Richard Fernandez asks a question not many have before — regarding a topic that, once broached, couldn't help but make us curious. Just what type of biplane, Fernandez wonders, encircled and doomed King Kong in American cinema's essential tableau? He has two guesses: the Boeing F4B-4 and the Curtiss O-1 Falcon.
Examining the famous still (above, with inset detail), I would say the planes can't be F4B-4s for three reasons. First, the planes in the still have four vertical struts between the wings, and the F4B-4 has only two. Second, the F4B-4's fuselage is stubbier than those of the film planes' and the former contains a hump behind the cockpit that the latter lack. Third, the pictured wheel struts are triangularly arranged, with oblique struts fore and aft, whereas the F4B-4's assembly lacks a fore oblique.
The Curtiss is a closer match, but has only one pair of wing struts and central wheel struts that are oblique to the fuselage — not perpendicular, as in the film still.
One interwar plane in particular possesses the ellipsoidal nose, triangular wheel struts and number of wing struts of the depicted planes: the Packard Le Pere LUSAC-11.
I sent my conjecture along; Richard responded, thanking me, and confirming that the identity has him "stumped." One commenter on his weblog insists that the instrument tipping man versus nature in our favor is the F4B-4, and has promised to write an evidentiary book.
Are we all wrong? All right? Perhaps the squadron is mixed.
POSTSCRIPT: The same still at a wider angle reveals a close look at a plane — only a single pair of wing struts. Still, I swear I see two on (decidedly longer) craft in the distance. And the fore wheel strut in the detail cannot be an axle. If it is a mixed squadron, how many kinds?
What is funny here, whomever may be right, is that the planes were models — a fact to which our suspension of disbelief remains impervious.
SELF-IMPOSED LIMITS: In a supplementary thread, two commenters quote a source identifying the planes as the Curtiss O2C-2 Helldivers and a third reminds interested parties that if we want to know about the movie, strictly speaking, and not the broader Kong mythos, one photograph won't do. In these two frames, plainly from the movie, the airplane in question looks much like the Curtiss.