The scene is 1932 at the Hoboken docks in New Jersey during a Depression-era winter. A dock night watchman is approached by a well-dressed man, Charles Weston (Sam Hardy), a theatrical agent, and asked about the nearby moored steamer
Weston: Say, is this the moving picture ship?
The watchman confirms that the ship is going on a "crazy" voyage, and knows of the brash reputation of Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), a fearless and arrogant adventure filmmaker and movie producer, who is preparing for a film expedition.
Night Watchman: . . . that crazy fella that's a runnin' it. . . . They say he ain't scared of nothing. If he wants a picture of a lion, he just goes up to him and tells him to look pleasant.
Everybody around the dock is talking about the unusually large cargo and number of crew members - "three times more than the ship needs." Weston is invited on board the vessel by First Mate Jack (John) Driscoll (Bruce Cabot).
Driscoll: Come on board. Denham's gettin' wild. I hope you got some good news for him.
In the captain's cabin, trusted skipper-Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) confers with Denham and suggests that he sail immediately by the next day's light, before the fire marshal can discover his illegal cargo of ammunition, explosives and gas bombs, one of which is strong enough "to knock out an elephant." They must also get to their destination to finish filming before the monsoon season starts. Weston and Driscoll enter and Denham demands to know if the agent has located an actress to star in his top-secret film
Denham: Somebody's interfered with every girl I've tried to hire. And now all the agents in town have shut down on me. All but you, you know I'm square.
Weston: You have a reputation for recklessness that can't be glossed over.
Weston also objects to Denham's secretiveness - not even the skipper and first mate know where they are going. The agent hasn't found a girl because his conscience won't let him ask a young girl to take on such an unknown project.
Weston: I can't send a young pretty girl such as you ask, on a job like this without telling her what to expect. . . To go off on a trip for no one knows how long, to some spot you don't even hint at, the only woman on the ship with the toughest mugs I ever looked at.
No ingenue actress will commit to a long sea voyage to an unknown destination, with an all-male crew.
Denham: Listen, there are dozens of girls in this town tonight that are in more danger than they'll ever see with me.
Driscoll: Yeah, but they know that kind of danger.
Denham: Holy Mackerel. Do you think I want to haul a woman around?...Because the Public, bless 'em, must have a pretty face to look at...Well, isn't there any romance or adventure in the world without having a flapper in it?...Makes me sore. I go out and sweat blood to make a swell picture and then the critics and the exhibitors all say, 'If this picture had love interest it would gross twice as much.' All right. The Public wants a girl, and this time, I'm gonna give 'em what they want.
Undaunted but frustrated, the entrepreneurial, jungle filmmaker promises . . .
Denham: I will make the greatest picture in the world, something that nobody's ever seen or heard of. They'll have to think up a lot of new adjectives when I come back.
He leaves to find a girl for his picture by himself, vowing . . .
Denham: . . . even if I have to marry one.
A cab drops him off outside the Woman's Home Mission where women are in a breadline, but he doesn't see any potential prospects. Nearby, he notices a hungry, out-of-work, and broke girl reaching for an apple from a fruit market on the streets of New York. The street vendor catches the girl and threatens to call the police. After paying off the irate proprietor with a buck to rescue her, she swoons into his arms.
When he takes a good look at her, he impulsively decides that she has the kind of beauty that he is looking for - perfect for the starring role in his documentary movie. Denham takes the starving young girl by taxi to a Bowery restaurant, buys her a meal, and over a cup of coffee asks her about herself. She is orphaned with no family, although she adds . . .
Ann: I'm supposed to have an uncle someplace.
She also worked as a film extra at a studio on Long Island before it closed. She identifies herself as Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and he enthusiastically makes an offer to the down-and-out, destitute woman . . .
Denham: I've got a job for you. Costumes on the ship won't fit you. Broadway shops are still open. I can get some clothes for you there.
To encourage the beautiful girl to go along, he entices her with a promise of lifting her out of obscurity. . .
Denham: It's money and adventure and fame. It's the thrill of a lifetime and a long sea voyage that starts at six o'clock tomorrow morning.
Ann hesitates with fear in her voice, fearing that she will be made Denham's mistress.
Denham: No wait. I - I don't understand. You must tell me. I do want the job so, but I can't . . .
Denham chivalrously reassures her by explaining his position.
Denham: Oh, I see. No, you've got me wrong. This is strictly business....Listen, I'm Carl Denham. Ever hear of me?
His fearless, courageous, daredevil reputation is even known by Ann
Ann: Yes. Yes! You make moving pictures in jungles and places.
Ann is told that she has been picked to be the leading lady in his new film, and their voyage leaves at 6 am to a place "a long way off." Ann agrees to the voyage, after Denham offers final assurances . . .
Denham: I'm on the level. No funny business...Just trust me and keep your chin up.
