The 1933 Monster Film That Started It All

FATHOM EVENTS – I caught wind that the original 1933 classic, “King Kong” was going to be in the theaters for one night only. This was my chance to see the monstrous might of ferocious beasts and relive the best part of my childhood all over again. So I was literally counting the days until showtime. I even made sure that my family members had tickets. This wasn’t something that happens every day in fact, it rarely happens at all. This was big stuff!

Merian C. Cooper wrote the story of King Kong after having a nightmare about a giant beast attacking New York City. He quickly penned it down and created a rough draft and presented it to a friend of his at RKO Pictures. Right from the beginning there were creative differences as to how to pace the stories. Movie execs wanted to jump right into the Kong action sequences from the very start of the film. Cooper wanted the film to build and have the characters develop and create suspense. He was in charge of the jungle shots and framing the art direction of the film. This later move turned out to be the right choice.

Adding dimension to the film came with a moving soundtrack that captured the brashness and unprecedented action. Max Steiner created a soundtrack that revealed mystery, intrigue and uncovered a lush tropical land of forbidden treasures. They played this at the very opening of the Fanthom Events screening and I was really taken aback by it. This snuck up on me and I knew I was in for the full effect of this film. I was going to enjoy this thoroughly. The old films from the 1930’s had overtures and I was familiar with, “Gone With The Wind” and later, “Ben Hur”. But I never knew King Kong had his own overture and that really blew me away.

King Kong is fascinating at another level in that it shows you a part of New York from the 1930’s. The dialogue is snappy and everyone has a quick retort. We get an idea of that when we meet up with Ann Darrow, (Fay Wray) on the street when she is in line for a woman’s shelter. The woman behind her is heard saying something about getting, “coffee and sinkers in the morning”, (you know…. Donuts). We are going back in time on this journey and by time I do mean prehistoric.

In fact, its so prehistoric that the jungle scenes seem blurry and almost real. The stop motion animation of the dinosaurs and other creatures seem kind of real in some shots, (the beast in the water). There is just enough blur on some of these scenes to pull the look off brilliantly. My mind races back to what the original audience must of thought when they saw all of this come to life when it was first screened.

According to what I read people were really terrified. There was one scene that had to be taken out of the film entirely because people were walking out of the film. That had to do with a group of spiders and crabs attacking and eating the crew members of the rescue party. This was stop motion puppets and animation and yet the effect was catastrophic. Eventually the scene was lost entirely and only photographs of it remain today. The censors had to also remove a scene where Kong removes parts of the dress of the girl he captures. From there he actually sniffs his fingers!

The original film had other problems too in the 1970’s when it was held on a racist microscope. There are scenes of natives wearing bones as jewelry and unruly hair and crude ceremonial garb. The tribesmen on Skull Mountain were dancing around dressed up in furs like apes. They were holding spears and put on a glorious display. In contrast with the mighty clashing sound of Steiner’s musical soundtrack this is sensory overload. The music had racing kettle drums, and climatic horns, and escalating sense of inescapable doom. A real cacophony of terror.

What was cool about seeing this in 2020 is that we have been beaten down with sensitivity in the media. There was a long period where everything was deemed offensive and we had to re-label terms for people so we wouldn’t offend anybody. This went on for about thirty years. So you can imagine what it was like to see this again on the big screen. Every type of stereotype is in your face from mouthy New Yorkers, to real savage tribesmen and real violence. A woman gets dropped to her doom, people get stepped on by Kong himself and some unlucky people get chewed on by his massive teeth! If you want to see something over the top well then you come to the right place.


When the movie first opened at Radio City Music Hall in New York City it was shown ten times a day. The average ticket was just 35 cents. You can get an upgrade to 75 cents and there was a live floor show. Imagine, you get to see this amazing film plus a live act. So you can imagine the lines went around the block. This was the first film I ever heard of where the screenings were back to back and today that sort of thing is common. The movie made $85 thousand dollars in just four days which was a lot of money back then. In today's terms that would be $1.5 Million. Not bad for one location.

The writers and director play the pilot and the gunman who shoot Kong off the Empire State Building. Not many people know that and that just makes it all the better. The effects for this film were state of the art for its time. The film was seen as an abomination in Nazi Germany and was actually banned and called a deliberate attack of the German people. Despite their initial upset it was Adolf Hitler who took the film to heart and watched it several times. He was somewhat obsessed with it and I heard that had his own private copy of the film tucked away inside his bunker.

When you put it all together there is really nothing like this film.

The original movie posters from the initial screening will cost you about a quarter of a million dollars. There is talk about these posters going on sale at Sothebys but they failed to show a picture of the actual poster. So the question remains which design was the original when the movie opened in New York? In either case, I should very much like to own one of these incredible masterpieces.

Thanks to Fathom events once again for bringing the fantastic to the screen. It is what they do best. For more information about upcoming films, special events, and one night only screenings log onto:





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