Universal’s promising unmade Kong: The Legend of King Kong (1975)

Last time, we talked a bit about an unmade British remake of King Kong. But Hammer Studios wasn’t the only major film company of the 1970s attempting to remake RKO’s classic.

I thought I’d take a moment to shed some light on the cancelled (and fairly obscure) Kong film that competed with the ’76 remake of Kong, known as The Legend of King Kong. In fact, said project, intended to be made by Universal Studios (which thus created the very convoluted nature of which studio/company had legal rights to the Kong character) was slated to hit theaters sometime in 1975, thus winning the “race” between the two adaptations.

ABOVE: Production announcement. BELOW: Concept poster. Source: Dinosaurs, Dragons, and Drama: The Odyssey of a Trickfilmmaker, Book 2: The Siege by Jim Danforth.

There are several from the production (related to special effects done by animator Jim Danforth, Ray Harryhausen’s opinionated protege) that are only available (other than this article) in Danforth’s autobiography CD-ROM, “Dinosaurs, Dragons, & Drama,” the second volume specifically. For those unaware of just who Jim Danforth is, well, the best way to put it is he could have been the next great stop-motion pioneer following in his mentor’s footsteps.

Jim Danforth

Danforth got his start working under clay-animation pioneer Art Clokey, and after that was hired at the company Projects Unlimited where he contributed effects work to such famous films and television shows as George Pal’s The Time Machine (1960), It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), & The Outer Limits (1963-1965). Project Unlimited also did effects for Dinosaurus! (1960), Jack the Giant Killer (1962), The Wonderful World of the Brothers’ Grimm (1962), and The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), the last three all featuring Danforth’s work, and the last film winning his first Academy Award Nomination. The second nomination would come from Danforth’s master work in the sequel to Hammer’s One Million Years B.C. (1966), titled When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970).

Sadly, a combination of film studios’ unwillingness to invest in the stop-motion process as well as Danforth’s own unwillingness to compromise on creative collaboration resulted in the promising animator spending the remainder of his professional life as a very talented matte painter, and occasional consultant with fellow (and famous) special effects artist friends like Dave Allen, Dennis Muren, & even Ray Harryhausen, on Harryhausen’s swan song Clash of the Titans (1981). The trouble with the studios, not just in effects work, but also the legal wranglings, is what led to the demise of the subject of this article, which could’ve proven to be one of Danforth’s most promising projects.

The Legend of King Kong was, as opposed to the Paramount/De Laurentiis version, set in the 30s like the original. Actors Peter Falk, Susan Blakely, and Nick Nolte were all considered for Carl Denham, Ann Darrow, and Jack Driscoll. Director Joseph Sargent, of Jaws: The Revenge infamy, was attached. Due to the legal issues surrounding the rights to King Kong, several elements of the story had to be changed, namely the creatures that Kong would’ve faced.

Danforth conceived of various alternatives to the many dinosaurs from the original. Instead of the Tyrannosaurus, Kong was at first slated to fight an Arsinoitherium (the rhinoceros-like prehistoric mammal), but eventually an original creation, the Triclonius, was used instead.

A large amphibian would’ve replaced the Apatosaurus in the lake, a giant vulture the Pteranodon, and Kong would’ve also fought a giant snake.

The Spider-Pit scene would’ve been featured, though giant scorpions or massive millipedes (one of which was conceived as an alternative to the snake) would’ve been the assailants.

Source: Dinosaurs, Dragons, and Drama: The Odyssey of a Trickfilmmaker, Book 2: The Siege by Jim Danforth.

Finally, Kong himself would’ve been quite different, appearing more like a Sasquatch-type creature, with Danforth providing an eerily human-like portrait of this version. The Wall too, would’ve been missing a gate, and been less accessible. Of course, we all know that the project eventually folded. De Laurentiis did come to Danforth at one point, offering him the opportunity to animate one stop-motion sequence for the Paramount version. Danforth hated the script however, so he declined.

ABOVE: Kong, the missing link. BELOW: The wall to keep Kong at bay. Source: Dinosaurs, Dragons, and Drama: The Odyssey of a Trickfilmmaker, Book 2: The Siege by Jim Danforth.

It’s a shame really, had Danforth been more agreeable, we might’ve seen the “Legend” merge with the remake we got for a more thrilling Skull Island for Jeff Bridges to traverse while attempting to rescue Jessica Lange. For the curious, people can check out the films name-dropped in this article to see the type of animation Danforth would’ve brought to the table. Below is a link to where you can find Danforth’s Biography available for purchase (if in stock).

NEXT: King Kong (1976)

Click here to purchase Volume 2 of Jim Danforth’s CD-ROM memoir, Dinosaurs, Dragons, and Drama: The Odyssey of a Trickfilmmaker, Book 2: The Siege.

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