Monday, January 09, 2006

Going Ape Over King Kong

As Peter Jackson's ode to animal love closes in on $200 million in B.O. (as the trades call it), not far off are the inevitable infringement suits brought by forelorn scriptwriters who had previously given their manuscript to someone who knows someone who said Peter would be interested. A January 8, 2006 article in the Los Angeles Times provides a wrinkle on the defense of such suits: the existence of an earlier gorilla craze in the 1920s and 1930 (arising out of Teddy Roosevelt's African safari), in particular "Ingagi," which predated by three years Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack's "King Kong."

Ingagi was released, appropriately by Congo Pictures Ltd. The ads for the film stated it was based on an expedition to the Congo by Sir Hubert Winstead of the Royal Geological Society. In Chicago's Garrick Theatre, large crowds were drawn by "lurid lobby advertising depicting a gorilla fondling a near-nude native woman." This not suprisingly led to problems with the Hays Office censorship enforcers, causing the films' producers to state that "Sex perversion or any inference of it is forbidden," along with a ban on "complete nudity." This only helped to draw viewers. The documentary nature of the film was later shown to be fradulent.

In the movie, a bare-breasted woman is carried off by a gorilla who is shot, thereby foreclosing its ability to climb the Empire State Building. Other women are depicted as willing mates of gorillas. The LA Times article concludes:

"Although Merian C. Cooper never listed 'Ingagi' among his influences for
'King Kong,' it's long been held that RKO green-lighted 'Kong,' despite the
studio having fallen into receivership in the midst of the Depression, because
the bottom-line example of 'Ingagi': Gorillas plus sexy women in peril equals
enormous profits. And it that was indeed the case, there's no doubt that
'King Kong' was by far the best thing to be spawned by 'Ingagi."

6 comments:

Josh Wattles said...

An interesting progression typical of an over-hyped entertainment product: First you say it’s a “real story based on true facts;” then you get a false advertising claim and it becomes “based upon a real story based on true facts;” then you get a claim for libel and it becomes “a story inspired by a real story based on true facts;” and then someone copies your project and it becomes “an original story inspired by an ancient folk tale” and you sue the new work because no one wants to see yours any more! When challenged by the defendant who attempts to raise the original claim of purely factual content as a defense, you skate on the grounds that no credible professional would believe any claims made about any story in the movie business.

This LA times article reads like a great sequel to “The Producers” …………..

William Patry said...

There was a 1940 "sequel",which may be read about at imdb.com and about which the following was said on that site:

"SON OF INGAGI (1940) is a rare horror film. One of the films by Zack Williams, a black film artist who made films with an all black cast, for the black audiences. (This was in the days before Denzel Washington, Sidney Portier, James Earl Jones, the days you never saw a black man in the heroic lead in a film.) The real treat of the movie is the nasty old witch that lives in a little house. All she has to do is bang a low-toned gong and the big giant, who sleeps on hay, wakes up and beats the old woman's enemies to a frazzle. A rare piece of film history, and a lot of fun. "

Anonymous said...

Also yet another demonstration that censorship doesn't really work in societies other than police states. It's hard to imagine the film not making so much money absent the clumsy attempts to shut it down. Clearly, the producers set out to create and milk as much controversy as possible.

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