King Kong (1976)

PG | 135 mins | Horror | 17 December 1976

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HISTORY

End credits begin with the following title card: "The producer wishes to acknowledge that Kong has been designed and engineered by Carlo Rambaldi, constructed by Carlo Rambaldi and Glen Robinson, with special contributions by Rick Baker."
       According to various contemporary sources, including a 5 Nov 1975 LAT article, the screen rights to remake RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.’s King Kong (1933, see entry) were contested between producer Dino De Laurentiis and Universal Pictures. Universal sought the property as an opportunity to showcase its new sound system technology, Sensurround, which debuted with the 1974 release Earthquake (see entry), and the studio had begun negotiating remake rights with RKO General, the successor to RKO Radio Pictures. Around the same time, however, De Laurentiis signed a $200,000 deal with RKO General and announced his production in May 1975. Universal responded by filing a $25 million lawsuit against De Laurentiis and RKO General, but by early Nov 1975, a trial date had not yet been set, and the De Laurentiis production was moving ahead with a reported $10-$12 million budget, a first draft of the script completed by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., and casting scheduled to begin Dec 1975. Universal, which was in also in preproduction on the remake at the time with Hunt Stromberg, Jr., as producer and Joe Sargent directing, made a second attempt to defend its legal rights to King Kong with a federal district court lawsuit that argued the story’s “basic ingredients” were public domain. According to LAT, Universal sought to differentiate Edgar Wallace’s original serial and Delos W. Lovelace’s novelization from the 1933 King ... More Less

End credits begin with the following title card: "The producer wishes to acknowledge that Kong has been designed and engineered by Carlo Rambaldi, constructed by Carlo Rambaldi and Glen Robinson, with special contributions by Rick Baker."
       According to various contemporary sources, including a 5 Nov 1975 LAT article, the screen rights to remake RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.’s King Kong (1933, see entry) were contested between producer Dino De Laurentiis and Universal Pictures. Universal sought the property as an opportunity to showcase its new sound system technology, Sensurround, which debuted with the 1974 release Earthquake (see entry), and the studio had begun negotiating remake rights with RKO General, the successor to RKO Radio Pictures. Around the same time, however, De Laurentiis signed a $200,000 deal with RKO General and announced his production in May 1975. Universal responded by filing a $25 million lawsuit against De Laurentiis and RKO General, but by early Nov 1975, a trial date had not yet been set, and the De Laurentiis production was moving ahead with a reported $10-$12 million budget, a first draft of the script completed by Lorenzo Semple, Jr., and casting scheduled to begin Dec 1975. Universal, which was in also in preproduction on the remake at the time with Hunt Stromberg, Jr., as producer and Joe Sargent directing, made a second attempt to defend its legal rights to King Kong with a federal district court lawsuit that argued the story’s “basic ingredients” were public domain. According to LAT, Universal sought to differentiate Edgar Wallace’s original serial and Delos W. Lovelace’s novelization from the 1933 King Kong screenplay. Later that month, on 19 Nov 1975, RKO General filed a $5 million counter-claim against Universal for copyright infringement, as announced in the 21 Nov 1975 Var. By that time, Universal had titled its production The Legend of King Kong and had established a 5 Jan 1976 start date for principal photography, confident that the film was exempt from RKO copyright because it was based on the Lovelace novel, not the RKO motion picture. However, RKO General sought an injunction against Universal’s production, fearing that a second King Kong release would violate its deal with De Laurentiis.
       Meanwhile, De Laurentiis had negotiated domestic distribution rights with Paramount Pictures, Corp., and John Guillermin had been hired to direct, though there was no set start date for principal photography. On 15 Dec 1975, DV announced an additional lawsuit, this time filed by De Laurentiis against Universal with charges of copyright infringement and “unfair competition.” The complaint, issued 4 Dec 1975, sought an injunction against Universal “from interfering with the De Laurentiis production,” and $90 million in damages. However, a 29 Jan 1976 DV news item reported that De Laurentiis and Universal had ended their litigations, agreeing that De Laurentiis’ Paramount release would open eighteen months earlier than Universal’s version. Several months later, a 22 Mar 1976 LAHExam article noted information about the settlement that was previously unpublicized, reporting that De Laurentiis had agreed to give Universal’s parent company, MCA, Inc., a “significant participation in the gross receipts” of his production.
