Friday, October 23, 2015

King Kong: The Famous Spider Pit Sequence

Fray Wray from KING KONG (1933).
Last week I provided a history and episode guide for the 15-chapter radio serial of KING KONG, adapted from the motion-picture of the same name. Executives at RKO, experimenting with radio promotion of what was probably among the most expensive movies produced, paid NBC for a twice-a-week cliffhanger serial to lure radio listeners into the doors. It is difficult to judge today whether or not that radio serial in 1933 was instrumental in the success at Radio City Music Hall because, as reported last week, even the movie premiere was scripted.

Episode nine of the 1933 radio serial, broadcast on the evening of March 27, featured a dramatization (along with narrative) of the long-rumored “Spider Pit” sequence, which appears in the novelization and screenplay, but is not included the finished cut of the movie. Many theorize that the scene was never produced, but it was intended. Other contest it was filmed and later cut from the final print. (All “evidence” of the Spider Pit sequence still remains hearsay, despite numerous debates put forth in printed fanzines and magazines.)

Reprinted from episode nine, Driscoll, heading back towards the ship to fetch more guns and bombs, decided to cross the ravine by walking on top of a giant log.

DRISCOLL: I’ll say it’s deep. And this log’s slipping if you ask me.

DENHAM: Keep your eyes straight ahead. Don’t be looking down.

DRISCOLL: There are a lot of caves and narrow fissures in the rocks over there.

DENHAM: Yes, I see them. All right, old man, you’re nearly over.

DRISCOLL: (FAR OFF) O.K. I’m all right now.

DENHAM: (CALLING) Goodbye. I’d have felt funny, Jack, if you had started to slip. That place down there is the breeding spot for the rottenest thing on this foul island.

JIMMY: Look, Mr. Denham! Down in that cave!

DENHAM: A huge spider.

JIMMY: Looks like a keg on a lot of legs!

DENHAM: It’s staring up at us malevolently.

JIMMY: Now it’s got its eye on something else.

DENHAM: Looks like a lizard, except for its size.

JIMMY: The spider’s changing his mind.

DENHAM: He spotted prey more his size.

JIMMY: Where?

DENHAM: See that round, crawling object with tentacles like an octopus. Ah! The spider’s got him. He’s dragging him into a fissure.

JIMMY: I’m not going to cross that log with those things under me.

DENHAM: Maybe we won’t have to.

SOUND: NOISE OF TRICEROTOP

DENHAM: Watch it. The Tricerotop has spotted us again. He;s right behind us. That settles it. We’ll have to cross. You men go first. I’ll follow you.

SOUND: ROAR OF TRICEROTOP

DENHAM: (narration) The men had moved cautiously, because of what crawled far below their uncertain feet. Hurrying them as much as I could I looked back at the Tricerotop, picked up a rock and then threw the useless thing away. The men were grouped close together in the center of the log, advancing slowly. I stepped forward when suddenly I heard Driscoll shouting at me from the opposite side of the ravine. He was motioning frantically toward the ground sloping behind him. He motioned again, and with a last shout caught a vine at the edge of the ravine, swung down to a ledge and flung himself into a shallow cave. Lumbering up the slope casme – Kong! At the sight of the men on the log he roared out and beat his chest. Stopping at a lightning–riven tree he placed Anne’s* unconscious form in a notch as high up as his great arms could reach and then lunged forward to attack this new enemy so unexpectedly appearing to threaten possession of his golden-haired prize. Still angry from his earlier fight with the Tricerotops, he was doubly enraged now by the men. And at the further sight of the three-horned beast charging toward the ravine his rage broke all bounds.

* Note: Ann Darrow’s name was mis-spelled “Anne” a number of times throughout the radio scripts.

