Archive for Merian C Cooper

Gorilla Gorilla

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 28, 2010 by dcairns

As previously noted, I am in search of two separate gorillas, THE GORILLA from 1927 with Walter Pigeon, and THE GORILLA from 1930, also with Walter Pigeon, both depicted in Denis Gifford’s A Pictorial History of Horror Movies. And I *shall* see every movie illustrated in that book. Unfortunately, both GORILLAs are officially lost films, and cannot be “seen” in the conventional manner except by trained mystics such as the late F. Gwynplaine Macintyre.

Still, I have scored the 1930 ape off my list, and I will tell you how. By Googling the movie (there is indeed no limit to my Kevin Brownlow-style detective-work) I came across an article at a blog called Undead Backbrain, where discussion had taken place some time back about some mystery footage of a giant gorilla stalking the streets of Manhattan. An expert in gorilla suits (and there are, it seems, such things),  identified the costume worn as one frequently used by ace gorilla impersonator Charles Gemora, but never after 1930. So, since KING KONG was made in 1933, what could be made of this pre-1930 giant ape?

The solution proved to be fascinating, but I’m not sure the full repercussions of the revelations have been sounded out.

It seems the two short clips, visible here and here, were part of a publicity film, or trailer or something, used for the 1930 THE GORILLA. The movie, later re-re-made by Allan Dwan with Bela Lugosi and the Ritz Brothers, dealt with a master criminal who disguised himself in an ape costume, Scooby Doo style, in order to enact his reign of terror. The giant ape was a symbolic representation of the pall of fear in which the rampaging crook held the city. So, somebody (possibly GORILLA helmer Bryan Foy) did film a giant gorilla terrorizing New York, several years before Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack enlisted Willis H O’Brien to animated the Eighth Wonder of the World…

The KONG poster I owned as a kid, recently spotted in both THE DEADLY SPAWN and Raul Ruiz’s THE BLIND OWL.

What this suggests to me is highly significant. According to Kong history, Merian C Cooper conceived the idea of a giant ape on the loose, climbing the Empire State Building. It took him a while to realise that this was the end of his story, so he then traced the ape’s origins back to get to the beginning. Cooper had visited Komodo Island, where prehistoric-style man-eating lizards roamed, and so he postulated such a location as the great ape’s birthplace.

What’s unexplained in this account is where Kong himself sprang from, apparently fully-formed. Well, we often can’t trace the exact beginnings of an idea. But Cooper was not a writer, not primarily a fiction filmmaker — he was a documentarist and producer. And not to put too fine a point on it, he never had another great creative idea like that in his life. (I’m not doing him down, how many of us have?)

If we assume that Cooper saw the GORILLA publicity material, which I think is near-certain, we can imagine his thought processes. “What a shame this doesn’t happen in the movie! What a shame this is just a metaphor… wouldn’t it be much more exciting if it really happened?” This, to me, is the kind of inspiration a producer would have.

So KONG is born, and very glad we all are. Meanwhile, using the dubious argument that a part can stand in for the whole (movie cloning!), I’m declaring my quest to see the 1930 THE GORILLA complete. As for the 1927 version, that’s going to be trickier…

Afterthought: isn’t it a shame they didn’t fly Charles Gemora and his monkey suit to Japan, to make GAMERA VS GEMORA?

Stock Company

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 12, 2009 by dcairns

After worrying about the vexatious question of KING KONG/SON OF KONG stock footage in CITIZEN KANE, it’s a pleasure to pin down another example of stock footage in an RKO movie.

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The ship in KING KONG, the Venture.

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The ship in Val Lewton and Mark Robson’s THE GHOST SHIP — the Erutnev.

Not really, of course. It’s the same ship, same footage, flipped into mirror-world by the optical printer in order to create a different shot for the Lewton movie. We’ve heard for ages that Lewton was ordered to make a shipboard movie in order to make use of an existing set — was the set the ship from KONG too? It seems unlikely that it would still be in place ten years after Cooper and Schoedsack’s ape movie was shot, although the Skull Island gate was apparently still there by the time they started shooting GONE WITH THE WIND in 1938-9, when they supposedly set fire to it as part of the burning of Atlanta (what colossal threat did the antebellum Atlantans fear so much that they constructed this giant barrier? Perhaps the thought of a 50ft high black guy carrying off white women was preying on their superstitious native minds.)

Unfortunately, all ships look alike to me, so I find it hard to tell if the deck of the Kong boat is the same as that in Lewton’s modest masterpiece — I will leave this to someone more nautically expert.

The fur problem

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on June 28, 2008 by dcairns

So, at the Ray Harryhausen In Person event we got to ask questions, and I had fortunately thought one up. I knew the story about KING KONG and the fur problem. Animator Willis H. O’Brien (Obie) made a test reel for the 1933 KONG and was very nervous about the results because he had encountered a problem with the gorilla puppet — Kong’s fur got moved about by Obie’s fingers manipulating the puppet, so that when the film was run, although the figure moved in a lifelike-for-1933 way (everything was jerkier back then — look at Herbert Hoover) the fur shimmered and flickered about, betraying the impression of the animators fingertips. Obie showed the footage to producer Merian C. Cooper, fearing the worst.

But Cooper was delighted — “You even got his fur rippling in the breeze!”

In later films with animated furry creatures, like MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, on which Harryhausen did most of the animation, with Obie as supervisor, the fur does NOT ripple to the same extent. So I asked, “How did you solve the fur problem?” I presumed there WAS an answer…

“Unborn calf skin,” said Ray H. It seems that while Kong was coated with rabbit fur, which is very fine, later apes and other shaggy beasts got unborn calf skin, which is even finer and has a natural tendency to spring back into place, and could be rubberized. Also, Harryhausen would operate the puppets mainly from the back to minimise visible alteration of the fur.

It’s a little grisly, but now we know.

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