       Universal maintained its original legal battle against RKO General, but a 5 Mar 1976 DV column announced that Los Angeles Superior Court Justice Harry Hupp threw the case out of court, ruling that Universal held no legal claims to the picture. Although DV suspected that a Universal remake of King Kong would never materialize, the studio released Peter Jackson’s King Kong two decades later (2005, see entry).
       Just ten days after being cleared from Universal’s charges, RKO filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against an independent Denver, CO, motion picture company, Key International Film Distributors, which was producing a film titled The New King Kong in Europe with a $1.4 million budget. According to the 7 Apr 1976 LAT, RKO charged Key International with copyright infringement and attempts to “confuse the public,” representing The New King Kong as related to the 1933 film. On 28 Aug 1976, the Lodi, CA, News-Sentinel reported a ruling on the case that stipulated Key International was not authorized by RKO to use the Kong story, and that RKO owned the copyright for King Kong and “all variants on the title.”

       According to a 1 Dec 1975 New York article, producer Roger Corman was also planning a King Kong remake at the time of the legal battles, but he opted to shelve the project.
       Despite copyright disputes, De Laurentiis’ pre-production was underway in late 1975. At the beginning of Nov 1975, several contemporary sources, including the 12 Nov 1975 DV, reported complaints from African American actors, who were called to the producer’s Los Angeles, CA, office and asked to perform the characteristics of a gorilla in a casting call for the title role. A 17 Nov 1975 LAT news item noted that Barbra Streisand was De Laurentiis’ first choice for the female lead character, “Dwan,” and the 9 Dec 1975 LAHExam stated that Elaine Joyce was under consideration. The role eventually went to Jessica Lange.
       According to a Paramount Pictures press release in AMPAS library production files, King Kong was filmed over eight months in locations including Los Angeles, New York City, and Hawaii. Principal photography was initially scheduled to begin 15 Apr 1976, but due to competition from Universal, De Laurentiis pushed the production start date forward four months, to begin on 5 Jan 1976, even though the sets were not yet constructed and the forty-foot mechanical “King Kong” had not been fabricated. By the time of Universal’s settlement with RKO on 5 Mar 1976, the production was already well into filming and headed to Hawaii. De Laurenttis estimated that the contest with Universal cost the production up to $4 million.
       A 1 Mar 1976 Box news item confirmed that principal photography was moving from Paramount studios in Los Angeles to “the northern coast of Kauai” at that time, and the 8 Mar 1976 Box specified the location of Kalalau Valley, otherwise known as Honopū Valley. The 18 Mar 1976 HR announced that the production had returned to Los Angeles from Hawaii for additional filming, and college football All-American Scott Lewis had been cast in a “major feature role.” However, Lewis is not credited onscreen. According to the 1 Mar 1976 Box, a second unit was already in New York City during the Hawaii shoot, preparing for the film’s climactic World Trade Center finale. A 2 Jun 1976 Var news item listed a casting call for the approximately 5,000 background actors required for the scene, and the 9 Jun 1976 HR reported that New York City filming was set to begin 14 Jun 1976 on a three week schedule. Principal photography was scheduled to resume in Los Angeles on 6 Jul 1976. As noted in HR, the film’s mechanical “Kong” weighed over six tons, and was too large to be hoisted on the top of the World Trade Center. Therefore, a forty-foot non-mechanical, styrofoam model was used as a replacement. A 23 Jun 1976 Detroit, MI, Free Press article noted that the World Trade Center sequence was filmed twice, for a total cost of nearly $250,000, and an Aug 1976 edition of Cinemaphile noted that the throng of approximately 45,000 background personnel marked the largest crowd scene in motion picture history to date. On 20 Aug 1976, HR stated that the U.S. Department of Labor had initiated an investigation into the ethics of using so many unpaid extras. The outcome of the case remains undetermined.
