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June 26, 2021

Behind the Scenes Photos of Jessica Lange in Kong’s Animatronic Hand, 1976

Critics of 1976 King Kong frequently harped on the robot Kong as proof of the project’s “failure”, special effects wise. Because the robot ultimately failed to live up to its billing (whether intentionally or not), and barely appeared in a few brief in the final film, critics contended that the film was not the special effects triumph which its fans claim. But in their emphasis on the robot, those critics seemed strangely blind to the movie's true special effects accomplishments. Along with the animatronic masks worn by Rick Baker, 1976 King Kong boasted the creation of a pair of Kong-size hands that were alone a triumph of mechanical engineering.



While a full-sized Kong hand had been used in the original 1933 King Kong, it was little more than an inanimate prop. The fingers had to be man-handled into position around Fay Wray’s body by stage hands, and it could not move during the actual shot.

For his 1976 remake, Dino De Laurentiis wanted more –– a lot more. He wanted the hand (which was about twice as big as the one in the original) to convey emotion and character, to be tender one minute, then terrifying the next, to be capable of being submerged in a pool or slammed into the earth in a fit of simian rage. And perhaps most amazingly, he wanted it to gently undress the heroine in one classic scene, all without breaking her neck!





Given that the hand was essentially a giant hydraulic steamshovel covered with rubber and Argentinian horse tails, what Carlo Rambaldi and Glen Robinson, its creators, accomplished was truly remarkable.  Operated by a team of six technicians through a boardremote control board, in one scene the hand gently caresses Jessica Lange with a gargantuan index finger, delicately stripping away her necklace a strand at a time, and finally pulling off her dress, all with a seeming gentleness which must have been at complete odds with the reality of the situation.




Consider that reality. As soft as the hand appears, it was made of duraluminum metal under the rubber. It was huge, ungainly, and its movements were conveyed from a distant control board. Thus, there was a delay between a command to move and the movement itself. If Jessica Lange had placed herself in the wrong position –– if she somehow found herself even an inch out of place –– the hand could have seriously injured her.  As gentle as the hand appears, for Lange it must have been like being fondled by a Buick!

Of course, precautions were taken. Special bolts were placed in the knuckles to prevent the hand from closing too tightly, even schematicif the main cable in the wrist broke. It was a good thing this was done, because that was precisely what did happen, during a rehearsal with a stunt double in the hand. Without warning, the hand just suddenly went limp, closing around the helpless stunt double who, knowing her profession, knew to go limp to prevent injury. But the bolts worked and, even though the main cable holding up the hand had snapped, the fingers were prevented from squeezing too tightly. Nonetheless, Dino De Laurentiis was not pleased by the delay caused by the broken cable –– a cable which he had been assured would be strong enough for the job.


There were actually two hands. They were designed by Carlo Rambaldi, an Italian “line artist and sculptor” who had initially made his name creating a very famous animatronic puppet “Pinocchio” for an Italian television special. As well as designing both the Kong costume worn by Rick Baker and the giant robot Kong, Rambaldi later went on to design the animatronic head of the alien in Ridley Scott’s Alien and the alien in Steven Spielberg’s ET

Although King Kong 1976 was produced by Paramount Pictures, much of the design work was done at the larger MGM facilities. Along with the robot Kong, the hands were constructed at the MGM construction department under the supervision of “special mechanical effects expert” Glen Robinson. Initially an aircraft manufacturer was approached to build the robot and hands, but, when they reported it would take a year and a half to do the job, Robinson and crew decided to do it themselves. It took them four and a half months, with Robinson noting: “Which, I guess, is pretty good.”






1 comment:

  1. "barely appeared in a few brief in the final film"
    I don't remember seeing any of King Kong's underwear in the film, briefs or boxers.
    SMH

    ReplyDelete



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