Kong save the Queen!: Hammer’s King Kong (1960s/1970s)


Toho’s version of RKO’s 8th Wonder of the World renewed interest in Kong, and so all the major production companies became interested in putting their own spin on the King of Skull Island.


Background

By the late 1960s, almost every major production company was interested in making a version of King Kong: Universal, Paramount, and even England’s Hammer Studios.

For those who are unaware, Hammer is a film company that made a huge name for itself in the 1950s through the 1970s by producing remakes of old Universal monster films in vivid technicolor and starring the likes of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Barbara Sherry, and Ingrid Pitt (to name only a handful of Hammer’s most famous alums). While always featuring impeccable acting and lavish sets, these reboots also featured more than a bit of blood and the occasional nude scene. Two thumbs way up for Hammer!

Because Hammer successfully reintroduced the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Mummy back into the cultural zeitgeist, and because Hammer achieved some additional success when it attempted to branch out with adventure films such as She (1965), The Viking Queen (1967), and The Lost Continent (1968), it only makes sense that Hammer executive producer and director Michael Carreras would float his idea for a Kong remake to RKO.


A fan-created poster for Hammer’s King Kong. I agree with at least one of the casting choices. Source: MovieMatt

Details

Now, not much is known about Hammer’s pitch to RKO. No scripts, treatments, or abstracts have ever been found. Because of this, we don’t know if the film would have taken place in 1933, or in modern times, or possibly in the Victorian or Edwardian eras. It’s unlikely that the story would have taken place in the United States, as Hammer was an aggressively English studio–so we could have expected the events of the film to span from Skull Island to London. Fans speculate that Kong likely wouldn’t have climbed the Empire State Building, but rather Big Ben. I like to think that either hot air balloons (for the Victorian era) or dirigibles (for the Edwardian era) would have replaced the fighter planes.

As for cast, no one knows much about that, either. I like to think that the Carl Denham and Captain Englehorn characters would have been played by Hammer stalwarts Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, respectively–or vice versa. Oliver Reed would have been perfect as the Jack Driscoll analog. And for the woman who would be Ann Darrow? Caroline Munro, of course.

But these details aren’t really details at all. Rather, they are idle speculation on what we know of Hammer and its stable of actors during this period.

The King Himself

As for the great Kong? It is unknown whether the eponymous giant ape would have been a man in a suit like the Toho Kongs, or a stop-motion puppet like the original. One thing that Kong scholars point to as a possible hint is David Allen’s King Kong test reel, which used a stop-motion puppet. Made in 1971, the test reel is rumored by some to have been a potential “audition” of sorts should a Hammer Kong film ever get the green light–but this too is mere speculation.



When it became clear that the Hammer film wouldn’t happen, Allen found a new home for his test footage–and additional stop-motion Kong work–in a Volkswagon commercial:

Source: Mat Bergman

It’s also possible that stop-motion titan Ray Harryhausen might have tossed his hat into the ring, if his Kong vs. the T-Rex sculpture (which currently sits in the London Film Museum) made around this time is any indication:

What Happened?

Well, over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, it’s said that Hammer Studios met with Daniel O’Shea of RKO to pitch their Kong film. O’Shea heard them out, but due to either a non-remake policy or due to having only access to sequel rights (the story is told both ways), RKO respectfully declined Hammer’s offer. It’s said that this rejection prompted Hammer to look elsewhere for a large-scale adventure epic, and eventually they settled on remaking One Million Years B.C. in 1965 with Raquel Welch in the starring role and Ray Harryhausen as stop-motion animator–but this seems early in the process, and doesn’t acknowledge those accounts that claim Hammer tried for the Kong rights even into the 1970s. I don’t doubt its truth; I just don’t think settling for One Million Years B.C. was the be-all, end-all of the matter for Hammer.

So, there’s not much to this story. There’s certainly very little in the way of tangible remnants as they relate to Hammer’s potential plans–and, as stated, what we think we might have is only rumored to be related. That said, of all the unmade Kong films (several of which have even less material available than this one and thus won’t be talked about much if at all during this event), this one seems to have generated the most fan interest–with one even going so far as to write a fan script of the film–because of its potential to give us a drastically new and different take on the old story of Kong.


NEXT: The Legend of King Kong (1975)

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