       Although the 26 Aug 1976 HR announced that principal photography was set to end the following day, the 6 Sep 1976 Box reported that production concluded four days behind schedule, on 31 Aug 1976, with a budget that increased from $6.7 to $23.7 million in eight months. A 1 Sep 1976 HR news item noted that the Kong Kong set at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios was picketed on 31 Aug 1976 by teamster studio transportation drivers, who were demanding payment of a $7,000 claim against the production’s special effects unit.
       According to the 15 Dec 1976 Var review, the character of King Kong was portrayed by an uncredited costumed actor, Rick Baker, as well as the forty-foot robotic gorilla. As stated in Paramount publicity materials found in AMPAS library files, initial designs for the mechanical Kong were conceived by special effects artists Glen Robinson and Carlo Rambaldi, although Rambaldi is not credited onscreen. The men intended Kong to be constructed by an aircraft company, but due to the rushed start of principal photography, the filmmakers opted to build Kong on “a Hollywood backlot” starting Jan 1976. The completed 6.5-ton model was structured by an aluminum skeleton that contained “3,100 feet of hydraulic hose and 4,500 feet of electrical wiring.” Its chest measured twenty feet in width, with an arm span of the same distance. The machine could walk, turn at its waist, and move its arms in sixteen unique positions with the operation of hydraulic valves that were controlled by six men. A 25 Oct 1976 Time news item added that the hands alone were six feet across and the arms weighed 1,650 pounds each. The arms were constructed separately from the rest of the Kong model, then suspended from a crane, so actress Jessica Lange could be lifted thirty to forty feet. Publicity materials noted that safety features were installed in Kong’s fingers so they were not able to close around Lange entirely. Michael Dino, a famous wigmaker and the hair designer for Kong, created the gorilla’s fur with 4,000 pounds of horse tails, imported from Argentina. One hundred assistants weaved the horsehair into four types of netting, and the work took months. The hair panels were then attached to pieces of latex that were, in turn, glued onto the model’s metal frame. A 22 Jan 1976 UCLA Daily Bruin article reported that the mechanical Kong cost $2 million.
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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
1 Mar 1976.
---
Box Office
8 Mar 1976.
---
Box Office
6 Sep 1976.
---
Cinemaphile
Aug 1976.
---
Daily Variety
12 Nov 1975.
---
Daily Variety
17 Nov 1975.
---
Daily Variety
15 Dec 1975.
---
Daily Variety
29 Jan 1976.
---
Daily Variety
5 Mar 1976.
---
Detroit Free Press
23 Jun 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Mar 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Jun 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Aug 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Aug 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 1976
p. 1, 13.
LAHExam
9 Dec 1975.
---
LAHExam
22 Mar 1976.
---
Lodi News-Sentinel
28 Aug 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
5 Nov 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
17 Nov 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
7 Apr 1976.
---
Los Angeles Times
12 Dec 1976
p. 1.
New York
1 Dec 1975.
---
New York Times
18 Dec 1976
p. 16.
Time
25 Oct 1976.
---
UCLA Daily Bruin
22 Jan 1976.
---
Variety
21 Nov 1975.
---
Variety
2 Jun 1976.
---
Variety
15 Dec 1976
p. 18.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT

PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Dino De Laurentiis Presents
A John Guillermin Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Prod mgr
Unit prod mgr, Hawaii
Unit prod mgr, New York
Asst dir
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d unit asst dir
PRODUCERS
Pres/Prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
Based on the screenplay
Based on the screenplay
from an idea conceived by
from an idea conceived by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Cam op
Asst cam
Still photog
Key grip
Gaffer
Still cameras provided by
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Prod des
Art dir
Art dir
Illustrator
Illustrator
FILM EDITORS
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Prop master
Set painter
Greensman
Const coord
COSTUMES
Cost des
Gowns and native cost
Ward
Ward
Miss Lange's jewelry by
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Mus rec
Mus re-rec
SOUND
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Kong des and eng by/Kong const by
Kong const by
With spec contributions by
Addl photog eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Hair des for Kong
Sculptor of Kong
Kong mechanical coord
Minature coord
Supv of photog eff
Photog eff asst
Matte artist
DANCE
Native dance choreog
MAKEUP
Make-up artist
Hair stylist
PRODUCTION MISC
In charge of prod
Asst to the prod
Prod coord
Prod secy
Scr supv
Transportation coord
Post prod supv
Pub coord
Unit pub
Prod auditor
Prod accounting
Messenger
Messenger
Messenger
Extra casting by
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the film King Kong written by James Creelman and Ruth Rose (RKO Radio Pictures, Inc., 1933) from an idea conceived by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace.
