|The Case studies|
Produced by RKO Radio Pictures
Overview of the censorship case KING KONG
In Austria KING KONG was censored in September 1933 and in October 1937. An interesting point in this case is the different length of the two film versions.
In 1933 the film was hand in for censorship by the distributor Mondial for the producer RKO at the Magistrat Wien im selbständigen Wirkungsbereiche des Landes (Magistrate Vienna). According to the registration card (no. 1016, 1.9.1933) its length was 2600 m. There was no kind of restriction noted, but according to PFL from the 8th September 1933 the film was banned for young people.
In 1937 the producer/distributor RKO itself applied for censorship again now at the Besonderes Stadtamt II/3 im selbständigen Wirkungsbereiche des Landes (Special City Department of Vienna II/3). Interesting is that this re-release of the film was not mentioned in PFL and the length of the movie is different. According to the second registration card (no 1331/37, 22.10.1937) the length was only 2130 m. Again no kind of restriction was noted.
KING KONG was censored twice in Germany. In 26th July 1933 the film was banned outright by the Censorship Office in Berlin.
The distribution company “Europa-Filmverleih” filed a complaint on the ban which led to a further examination by the Censorship Headquarters Berlin in September 1933 [censorship decision]. Two medical experts were taking part at this second hearing who were to clarify whether the film was reasonable for an average audience. The representative of the Reichsgesundheitsamt (Reich Health Office) assumed that KING KONG would be damaging to the health of German audiences. In his opinion the film might pose “an aggression to the nerves and a provocation of the racial instincts of the German people” (a blonde woman of Germanic type in the hands of an ape). Dr. Zeiss objected especially to the cruelties, which were imagined by the drunk in the background story.
However, the second expert – a doctor in a psychiatric hospital - representing the distribution company, ruled out a harmful effect to the public’s health. Dr. Schulte justified his opinion by stating that German audiences were much more discerning than people in the USA. He stated that in accordance with the valid censorship regulations “psychopaths or women (sic!)… must not be considered as criterion for the decision about permission…” (RLG §9). He emphasised that the censorship decision had to be orientated towards the average viewer - and those would feel rather amused than shocked by the film.
The censorship committee decided to postpone the hearing and to consult a further expert, a representative of the Ministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda (National Ministry of Enlightenment of the People and Propaganda), to determine the potential effects on German “racial feelings”. Would the film injure the so called “racial feelings”, so it would also disturb vital interests of the state. On 5th October 1933 the hearing was resumed [censorship decision]. Again, the main question was whether the film was reasonable for the average audience. The representative of the National Ministry of Enlightenment of the People and Propaganda denied the question.
Although the of the National Health Office still recommend the ban of KING KONG, the verdict of 26th July 1933 was reversed. The censorship committee stated that “this typical American sensational film” would be far too “unreal” and “fantastic” and that it would rather cause general merriment in Germany. Therefore a “permanent unhealthy effect” on the “average cinemagoer” was not expected.
However, KING KONG was banned for young people and cuts were imposed. The background story, all close-ups showing the screaming women in the hands of King Kong were cut out because of a supposed “health damage”. In addition King Kong’s attack on the elevated railway was removed, because the scene would endanger the public safety. This abstruse statement can better be understood by clarifying that certain professions and public institutions (such as the German State Railway) were protected by RLG §1. The mentioned scene would undermine the trust in “this important public means of transport“. Moreover, the film title was changed into “The Fable of King Kong - An American Trick and Sensational Film”.
Press articles followed the estimation of the censorship board emphasising that the plot of the film was childish, ridiculous - “and American” [press article]. However, most articles reveal great enthusiasm for the brilliant tricks of the film which were seen as the beginning of a new era in the sensational film [press article].
In Czechoslovakia KING KONG was also censored twice. In September 1933 the Censor Advisory Board suggested to rate the film for adults but there were no objections to concrete passages.
Worth mentioning is the application for awarding of a cultural - educative honour submitted by the distributing company PDC, Praha. Such a honouring meant an important advantage not only for the distributor but also for cinema owners which were exempted from paying the “entertainment fee”. However, this kind of cultural - educative honour was usually not awarded for feature films in the Czechoslovak Republic. Mostly films with evident cultural or educational functions, especially documentaries received these merits. The argument used by the distribution company in this case is remarkable: the distributor argued with time consuming fabrication of prehistoric animal models, the participation of well-known scientists and the technical perfection of the movie. However, these arguments were not striking enough for the Censor Advisory Board and the honour was rejected.
Nevertheless, the technical perfection of the movie was repeatedly emphasised in the reviews [press article]. In some reviews (e.g. Ceské slovo, 29.9.1933) the film was also classified as a meridian representative of “grand-guignol movies” concentrating on “pure cinematographic show” and “excitement of nerves”. The film was screened in a cinema used for première for quite a long time – five weeks (Havelka, 1939: 71).
An regular application for prolongation of permission after five years dated 4th December 1938 is also available.
by Laura Bezerra, Karin Moser and Tomáš Lachman