King Kong (1933): Narrative Structure (By Sequence)

Narrative Structure (Detailed Synopsis)

The following structure is based upon my own viewing and analysis.

Sequence 1: New York Harbor

Filmmaker Carl Denham, known for wildlife films in remote and exotic locations, charters Captain Englehorn’s ship, the Venture, for his new project.

However, he cannot secure an actress for a female role he has been reluctant to disclose.

Searching in the streets of New York City, he finds Ann Darrow and promises her the adventure of a lifetime.

Second Sequence2: The Venture

The crew boards the Venture and sets off, during which the ship’s first mate, Jack Driscoll, falls in love with Ann.

Denham reveals to the crew that their destination is, in fact, Skull Island, an uncharted territory, of which he ;earned from a Norwegian ship captain who saved natives of the island from a canoe, although they died before reaching land.

He mentions a monstrous creature named Kong, rumored to dwell on the island.

Sequence 3: Offshore, Native

Upon arrival and anchoring offshore, they encounter a native village, separated from the rest of the island by ancient stone wall with enormous wooden gate.

They witness a group of natives preparing to sacrifice a young woman termed the “bride of Kong” by confining her on the other side of the wall.

When the intruders are spotted, the native chief stops the ceremony. Upon spotting Ann, he offers to trade six of his tribal women for the “golden woman.” They rebuff him and return to the Venture.

Sequence 4: Night

That night, the natives kidnap Ann from the ship and take her through the wall gate and to an altar, where she is offered to King Kong, an enormous gorilla-like creature.

Sequence 5: Wilderness

Kong carries a terrified Ann into the wilderness as Denham, Jack, and some volunteers enter the jungle, hoping to rescuing her.

They are ambushed by another giant creature, a Stegosaurus dinosaur, which they defeat.

After facing a carnivorous Brontosaurus and Kong himself, Jack and Denham are the only survivors.

Sequence 6:

A Tyrannosaurus rex attacks Ann and Kong, but Kong kills it in the battle.

Meanwhile, Jack continues to follow them, while Denham returns to the village for more men.

Sequence 7:

Upon arriving in Kong’s lair, Ann is menaced by a snake-like Elasmosaurus, which Kong also kills. While Kong is distracted killing a Pteranodon that tried to fly away with Ann, Jack reaches her, and they climb down a vine dangling from a cliff ledge.

Sequence 8:

Kong notices and starts pulling them back up, the two fall unharmed. They run through the jungle and back to the village, where Denham, Englehorn, and the surviving crewmen are waiting. Kong breaks open the gate despite the huge beam closing it, and relentlessly rampages through the village.

Sequence 9:

Onshore, Denham, now determined to bring Kong back alive, knocks him unconscious with a gas bomb.

Sequence 10:

Shackled in chains, Kong is taken to New York City and presented to a Broadway theatre audience as “King Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Ann and Jack are brought on stage to join him, surrounded by a group of press photographers.

Kong, perceiving the flash photography as an attack, breaks loose. The audience flees in horror.

Sequence 11:

Ann is whisked away to a hotel room on a high floor, but Kong scales the building, and drops a woman (Sandra Shaw) to the street from the hotel ledge.

When he spots Ann on a higher level, he smashes the window with his hand, shoves Jack to the floor and abducts Ann again.

Sequence 12:

Kong rampages through New York City as Ann screams in his grip.

In one of the film’s scariest moments, Kong wrecks a crowded elevated train, which goes off the rails.

He then proceeds Downtown to the Empire State Building, climbing to its roof.

Sequence 13

At the top of Empire State Building, Kong is attacked by four airplanes, while holding the screaming Ann in his palm. Kong destroys one plane, but finally succumbs to the escalating gunfire of the other three.

Fatally wounded, Kong gazes at Ann one last time before falling to his death in an impressive long shot.

Sequence 14: Finale:

Jack takes an elevator to the top of the building and reunites with Ann. Denham arrives and pushes through a crowd surrounding Kong’s corpse in the street.

When a policeman notes that the planes got him, Denham corrects him, “No, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast”.


Fay Wray as Ann Darrow:

Canadian-born American actress Fay Wray played bit parts in Hollywood until cast as the lead in Erich von Stroheim’s silent film, The Wedding March (1928). She met Kong co-directors Cooper and Schoedsack when cast as Ethne Eustace in The Four Feathers (1929). Cooper cast her as Eve Trowbridge in The Most Dangerous Game (1932).

After RKO board approved the Kong test, Cooper decided a blonde would provide contrast to the gorilla’s dark pelt.

Dorothy Jordan, Jean Harlow, and Ginger Rogers were considered, but the role finally went to Wray who wore a blonde wig in the film.

In her autobiography, On the Other Hand, Wray recounts that Cooper had told her he planned to cast her opposite the “tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood.” She assumed he meant Clark Gable until he showed her a picture of Kong climbing the Empire State Building.

On the film’s 50th anniversary in 1983, one New York theater held a Fay Wray scream-alike contest in its lobby.

On August 10, 2004, two days after Wray died, the lights of the Empire State Building were dimmed for 15 minutes in her memory.

Robert Armstrong as Carl Denham:

Michigan native and vet Broadway and silent film character actor Robert Armstrong played Wray’s alcoholic brother in The Most Dangerous Game and, during filming, became a member of the Cooper-Schoedsack inner circle. He was a shoo-in as Denham when Kong was cast.

The film’s romantic angle, rather than its jungle or animal angle, was played-up after animal films fared poorly at the box office in early 1933. One exhibitor displayed a promotional still of Wray swooning in Armstrong’s arms with the caption, “Their Hearts Stood Still…For There Stood Kong! A Love Story of Today That Spans the Ages!”

Although the film’s romantic subplot belongs to Cabot and Wray, Armstrong was chosen for the ad rather than the unknown Cabot. Months later, Armstrong again played Carl Denham in Kong’s sequel, Son of Kong (1933).

Bruce Cabot as John “Jack” Driscoll:

New Mexico native Jacques De Bujac was signed by Selznick as contract player, given the name Bruce Cabot, and met Cooper when auditioning for The Most Dangerous Game. He almost walked out of his Kong audition (mistakenly believing he was trying out as a stunt double for Joel McCrea) but was convinced otherwise and received the role of Jack Driscoll, his first starring role. An inexperienced actor, he described his participation in Kong as standing in the right place, doing what he was told, and collecting a paycheck.

Other Cast Members:

Frank Reicher as Captain Englehorn
Sam Hardy as Charles Weston
Noble Johnson as the Native Chief
Steve Clemente as the Witch King
Victor Wong as Charlie
Everett Brown as the Native in Ape Costume (uncredited)
James Flavin played Second Mate Briggs

Several stuntmen and bit players played the ship’s crew.

Etta McDaniel played a native mother of a child she rescues from Kong’s rampage.

Sandra Shaw played the New York woman Kong drops to the street from the hotel ledge.

Merian C. Cooper played an airplane pilot and Schoedsack the machine gunner in uncredited roles in the film’s final scenes.

James Dime played a member of the ship’s crew.