DENHAM: (continued) I followed Driscoll’s example and slid over the edge of the ravine into a fissure. The men on the log could do nothing. To advance against Kong was impossible. To retreat was no less so, for the Tricerotop, sighting his old foe, rushed up to the end of the log and bellowed a challenge. Driscoll and I, from our caves, watched the tragedy helplessly. To Kong, all moving things in his vision were enemies, the men on the log as much as the beast behind it. He roared and beat his breast again. One of his great hand-like feet reached out as though he meant to attack at close quarters. At that movement a maddened plunge of the Tricerotop brought the beast jarringly against its end of the bridge. The men in the center clung frantically. The beast-god gave his own end of the log an experimental shake and when the men cried out in terror, he began to chatter. Driscoll, from his cave, shouted menacingly. Kong caught sight of him, took a half step away from the log, but in the end refused to be diverted. I tried the effect of a rock, but that went unnoticed. Ignoring shouts and rocks, ignoring even the bellowed defiance of the Tricerotop, Kong curved both forearms under his end of the log and straining, upward got it off the ground and jerked it violently from side to side. Two of the men lost their holds. One gasped madly at the face of a prone comrade, and left bloody finger marks as he went whirling down into the decaying silt at the bottom.

Conception sketch from supposed storyboard for the movie.

DENHAM: (continued) He has no more than struck when the lizard flashed upon him. Watching, I hoped that the complete lack of movement meant unconsciousness, or best, that death had come instantly. The second man did not die in the fall. He was not even unconscious. He landed feet first, sinking immediately to his waistline in the mud and screamed horribly as not one, but half a dozen of the great spiders swarmed over him. Up on the edge of the ravine the Tricerotop stamped the ground. Getting no notice from his adversary across the gap he bellowed uncertainly and began backing up. With a last bellow he wheeled around and lumbered toward the trees. Kong lifted the log and jerked it again. Another man fell, prey for a new out-pouring of spiders. Another jerk, and the octopus-insect, along with a score of companions began to fight against the spiders and the lizards for booty. Only one man was left on the log and he clung desperately. Kong jerked, but could not shake him loose. Nor could all the despairing efforts of Driscoll and myself – all our shouts, all our rocks turned the huge ape from his purpose. The clinging man shrieked. Kong glowered down upon him in a culminating exasperation swung the log far sideways and dropped it. The end caught on the very edge of the ravine and then slipped slowly off to drop like a battering ram upon the insects at their feast below.

DENHAM: (continued) Looking down in horror, I suddenly realized that Driscoll hiding in his cave opposite me was being menaced. A great spider was climbing the heavy vine which hung in front of the cave and by means of which the mate had got over the edge of the ravine. It’s lidless protruding eyes of no describable color looked up unblinkingly. I shouted a warning to Driscoll. He drew his knife and hacked desperately. Before the vine parted, the spider had got so close that its feted breath was wafted to the mate’s nostrils, as it plunged back into the ravine, reaching futilely at other vines. Cold and shaking from the tragedy I had witnessed and had been unable to avert I put my mind nevertheless to the rescue of Ann. I called to Driscoll.

DENHAM: Stay where you are! Kong can’t get at you! I’ll get back to the village some way and get help!

DRISCOLL: Go along. I’ll stay here until that hairy brute clears out and then I’ll follow him. You come back with bombs and something to bridge the ravine. I’ll try to mark a plain trail.

DENHAM: I feel rotten leaving you.

DRISCOLL: It’s the one chance. Shove off! Good bye, old man.

SOUND: KONG ROARS

DENHAM: Driscoll was so intent upon speeding my departure that he was not aware of Kong’s great questing hand until I shouted a warning. The ape had come to squat at the edge of the ravine and feel down into the cave for this other of his enemies.

Artist conception from supposed storyboards for the Spider Pit.

