|“||Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here tonight to tell you a very strange story — a story so strange that no one will believe it — but, ladies and gentlemen, seeing is believing. And we — my partners and I — have brought back the living proof of our adventure, an adventure in which twelve of our party met horrible death. And now, ladies and gentlemen, before I tell you any more, I'm going to show you the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive — a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World.||„|
|~ Carl Denham presents King Kong to an audience.|
|“||No... It wasn't the airplanes. It was BEAUTY killed the beast.||„|
|~ Carl Denham's famous closing line.|
Carl Denham is the main antagonist of the 1933 classic monster film King Kong, its 1932 novelization and its various adaptations and remakes, from 1998's The Mighty Kong to 2005's Peter Jackson's King Kong. He is also the main protagonist of it's sequel Son of Kong.
He is a former director of films whose job was to initiate the action by bringing a film crew to Skull Island to make a movie, only to encounter the giant simian beast Kong whom Denham captures and brings to New York City to put him on display as entertainment and also sell Kong to make a profit, only for the giant ape to escape and start wreaking havoc.
In the 1933 film, he was portrayed by the late Robert Armstrong. In the 2005 film, he was portrayed by Jack Black, who also played Slappy the Dummy in Goosebumps, Slip in The Neverending Story III: Escape from Fantasia and Zeke in Ice Age.
Carl Denham is a famous maker and director of "moving pictures" known for filming wild animals in exotic places. Many question his sanity due to his dedication to film. Denham's role in the film begins when a movie producer boards the S.S. Venture to inform Denham that he has not found an actress to be in Denham's new film. This prompts Denham to go into New York City to find a girl for the role. Denham finds Ann Darrow in the grip of an angry shopkeeper who believed that she intended to steal fruit from his stand. Denham buys Darrow dinner and hires her for the film. While aboard The Venture, Denham films some scenes of Darrow. Denham disproves of the burgeoning romance between Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll while filming. On Skull Island, Denham tries to film the native sacrifice ceremony, only to be found by the native chief. Darrow is later kidnapped and given to Kong. Denham and a group of others track Kong through the jungle in an attempt to rescue Darrow, leading to the deaths of every party member but Jack Driscoll and Denham himself. Denham returns to alert Captain Englehorn of the situation, and is seen again when Driscoll and Darrow have escaped. Denham, the Venture's crew and a brace of natives try to keep Kong inside the ancient wall, but Kong still escapes. As everyone fled toward the shore, Denham threw a gas bomb at Kong, subduing him for the time being. Months later, Denham has a show in New York City with Kong as the star, but on opening night, Kong mistakes cameras for weapons (and an attack on Ann Darrow), and escapes. Denham and Driscoll go to the local police to think of a way to subdue Kong. Denham is seen again at the end of the film pushing through crowds to get to Kong's body.
While appealing to his producers to get more money to fund an expedition to film on an uncharted island, the board votes to scrap his picture for stock footage, forcing Denham to grab his assistant Preston and begin making preparations to leave that night. However, Preston informed him that Maureen McKenzie, their lead actress, had pulled out from the project and Denham leaves the taxi to find a new one. He checked a burlesque theater, where in a reflection on the glass door he saw Ann Darrow turn around and walk off. He then found her being held by a shopkeeper for trying to steal an apple. Denham pays her way out of the situation before taking her to dinner to try to entice her into joining the project. She soon agreed, but when they arrived at the Venture, Preston informed him that the police were on their way. Offering Captain Englehorn another thousand dollars to cast off immediately, Denham went on board to see Jack Driscoll, who had only written 15 pages of the screenplay. Carl then stalled him long enough for the ship to cast off, ensuring that he would have time to finish the story.
In the morning, Carl introduced Ann to the film crew, but she mistook Mike the recordist for Driscoll. While shopping the story with the real Driscoll, Denham revealed the true location of the film shoot, but was overheard by the sailor Jimmy. While filming on deck, he saw Jimmy telling Hayes, and cut the shot short. He kept filming Ann by herself, and that night he convinced Englehorn to sail out of the shipping lanes toward Skull Island. Jimmy, Lumpy, and Benjamin Hayes then confronted him in the galley, where they warned of a crazed castaway they had picked up with a dire warning of the horrors of the island. Denham was unfazed. However, when the ship began to turn around, Denham pleaded with Englehorn to stay the course and not turn him in, but the captain refused. Ruined, Carl went to contemplate his situation at the ship's railing, where he and Jack examined a mysterious marking on the map before it was blown out of Carl's hands and into the sea. The ship then began to enter a dense fog and was scuttled on a gigantic carving before Denham looked out and saw the legendary wall of Skull Island.