DETAILS
Release Date:
17 December 1976
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 17 December 1976
New York opening: week of 18 December 1976
Production Date:
5 January--31 August 1976
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Widescreen/ratio
Filmed in Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
135
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24655
SYNOPSIS

Fred Wilson leads a Petrox Petroleum expedition to a mysterious island that he believes to be rich in oil reserves. During a shipboard briefing, stowaway Jack Prescott, a Princeton University primate paleontologist, comes out of hiding and regales the crew with stories of an apelike creature reported to inhabit the island. Believing Jack to be an industrial spy, Wilson orders him imprisoned. As Jack is taken below, he spies a semiconscious woman floating on a life raft on the ocean. Once onboard, the woman, an aspiring actress named Dwan, informs Wilson and Jack that she was yachting to Hong Kong when her boat blew up. She is the sole survivor. That evening, Wilson confirms that Jack is a professor and appoints him to be the expedition’s photographer to earn his passage. When they reach the fog-shrouded island, Dwan joins the landing party. Onshore, they discover a tropical paradise with pools of bubbling oil and a giant wooden wall that stretches across the island. The sound of drums leads the landing party to a large group of natives performing a ceremony. A shaman, wearing a gorilla costume, dances before a young woman dressed in seashells. During the dance, the shaman spies the landing party. Surrounding the intruders with armed warriors, the shaman signals that he will trade six women for Dwan, but Wilson refuses. As the natives raise their spears, the crew scares them off by firing guns into the air and return to their ship. That night, natives sneak aboard ship and kidnap Dwan. She is drugged and dressed in seashells, then led through ... +


Fred Wilson leads a Petrox Petroleum expedition to a mysterious island that he believes to be rich in oil reserves. During a shipboard briefing, stowaway Jack Prescott, a Princeton University primate paleontologist, comes out of hiding and regales the crew with stories of an apelike creature reported to inhabit the island. Believing Jack to be an industrial spy, Wilson orders him imprisoned. As Jack is taken below, he spies a semiconscious woman floating on a life raft on the ocean. Once onboard, the woman, an aspiring actress named Dwan, informs Wilson and Jack that she was yachting to Hong Kong when her boat blew up. She is the sole survivor. That evening, Wilson confirms that Jack is a professor and appoints him to be the expedition’s photographer to earn his passage. When they reach the fog-shrouded island, Dwan joins the landing party. Onshore, they discover a tropical paradise with pools of bubbling oil and a giant wooden wall that stretches across the island. The sound of drums leads the landing party to a large group of natives performing a ceremony. A shaman, wearing a gorilla costume, dances before a young woman dressed in seashells. During the dance, the shaman spies the landing party. Surrounding the intruders with armed warriors, the shaman signals that he will trade six women for Dwan, but Wilson refuses. As the natives raise their spears, the crew scares them off by firing guns into the air and return to their ship. That night, natives sneak aboard ship and kidnap Dwan. She is drugged and dressed in seashells, then led through a giant gate and tied to a stone altar. After closing the gate, the natives climb for the top of the wall chanting “Kong.” Soon Kong, a sixty-foot gorilla, appears and studies Dwan, then rips her off the altar and carries her away. Moments later, Jack arrives with a rescue party, scares off the natives, and discovers Dwan is gone. Wilson orders Jack and Boan, a muscular sailor, to lead a rescue party into the interior and test for oil along the way. Jack protests that there is no time for oil exploration, but Wilson is adamant. The next morning, Dwan wakes up to find she is Kong’s pet. She tries to escape, but the gorilla playfully nudges her back. Later, Kong carries Dwan to a waterfall, bathes her in a pool and blows her dry. On the beach, Wilson discovers that the island’s oil is commercially worthless. Realizing his career is over unless he