King Kong holds an important place in the history of film-making. It spawned a genre of 'monster movies', used spectacular visual effects and earned actress Fay Wray a place in cinema immortality. It was the brain child of director, Merian C. Cooper, who had a life long fascination with gorillas. His initial ideas for the film centred around King Kong battling a giant lizard (an idea later reused in the dinosaur sequence).
Fay Wray had largely starred in bit parts until her casting in the 1928 film The Wedding March. When cast in King Kong she wore a blonde wig so her hair would contrast against the gorilla's dark fur.
The films visual effects were ground breaking for the time. They involved stop animation, matte paintings, miniatures and rear projection. Aside from Kong there were several dinosaurs used in the film. During the scene in which Kong fights the T-Rex Wray was forced to sit in a tree reacting to the stop motion images played before her over a twenty-two hour period.
During post-production some scenes of the film were cut including the infamous 'Spider Pit' sequence. The scene involved some of the sailors falling into a giant pit where they were eaten by various insects. Cooper stated the scene was cut as it slowed the pace of the film, but it has been suggested that the scene terrified viewers during preview screenings to the point that they ran out of the cinema!
King Kong was also the first American 'talkie' to have its own film score, rather than reused background music. Consequently films that followed began developing their own thematic music.
Advertised as a 'Beauty and the Beast' story Kong also highlighted racial tensions prevalent during the thirties. Some suggested that Kong's 'otherness' hinted at inter-racial romance. At its heart though is man's fear of the animal unknown, recent events today show how frightened people remain of jungle animals, gorilla's in particular.
Despite the actors occasional wooden acting, and incessant screaming, King Kong still holds up to this day. The black and white cinematography adds a foreboding tension and creepiness to many of the scenes and Kong remains a terrifying monster, his jerky movements and glinting smile, add a terror that is lost in movie monsters of today. It is the fact that technology was so new and untested at the time that creates a terror that is still felt upon watching the film to this day.
King Kong's success was huge, it spawned several sequels, remakes and direct ripoffs, yet it is the grainy black and white image of Kong fighting planes on top of The Empire State Building that remains the indelible image of King Kong.