In the morning he took the film crew ashore, where they discovered a village, and Carl tried and failed to give a native child some chocolate. The natives then killed Mike, a sailor, and nearly killed Carl before Englehorn arrived to rescue them. Back on board Denham began drinking and proclaimed that they would finish the film in Mike's memory. When it became apparent that Ann had been kidnapped, Carl had Herb sneak the cameras aboard the whalers to take ashore as part of her rescue. On arriving in the village, Carl ran to the gate after hearing her scream behind the wall where he saw the immense form of Kong disappear into the jungle with Ann in hand.
A short way into the jungle, the group was attacked by a Ferrucutus, and Carl narrowly avoided being trampled. After Hayes killed the creature, Carl made sure to film the corpse's twitching tail. Eventually the crew took a five minute break in a narrow valley, and Carl went to film a wide shot before discovering a herd of Brontosaurus. He has Bruce Baxter film with them for a moment before they begin to stampede, and the actor runs away. Carl stumbled and despite Jack's please, was unwilling to give up the camera. While he managed to survive the stampede, Herb the cameraman was killed by Venatosaurus as he tried to help him up a steep ledge, leading him to proclaim to Preston that they would finish the film for Herb. However as they rafted across a swamp, they were attacked by sea creatures. Denham eventually began to shoot at the Piranhadon, causing the raft to collapse. Denham made it to shore, where he collected the camera from Preston and began to crank it to see if it still worked, which it did, and he inadvertently filmed a sailor being killed by the Piranhadon.
The crew continued to a log bridging a deep chasm, where Kong emerged and killed Hayes. Denham filmed the attack until the beast shook the log and made Denham drop the camera and it fell into a clump of roots on the side of the log. He asked Lumpy to save the camera, but the sailor kicked it off in spite. Denham and the rest of the sailors fell into the pit below, and he eventually began to stir before discovering that his camera had been destroyed in the fall, and all the film ruined by exposure to the light of Jack's flare. He stood up and watched the Weta-rex attack Jack as the Carnictis consumed Lumpy. Carl finally snapped and began to strike savagely at the various creatures attacking him until Englehorn arrived with the rest of the sailors to save them. This final brush with death filled Carl with a desire to capture Kong alive. Englehorn was bitter at Denham's survival, but was quickly propositioned into Carl's scheme.
Later, Carl kept the drawbridge up and refused to lower it even when Jack and Ann screamed from the other side to do so. Preston then lowered it without Carl's approval, and they came over just before Kong smashed through the gate and the operation began. Kong quickly broke free and Englehorn called it off, but Carl was not as willing to abandon his prize, and was the last to the whalers waiting for them on the shore. When Kong caught up, Denham found another chloroform bottle in a boat and prepared to throw it shortly before being tossed from the whaler when Kong struck it. Englehorn then harpooned the beast in the leg and Carl bade him not to shoot again as he climbed up a rock and smashed the bottle on Kong's face, finally bringing the beast down. He then proclaimed the crew millionaires, and vowed to put Kong on Broadway as 'The Eighth Wonder of the World".
On opening night at the Alhambra theater, Carl welcomed the mayor and all of his former producers with enthusiasm before seeing Preston looking on him disapprovingly from a balcony and returning to his party. Onstage Denham proudly introduced Kong to the world and played up his harmlessness before starting the show, starring Bruce Baxter as the hero who saved Ann. With photographers crowding the wings, Denham allowed them to continue shooting as Kong roared in frustration at the flashbulbs for the sake of getting a better picture. Denham then watched as Kong broke free and began to destroy the theater. After Kong is killed, Carl approaches the body, claims that "it was beauty, killed the beast" and walked away into the crowd.
Denham was based on Merian C. Cooper as both were brave men of action who made names for themselves filming nature footage in the most dangerous of territories. In some ways, Denham's travels in King Kong match the move that Cooper made when he shifted from documentary filming to narrative storytelling. While bold and willing to take risks, the original Denham is honest, putting his people in danger but never asking more of them than he does of himself.
In the 2005 remake, Denham is much less sympathetic and more devious; characterized as a con artist willing to lie, steal, and cheat to get his film made, whatever the harm this causes anyone else. He cares for people only insomuch as they are of use to him, and has no respect for human (or any other kind of) life. He buys the starving Ann a meal only because he wants her for his film. After vowing to donate the proceeds of the film to the family of a colleague killed by Skull Island natives, Denham repeats the same eulogy for his cameraman Herb, killed later on by a Venatosaurus because Denham cared more for the camera's safety than Herb's.