returns with something of value, Wilson decides to capture Kong and orders his men to dig a huge pit. Meanwhile, Kong appears with Dwan as Jack and his men traverse a deep gorge on a large fallen tree. The men open fire, but their bullets do not penetrate Kong’s skin. Enraged, the gorilla hurls the tree into the river below, killing everyone but Jack and Boan, who cling to vines on either side of the chasm. Kong leaves and Jack orders Boan to tell Wilson what happened. That night, Kong places Dwan atop a twin peaked mountain. A giant serpent appears and tries to swallow her, but Kong fights it to the death. While the battle rages, Jack rescues Dwan. Kong chases them to a cliff, but when they leap into a roaring river, Kong is unable to follow. They run back to the great wall and get through the gate, seconds before the gorilla appears. Kong smashes through the gate and falls into the giant pit dug by Wilson. Knocked out by chloroform gas, Kong collapses and is transferred to the ship. As they journey to New York City, Wilson plans to use the ape as a mascot for Petrox. He envisions a show with Dwan as a beauty and Kong as the beast. Dwan and Jack have misgivings, but put their careers before their ethics and agree to the plan. That night, as Jack and Dwan kiss, her scarf flies off and lands in the ship’s hold. Kong smells Dwan’s scent and beats the bulkheads until they buckle. The captain orders the hold flooded, but Dwan runs to a grate to calm Kong. The gorilla slams the hull, causing her to fall in. Kong catches Dwan, but allows her to climb a ladder to safety. Alone, Kong slumps in despair. A marching band and fireworks welcomes the exploration party to New York City. Wilson organizes a televised event for Dwan to present Kong to the world. Jack is dismayed by the exploitation and asks Dwan to leave with him, but she refuses and Jack quits. The show opens with Dwan tied to a replica of the island’s altar and a seventy-foot Petrox gas pump is wheeled onstage. Jack watches from the stands as the pump is lifted to reveal Kong, wearing a crown and trapped in an “unbreakable cage.” Photographers swarm a frightened Dwan and she is almost pushed off the altar. Jack shouts a warning that Kong will think they are attacking Dwan. His warning is too late, however, and Kong shatters the cage. The crowd panics as Kong smashes the bleachers and crushes Wilson. Jack fights his way to Dwan’s side and they run into a subway station to catch a train. As the train comes above ground, Kong tears the roof off the cars. He finds a blonde woman, but when he sees it is not Dwan, Kong hurls the woman to her death. Jack and Dwan disembark, find an abandoned motorcycle, and speed across a bridge into Manhattan. The army closes off all routes to the city. Jack explains that gorillas cannot swim, and feels they are now safe. As they head into an empty bar, Jack notices the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers silhouetted by a full moon and wonders why it looks so familiar. Inside, Dwan tells Jack she loves him, but he rejects her, feeling only a rich man could satisfy her. Jack then realizes the towers resemble the twin peaks on the island and believes that Kong will go to the city. Jack telephones the mayor, and after extracting a promise not to kill the animal, Jack explains they can drop a net on Kong at the towers. Meanwhile, Kong wades across the East River and knocks down a power station, plunging the city into darkness. Following Dwan’s scent, Kong reaches into the bar, grabs her, climbs the twin towers and places Dwan on the roof. Jack rushes to the towers and as he reaches the observation deck, he sees soldiers attacking Kong with flamethrowers. A badly burnt Kong grabs Dwan, jumps to the other tower and kills the soldiers by hurling pieces of machinery. Jack yells in triumph, but four attack helicopters arrive and open fire on Kong. The gorilla uses his body to shield Dwan from the bullets and smashes two of the helicopters out of the sky, but the remaining two fire until Kong drops to his knees. Kong stares into Dwan’s eyes, then plunges to the ground below. Dwan and Jack race downstairs in time to witness Kong take his last breath as photographers crawl on his chest. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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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.