)
Release Date:   7 Apr 1933
Duration (in mins):  96, 100 or 110
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Cast: Fay Wray  (Ann Darrow)
  Robert Armstrong  (Carl Denham)
  Bruce Cabot  (Jack Driscoll)
 

Summary: Because he refuses to disclose any information concerning the exotic location of his upcoming movie project, Carl Denham, a renowned adventure filmmaker, is forced to search the streets of New York to find a lead actress. At a fruit stand, he stumbles onto the beautiful but broke Ann Darrow as she is about to steal an apple for her dinner. Anxious for work, Ann eagerly accepts Denham's part and agrees without question to make the long sea voyage the next morning. During the trip, Denham, who has refused to disclose his final destination even to the captain, Englehorn, makes screen tests of Ann, coaching her on how to scream and look terrified for the camera. At the same time, the mysogynistic first mate, Jack Driscoll, chides Ann for being a woman on a man's ship, but soon falls in love with her. As the boat enters tropical waters, Denham finally shows Englehorn a map detailing their exact destination--a tiny island dominated by a peak called Skull Mountain. When the boat reaches the island, Ann, Denham and the crew go ashore and discover natives engaged in a frenetic religious ceremony that features men dressed in gorilla skins and a young woman tied to an altar. While Englehorn attempts to make friends so that the camera-wielding Denham can shoot the scene, the native chief eyes the blonde Ann and states cryptically that she would make a good bride for “Kong.” Nervous about the chief's interest in Ann, whose presence on the island Jack has vehemently protested, Denham orders his group back to the boat. That night, Ann is kidnapped from the ship by natives and tied to stakes outside the huge village walls. At the sounding of a gong, King Kong, a gorilla-like ape of enormous proportions, emerges from the primeval jungle and grabs Ann, carrying her away like a tiny doll in his huge hand. In close pursuit of the ape are Denham, Jack and a handful of the ship's men. They follow a trail of broken branches left by Kong and soon stumble on a dinosaur, a horny-tailed stegosaurus, which they kill with gas bombs. They then construct a raft and cross a river, where they are attacked by a brontosaurus. After the group loses several men to the brontosaurus, the survivors scramble to the river's shore and are spotted by Kong. Kong kills several more men by tossing them off a giant log into a treacherous chasm and attempts to kill Jack, who is hiding in a protected alcove. When he hears Ann, whom he has left in the nook of a dead tree, screaming, however, Kong abandons Jack and rushes to her rescue. While Kong saves Ann from the jaws of an allosaurus Jack and Denham, the last two crew survivors, reunite. Denham decides to return to shore for help and wait for Jack to signal when he has rescued Ann. Jack follows Kong and Ann into a cliffside cave and there Kong kills a giant snake. He then gently tickles Ann and plucks off and sniffs her outer clothes. When the hidden Jack inadvertently makes a noise, the ape goes to investigate, leaving Ann unprotected. A pteradodon swoops down and almost flies off with Ann, but Kong once again comes to her rescue. Distracted by the flying reptile, Kong fails to see Jack and Ann escaping down the cliffside via a ropelike vine until they are out of arm's reach. Although Kong snaps the vine in his attempt to retrieve Ann, the couple fall unharmed into the river and make a dash for the ship, closely pursued by Kong. When they finally reach the shore, Ann and Jack are met by Denham and the crew, but must still face Kong, who is rampaging through the village, killing its inhabitants in his search for Ann. To stop Kong, Denham hurls a gas bomb into his face and knocks him out. Seeing Kong unconscious, Denham decides to carry him on an enormous raft back to New York, where he knows the ape will make him a fortune. In the city, a heavily chained Kong, billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” is a sellout attraction at a fashionable theater. When photographers' flashbulbs start popping in Ann's face, however, Kong believes she is in danger and breaks free in a protective frenzy. Ann flees with Jack, but Kong storms the nearby streets, destroying an elevated passenger-filled train and tossing a woman he momentarily mistakes for Ann to her death. Finally Kong spots Ann in a hotel room and, as a helpless Jack watches, snatches her once again. Then, as though still in the jungle, he scales the Empire State Building with Ann in his hand. At Denham's urging, the city authorities call in airplanes armed with machine guns to stop the ape, and after Kong is shot repeatedly by the gunners, he drops Ann gently on the rooftop and falls over the skyscraper's edge to his death. Upon viewing his conquered prize, Denham retorts to another onlooker that Kong was not downed by airplanes, but “twas Beauty that killed Beast.” 

Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Director: Merian C. Cooper (Dir)
  Ernest B. Schoedsack (Dir)
  Ivan Thomas (Asst dir)
  Doran Cox (Asst dir)
  Walter Daniels (Asst dir)
Producer: David O. Selznick (Exec prod)
Writer: James Creelman (Scr)
  Ruth Rose (Scr)
  Merian C. Cooper (Idea conceived by)
  Edgar Wallace (Idea conceived by)
  Leon Gordon (Contr wrt)

Subject Major: Apes
  Motion picture actors and actresses
  Motion picture directors
  Prehistoric animals
  Rescues
  Romance
  Sailors
 
Subject Minor: Airplanes
  Auditoriums
  Bombs
  Caves
  Dancing
  Death by animals
  Dinosaurs
  Empire State Building (New York City)
  Hotels
  Human sacrifice
  Hunger
  Islands
  Jungles
  Kidnapping
  Machine-guns
  Motion pictures
  Misogyny
  New York City
  Photographers
  Promoters
  Rites and ceremonies
  Rivers
  Sea captains
  Ship crews
  Ships
  Subways
  Thieves
  Tribal chiefs
  Tribal life
  Unemployment
  Villages

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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