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Podcast logo of black retro UFO on a red background with the text Every Single Sci-Fi Film Ever*. *Almost.

8. King Kong: The Origin of a Cinematic Titan

As with all episodes of this podcast there are spoilers ahead!


I would love for you to join in by watching the film King Kong here.



In early March 1933 the US welcomed Franklin D Roosevelt as their 32nd president. The longest lasting presidency in US history.


That same weekend the original King Kong opened in theatres in New York. The huge ape was a big success and continues to wow audiences almost a century later.


Although I have many dear friends and family members who adore this creature I have never been enraptured by him. I wanted to find two experts who really had love of this film as well as the knowledge and insight that would put the movie into context.


The Experts

Mark Bould is a professor of Film and Literature at the University of West England, Bristol. He has written/edited multiple books on science fiction and the 1933 King Kong is one of his favourite films.


Peter Conolly Smith is an Associate Professor of History at Queens College, CUNY. He specialises in American studies and also considers King Kong as one of his favourite films.



00:00 My reading plans and a big thank you

00:46 Introduction

02:00 Why Mark loves the film

03:40 Why Peter loves the film

06:57 The meaning and relevance of pre-code films

09:25 The great travelling filmmaking adventurers

13:06 The Depression Era as King Kong

19:28 Racism: inherent and the allegory

27:32 The Scottsboro Boys trial

30:28 Beauty and the Beast: the contamination of civilization

36:08 Boyish adventure!

39:04 Groundbreaking special effects

41:53 The humanisation of Kong

43:26 The legacy: Kong, Kaiju and Jurassic Park

50:39 Conclusions

51:10 Recommendations for listeners

52:52 Reading some sci-fi short stories

The shownotes

  • Peter mentions the book The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. The tradition of large creatures in science fiction has a long history. You can read an interesting article about that here.

  • This is the image that Peter refers to in his telling of why he loved King Kong.

  • This is the Wikipedia page on the Hays Code.

  • You can learn more about Merian C Cooper here and Ernest Schoedsack here. NPR have an episode on them form their Weekend Edition Sunday show here.

  • The ethnographic documentaries that Mark mentions are Grass and Chang.

  • Ruth Rose is screenwriter of King Kong who married Schoedsack. You can learn a bit about her here.

  • Radio City Music Hall is part of Rockefeller Centre in Manhattan, New York. It opened at the end of 1932 just a few months before the release of King Kong. You can learn more about it here.

  • Franklin D Roosevelt was US president between 1933 and 1945. His inaugural speech can be read here. There is also an audio clip on this page.

  • King Kong was released across the US in April 1933 but it premiered in New York on March the 2nd 1933.

  • Ethan Mordden is an American author born in 1947 who has written many books.

  • You can learn more about Noble Johnson here. His IMDB page is here. More information of the challenges faced by Johnson in the early 20th century are covered here. There is also an episode of The Academy Museum Podcast, Typecasting and the Studio System: The Case of Noble Johnson on this page which focuses on the actor and the early studio system.

  • The German title that Peter mentions, King Kong und die weiße Frau, is on the German Wikipedia page for King Kong.

  • Manning Marable, born in 1950, was a black American academic and author who wrote numerous books on American culture.

  • Esteban Clemento Morro was a Mexican American actor known as Steve Clemente who played the witch doctor in King Kong. His IMDB page is here.

  • You can learn more about the Scottsboro Boys here.

  • There is a short article which mentions the link between King Kong and the ‘back to nature’ trends here.  American president Teddy Roosevelt is considered a key figure in linking masculinity and nature.

  • The Searchers (1956) stars John Wayne and is made by John Ford. You can find its IMDB page here.

  • The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) is an American film with special effects by Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen’s mentor was Willis H O'Brien who provided the stop motion animation for King Kong as well as The Lost World (1925).

  • IMDB pages linked for the following mentioned films: Godzilla (1954), Godzilla Raids Again (1955), Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956), King Kong vs Godzilla (1962), King Kong Escapes (1967), Konga (1961), Mighty Joe Young (1949), King Kong (1976), Ape (1976), Mighty Peking Man (1976) is also known as Goliathon, Queen Kong (1976), King Kong (2005).

  • A bit more about the copyright issues I mentioned can be found here.

  • Jurassic Park (1993) was the first film of the Jurassic Park series.

  • The One Million Years BC (1966) IMDB page.

  • The Making of King Kong: The Story Behind a Film Classic by Orville Goldner and George Turner is available from many outlets although the cover image may be different from the 1975 version.

  • You can read The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K Le Guin here.


The next film we'll be speaking about it The Invisible Man. You can watch it here.

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