The phrase “Spider Pit” has been loosely adapted in a number of write-ups and is slightly mis-leading. The scene was to showcase a vast number of horrors from giant lizards, tentacles, over-sized crabs and of course, a spider. The chasm floor seethed to life and attacked human victims in graphic detail, having landed deep in mud. Watching the film today you can see the first victim fall feet first in mud and brief movement indicating they were still alive. Decades following the release of King Kong, Merian C. Cooper recalled the scene produced and included in the initial screening for a test audience in San Bernardino, and the reaction was one of horror as people started leaving the theatre– hence the removal of the scene. A studio memo, found in archives, reveal otherwise, cutting the sequence out himself because it “stopped the story.” The movie was originally 14 reels long, trimmed to 11 reels before theatrical release. A number of people claim they saw the footage when the film was originally released in theaters in 1933, removed for the 1938 re-release, but all memories – including those of Ray Bradbury – are heresay with nothing to support this claim. With the exception of pre-production artwork and two still photographs that appeared in an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland, very little has been found to prove the footage was indeed produced with the intention of being used in King Kong.


The two photos that appeared in FAMOUS MONSTERS.

Supposedly the spider was recycled for use in You’ll Find Out (1940), a spooky comedy concerning Kay Kyser and his band, booked for a performance at a birthday party bash for an heiress at a spooky mansion, where sinister forces try to kill her. A spider is seen in the background for use as a prop. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen. The spider prop does not match that of the photo seen in Famous Monsters.

The spider as it appears in THE BLACK SCORPION (1957).
In 1957, The Black Scorpion introduced movie-goers to another monstrous threat when volcanic activity frees giant scorpions from the earth who wreck havoc in the rural countryside and eventually threaten Mexico City. Willis O’Brien, supervisor of special effects, took advantage of the film’s premise to feature special effects for one key scene when archeologists venture through an opening leading underground. There, they find a number of monstrosities, including a giant worm with octopus-like arms, and a giant spider. Supposedly these were props leftover from the production of King Kong, touched up and recycled for use in this movie, as a result of a limited budget to work with.

When Peter Jackson's version of KING KONG (2005) was released on DVD, there was a bonus extra. Jackson reconstructed the lost Spider Pit sequence, incorporating footage from the 1933 classic. You can check it out on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SOMKnhN7ABs

Side note:
In 2014, chapter nine of the KING KONG radio serial was re-enacted on stage at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention by the Gotham Radio Players. The event was also streamed live for those who could not get to the convention that weekend.

3 comments:

Martin Harris said...

Hi Martingrams!
I have something of interest to contribute to the "spider pit" subject.
While I have lived most of my life in New Zealand, I was born and raised until 15 yrs old in the UK.
During the school holidays, the BBC used to show King Kong as kids daytime entertainment. This was in the late 1970s.
The sequence where Kong attacks his pursuers at the log-bridge over the chasm included several seconds worth of "spider pit" footage.
After Driscoll hides in the cave, and has cut the vine up which the lizard is climbing, he looks down into the pit. There is a long-shot of several large creatures, really more like crustaceans than spiders, crawling over the fallen log, and we are left to presume that they feasted on the unfortunate crewmen. Driscoll then pursues Kong and Ann as per the existing prints of the movie.
At the time I saw this, I was unaware of any mystery surrounding the "spider pit". The first time I saw King Kong on TV in NZ, in the early 1980s, I was surprised that the crab-creatures were missing.
It was not until PJ entered the scene with his remake and original re-release that I realised the scale of interest and intrigue surrounding this sequence.
I realise I offer no evidence other than my own recollection, but imagine if a copy of Kong still existed in the BBC's archives with at least a fragment of the spider pit scene intact?

Mark said...

I love the hundreds of false memories, like Martin Harris', that exist of the Spider Pit. It's completely impossible that even a fragment of the scene was aired on the BBC in the 1970s. One man even insisted he had a VHS copy from TV in his closet, but said he it was too much work to dig out!

James said...

I live in the UK too. As a huge 'Kong' fan I watched every TV screening of the film on the BBC and on ITV when they initially held the rights. Firstly it was never shown as a"school holidays" film. In those days when it was shown it was always given a prestige slot for a general audience.

Secondly, I was aware of the spider pit sequence since reading about it and seeing photos in the early '60s in 'Famous Monsters' magazine, and I can assure you, in all the showings I saw on British television from 1966 onwards, there was NEVER a fragment of the spider pit sequence shown. Absolute nonsense.

False memories indeed!

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