Carl Denham and the Movie of Mystery

Has anyone ever figured out just exactly what movie Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) was planning on making in the original, and awesomely great, King Kong (1933)? I love the movie and, honestly, a part of its appeal is trying to decipher from the available evidence just what kind of movie Denham planned on making anyway.

Let's see, first we've got his reputation. It most definitely precedes him as an adventurous filmmaker who films dangerous animals, and dangerous situations, in the wild. Kong was made in 1933 and Trader Horn was still pretty fresh out of the hit factory from 1931 so I'm thinking he does movies like that. Also, as far as his reputation goes, he wastes little time discussing anything that doesn't concern how absolutely fucking awesome, courageous and big-cocked he is. Yeah, he's pretty high on himself.

Second, he just has to have an actress. This seems very important to him. When the actress he has backs out (or so he says), he goes to skid row to exploit - I mean - find a young woman, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to fill the role.

Third, we've got the island. He knows about it and Kong and judging from the gas bombs he brought he knows about how big Kong is, too.

So, he makes adventures and his alleged movie involves a female character and Kong. Now, we know how these elements come together in the movie we're watching, but Carl is utterly taken by surprise by this outcome (in which Ann is ritualistically offered up to Kong who takes her to be his own). He didn't see that coming at all so clearly that wasn't his plan for the movie. Which leaves us with the footage he shoots of Ann on the ship pretending to see something horrifying and screaming and the footage he gets of the Kong Wedding Rites before he and his ship mates are discovered.

To make matters worse, once he captures Kong he stops filming altogether. Rather than shoot a movie he simply puts Kong on some kind of Vaudeville/Hollywood Revue Mash-Up Tour. That, as we all know, ends in what can only be described as both a categorically and definitionally epic fail. When your revue ends up causing city-wide panic and the destruction of entire sections of subway line, brother, you done fucked up bad.

And all of this, surely, cost a fortune. So, what can we conclude? Well, I'll be honest: I think Carl Denham is a total fraud, a pipe dreamer of the pipe dreamers, a director who sells you a river and delivers a wet rag. See, I think that footage he shot was the movie. I think that's all he had. Seriously. You know that whole rigmarole he gives Ann on the ship about how he had to fire his last cameraman because he was afraid of a charging rhino? That's pretty convenient, isn't it? Sure, that's why he has no cameraman. He had to fire him because he was a coward. I mean, he's this great filmmaker but he's got no crew. None! No actors, no cameraman, no nobody. He's by himself.

"Oh well, the boom operator was lily-livered and the sound man, uh, he was, uh, really stupid. Yeah, he was stupid! So I fired him, too. And the actors, um, well, uh, they all quit on me..." And so on. Carl keeps inventing reasons why no one is working with him, and they're all, coincidentally, centered around the fact that nobody is as bloody goddamned awesome as he!

Meanwhile, back in Hollywood, the financier he conned into backing the whole damn thing is learning a lesson both valuable and heartbreakingly difficult. I imagine the conversation with his lackey going something like this:

Lackey: "Sir, the Denham movie's finished. He sent us the completed reel."

Financier: "You mean, reels, plural."

Lackey: "No sir, reel. It's four minutes long."

Financier: [stares dumbfounded, struggles for words] "Wh... what is it?"

Lackey: "It appears to be two or so minutes of an unidentified woman screaming on a ship and a lot of people in tribal garb dancing around a woman on a platform."

Financier: [blinks, stares into space momentarily before speaking again] "So... we've still got a lot of money left over then, right?"

Lackey: "No sir. He went 580 percent over-budget."

Financier: "..."

Lackey: "Sir?"

Financier: [stares blankly out window and slowly, almost imperceptibly, utters...] "fuuuuuuuuuck."

Lesson learned, the hard way. When Carl Denham shows up at your door and says he has a plan, run. He may promise you riches, fame and glory but all you'll end up with is a destroyed city, a tarnished reputation and stock footage even Ed Wood couldn't use. When your dreams lay shattered on the floor, and Denham was involved, you can be sure of one thing: It was bullshit killed the beast.