They shake on it.
The next day, the all-male crew sets sail on a long six-week journey on the S. S. Venture bound for the South Pacific. The good-looking and brawny, but disgruntled First Mate Driscoll meets Ann on deck and unpleasantly marks her as . . .
Driscoll: . . .that girl Denham picked up last night.
The males on board are angry and distrustful at the prospect of having such a tempting, attractive, and charming woman along on such a dangerous voyage.
Driscoll: I've never been on one with a woman before.Women are a nuisance on board ships.
During the voyage, Ann prepares to practice and rehearse a scene for the film director on the deck, "to see which side of my face looks best and all that." Driscoll really believes her life is in jeopardy and is feeling protective of her safety.
Driscoll (chauvinistic, but apologetic): This is no place for a girl. You're all right, but, but, but women, women just can't help being a bother. Made that way, I guess.
Denham strolls into their company, and sees Ann fondly petting the ship's pet monkey - a miniature foreshadowing of the regal Beast in the film.
Denham (sardonically): Beauty and the Beast, eh?
Ann excuses herself to put on one of her costumes for the film test to be directed by Denham. While waiting for Ann to reappear, Driscoll confronts Denham and asks what lies ahead.
Denham: When do we find out where we're going? . . . And you going to tell us what happens when we get there?
Possibly feeling threatened by Driscoll's growing crush on his actress-heroine, Denham suspects that the crew member has been emasculated.
Denham: Oh, you have gone soft on her, eh? I've got enough troubles without a love affair to complicate things. Better cut it out, Jack.
Driscoll: Love affair! You think I'm gonna fall for any dame?
Denham: I've never known it to fail, some big, hard-boiled egg gets a look at a pretty face and bang, he cracks up and goes sappy.
Driscoll: Now who's goin' sappy? Listen, I haven't run out on ya, have I?
Denham: No, you're a pretty tough guy, but if Beauty gets you, ya . . .
He breaks his train of thought and turns away with a self-deprecating smile.
Denham: Huh, I'm going right into a theme song here.
Driscoll: Say, what are you talkin' about?
Denham: It's the idea of my picture. The Beast was a tough guy too. He could lick the world. But when he saw Beauty, she got him. He went soft. He forgot his wisdom and the little fellas licked him. Think it over, Jack.
As they reach a pre-determined point in the middle of the ocean, somewhere in the Indian Ocean way west of Sumatra, Denham has promised more information about the voyage. He explains to the Skipper-Captain and his First Mate their destination to the southwest.
Englehorn (protests): Well there's nothing...nothing for thousands of miles!
Denham unfolds and reveals a secret, primitive map of an uncharted island in the East Indies.
Denham: You won't find that island on any chart.
Denham (explaining the map's history): That was made by the skipper of a Norwegian barque...A canoe full of natives from this island was blown out to sea. When the barque picked them up, there was only one alive. He died before they reached port, but not before the skipper had pieced together a description of the island and got a fairly good idea of where it lies.
Denham describes the island from the drawing. The main island has a long sandy peninsula, the only possible landing site or entrance through a reef. The rest of the island's shoreline has sheer, steep precipices, hundreds of feet high. A wall cuts off the base of the peninsula from the rest of the island. Denham explains that there's an ancient, monstrous wonder on the mysterious island . . .
Denham: . . . that no white man has ever seen.
Denham: A wall...built so long ago that the people who live there have slipped back, forgotten the higher civilization that built it. That wall is as strong today as it was centuries ago. The natives keep that wall in repair. They need it.
Denham: There's something on the other side of it, something they fear.
Captain: A hostile tribe.
Denham: Did you ever hear of...Kong?
Captain: Why, yes. Some native superstition isn't it? A god or a spirit or something?
Denham: Well anyway, neither Beast nor man. Something monstrous. All powerful. Still living. Still holding that island in a grip of deadly fear. Well, every legend has a basis of truth. I tell you, there's something on that island that no white man has ever seen.
Captain: And you expect to photograph it?
Denham: If it's there, you bet I'll photograph it.
Driscoll: Suppose it doesn't like having its picture taken?
Denham: Well, now you know why I brought along those cases of gas bombs.
On the deck, Denham prepares for Ann's preliminary costume and lighting test.
Denham (noticing): Oh, you've put on the Beauty and Beast costume, eh?
Ann thinks it's the prettiest, but is nervous about not photographing well. Denham is confident of his unknown actress in her alluring costume.
Denham: If I hadn't been sure, I wouldn't have brought you half way around the world.
Denham directs her film test, shooting the film himself from behind the camera.
Denham: Well, we'll start with a profile. When I start cranking, I hold it a minute and then turn slowly toward me. You see me. You smile a little. Then you listen. And then you laugh. All right? Camera.