Friday, February 23, 2024

Kong - An Original Screenplay!

There are more than a few myths associated with the innovative movie King Kong from 1933. One is that the infamous Spider Scene was cut from the film due to its either being too scary for test audiences or that the scene slowed down the brisk pace of the movie at a critical juncture. Both these "myths" seem to result from things Merriam C. Cooper said at one time or another. 

(Spider Scene Test Shot)

Turns out according to the latest scholarship that the scene was in all probability never shot. It was planned, props made, and tests were made, but the scene was not actually shot. Another thing Merriam C. Cooper said was this: "The present script of Kong, as far I can remember, hasn't one single idea suggested by Edgar Wallace." Apparently, that's bullshit too.

(Edgar Wallace)

In Kong - An Original Screenplay by Edgar Wallace, edited by Stephen Jones we find a cache of King Kong material which is in itself delightfully entertaining, and which puts the absolute lie to Cooper's disparaging remark.  The tome gives us a breezy biographical sketch of Wallace, a seemingly pleasant British man of small means and lavish tastes who after much struggle finds great success as an author of mystery stories and later screenplays. He's a guy who had to support his family by constantly writing despite having made a fortune a few times over. And that's why he came to California to write a screenplay for Merriam C. Cooper and lend his reputation to a project abut a giant ape. 

Wallace repeatedly gave Cooper proper credit for coming up with the idea of Kong, but he himself it turns out is responsible for much of the story which became the epic and highly influential movie. His story in a nutshell goes like this. It opens with a conversation between a circus promoter named Denham and a Captain Englehorn about a distant island filled with monstrous threats. The story shifts to survivors of a wrecked land on "Vapour Island" which is filled with predatory saurians, and begin to die as they try to survive by reaching some point in the interior of the island. Our hero is named John and he's mostly concerned with protecting a woman named Shirley (also known in the screenplay as Zena) with the help of a guy named Tricks. Eventually a mighty giant ape shows up takes Shirley and heads to his mountain lair after shaking many of the survivors off a log into a deep crevice filled with hideous monsters. The surviving John and Tricks give chase. The enormous ape fights a T-Rex, fights a Pteranodon, and later safe in his lair fiddles with Shirley's dress. Eventually our heroes rescue her, but the ape gives chase but finds himself stymied when Denham and Englehorn arrive with gas bombs. There's a quick scene shift to NYC where the ape is put on display but escapes only to recapture Shirley and eventually climb the Empire State Building where he is ultimately killed. 

I don't know about you, but that sounds a lot like a movie I watch with regularity called King Kong. There are no natives, there is no wall, Denham is not making a movie and whatnot, but the core of the movie is there pretty much intact. It's been long supposed that Cooper kept Wallace's name on the screenplay because he admired the work the writer did before his tragic and sudden death. It's also quite clear that Wallace's name was a selling point for the project. But it turns out that Edgar Wallace's name deserves to be on that screenplay, because he pure and simply wrote a lot of it. 

Underneath the handsome Bob Eggleton cover (clearly based on Basil Gogo's famous portrait of Kong produced for Famous Monsters of Filmland) we find the full script by Wallace as well a host of other nifty items. There is the aforementioned bio of Wallace, a brief introduction to Cooper and other key players and a rundown of how King Kong came to be made. The book is also filled with copious amounts of artwork, including poster images, stills, as well as the amazing art by Mario Larrinaga produced for the project Creation by Willis O'Brien as well as King Kong itself. There are a lot of parallels between the story of Willis O'Brien's failed project Creation and this screenplay. (Did Cooper give Wallace access to that information?  I wonder.) 

There is also included a version of the King Kong story produced for Boys' Magazine first published in 1933. It's a great little Reader's Digest version of the classic tale. So, as I said, there are more than a few myths associated with the movie King Kong. I'm happy to have this one about Edgar Wallace dispelled. Wallace deserves his due. 

Rip Off

No comments:

Post a Comment